Share this article Share Memories of Wallis Simpson, the last American divorcee to marry into tsheir ranks, are long, unhappy — and regularly resurface. For the Windsors, therefore, the royal wedding represents a momentous gamble. What, then, must Meghan learn? For the hard reality is that survival as a royal newcomer in a 1,year-old family business takes much more than a winning smile and a stylish curtsey.
Meghan will be judged by standards that have never been entirely defined and cannot be found in any reference book or on any website.
But after eight years as Princess Diana's equerry and then private secretary, I can offer her the following pointers. Nor, even, is it a talent for getting out of a low-slung limousine in a low-cut evening gown while maintaining the highest standards of modesty.
Least of all is it a gift for attracting huge crowds of adoring new fans or acres of drooling newsprint. Instead, the one key skill Meghan absolutely must perfect is how to avoid being seen as any kind of a destabilising force.
In the whispering labyrinth of the court, unexpected surprises, even nice ones, can be misinterpreted as threats. Anything new or unknown, until it is proven to be harmless, will therefore be treated with suspicion — even hostility. When you're in the dynasty business, everything is subjected to the ultimate test: Princess Diana and Patrick Jephson in Hungary in It's a useful guideline when weighing the pros and cons of any intended course of action, from saving a local playgroup, to saving an endangered species, to saving the planet.
What always comes first is saving the monarchy. Because the Windsors know that all the grand trappings of royalty are held in trust for the British people and that the monarchy depends for its survival on a very volatile commodity: They also know that everything they hold dear could be lost through miscalculation.
After all, in recent family history, their European counterparts have lost their thrones despite reigning for generations with every appearance of indestructibility. The guillotine may never be erected in Trafalgar Square, but a fickle public mood multiplied by merciless digital media has the capacity to decapitate an unpopular royal family — or family member — as surely as any blade.
Postponing that day is the unwritten first duty of those in the British royal dynasty business. So, Meghan's prime function will be to support the Crown, avoid bringing it into disrepute and act as a non-political focus of national unity.
Everything else — even developing a globally acclaimed portfolio of irreproachably good causes — is superfluous. The bottom line is that, as a princess, she has no remit to save the world or anything in it. Or preach at us, admonish us or signal any fashionable virtue. Her job is to exist, preferably without rocking the constitutional boat. And if, in the process, by the way she conducts her own life, she gently inspires us to do more and better with our own, then she'll probably be treated with respect and remembered with affection far into the future.
Indeed, Meghan's advisers may also feel uneasy about an attitude that so readily excludes half the population. She might also like to bear in mind that quite a few members of the Royal Family are men and that not all of them have always managed to achieve MeToo-approved standards of what is considered to be correct male behaviour.
But Meghan should be in no doubt about the House of Windsor's ability and willingness to exercise some very modern tortures on errant newcomers.
Among these must be counted the clumsy efforts of some misguided Charles loyalists to smear Diana not just as sad and mad, but bad as well. As the Diana tragedy confirmed, when dealing with perceived threats, Windsors can be quite uncompromising. If you acquire for yourself a profile, a purpose and a passionate public devotion independent of the royal mainstream, then you risk being perceived and presented as a threat to the Crown itself. This will mobilise the full forces of the Establishment against you.
And it won't feel constrained by any fluffy notions of old-fashioned British fair play. Whatever fairytale image Meghan may have once had of palace life, the reality is as old as time: This was an honour she'd tried to resist, partly on the grounds that her job meant she should be giving out awards, not receiving them.
Afterwards, over a glass of champagne, I told her: You've certainly earned it. Then she raised her glass. And it wasn't a bad poster image for a very successful brand of royalty: The danger of Meghan forming a false sense of her own worth is very real. When I was at the palace, we used to joke that nine-tenths of being royal was turning up at the right place at the right time in the right clothes with the right speech in your pocket and the right expression on your face.
However, Meghan should beware. Any suspicion that your public persona is not an honest reflection of your real personality will become obvious, sooner or later. It's also wise to remember that hardly anyone, not even a trained actress, can keep up an act for ever.
So Meghan may as well decide that the part of her she allows us to see is one that is both real and reliably predictable. The public's impression of Diana as a gutsy woman doing her best to help those in need — while raising two sons and fulfilling exaggerated expectations as a royal role model — was, as I saw for myself, essentially accurate.
People liked what they saw, believed it to be authentic and wanted more of it. She should think long and carefully, however, before reaching for the race card as a response to unfavourable news stories. Her diverse ancestry is a positive asset for the House of Windsor, as its members and supporters are well aware.
But it would be tragic if Meghan or her husband got into the habit of firing ethnic warning shots at the very same media that will reliably trumpet all their good work for years to come. Her reputation won't survive theatrical interventions in areas that rightly belong to elected politicians. So her widely advertised support for Democratic politics in the U.
The sacred royal duty of political neutrality doesn't end at the shores of the kingdom. Ultimately, it's where Meghan chooses to turn for it that will determine much of her success or failure as a princess. Diana didn't always choose her advisers wisely. By the time she gave a self-sabotaging interview to the BBC's Panorama, she had an increasing tendency to seek advice from those who saw her as a useful vehicle for their own agendas. Sadly, they encouraged her to portray herself as a victim, rather than as the strong, influential woman I knew her to be.
Even Harry's mother was rather too fond of both — although, in Diana's defence, she may have learned it from her husband. The public doesn't always respond well to complaints from those who have virtually unlimited resources and plenty of privacy. Meghan may find that she can't go to her local shop on Kensington High Street without causing a minor riot.
With that kind of profile, it's all too easy to think your very existence is cause for celebration. For Meghan, who has devoted so much energy to acquiring celebrity, the task of distinguishing between fame she's earned and fame she has acquired through Harry may be particularly hard. So, if she hasn't worked it out yet, now is the time to get it clear in her own mind. Get it wrong and she may never be forgiven. Meghan is particularly vulnerable in this respect because there'll always be sceptics ready to question whether her marriage is a love story or just part of a long-running fame campaign.
Although many of the perks of royalty and celebrity are identical, the defining difference is that celebrity lifestyles are won, while royal privileges are granted.
They exist in return for a life devoted to service, with lots of visible, unenviable duty and the appearance of sacrifice.
Meghan may have already worked out that huge public warmth is directed at Harry and would be shared by anyone he chose to marry.
So, even more than most royal newcomers, she'll be judged by her success as the never-failing source to her husband of strength, comfort, encouragement and wisdom. If Meghan allows doubt to grow that she is anything less than devoted to her man, his family and her obligations to her adopted country, then she may not have the luxury of any second chances.
It's a magical power, given to very few and earned by even fewer. Unlike a struggling actress, a princess will be listened to respectfully and in silence, bar a few polite laughs at the right moments. This readily given approval can all too easily give the speaker an inflated and dangerously misleading perception of her own oratory and intellect. The Royal Family usually does best when it follows the example of the Queen. Despite having a powerful platform on which to share her views, insights, big ideas, wishes and prejudices, Her Majesty has resolutely kept her opinions to herself.
She focused on causes that resonate in the public mind. Her sons have developed their own distinctive and admirable style. But one area where they've taken a very different tack is in their promotion of conservation, especially in Africa. The most eloquent speech on the evils of the ivory trade will still do little to boost Meghan's profile.