Unless we’re talking about the Tudors, my interest in the British monarchy is… limited. A childhood immersed in Horrible Histories means that I will happily entertain a discussion on whether or not Richard III got a bad rap, but that I have approximately zero time for the current collection of crown-wearers.
My own opinion is that it is extraordinarily audacious for anyone to have been judgemental about Meghan Markle’s background, when the family she married into exists on a foundation of incest, sexism, colonialism and public funding. But, since there was a misunderstanding that I was excited about the royal wedding, when, in fact, I was just mildly interested in having a glass of prosecco before 11am, I have somehow ended up writing about the Windsors more than I ever anticipated.
I have trawled the depths of royalist Twitter to write about Harry and Meghan’s engagement, their wedding and their pregnancy announcement, feigning enthusiasm as I tried to sneak in snide remarks about Prince Philip, institutional racism and Suits.
But, even sneering from my high horse, it has become marginally more difficult to keep my eyebrows raised since Markle joined the family. Back in January, I wrote that “we know too well that women marrying into the royal family are marrying into a lifetime of nodding, smiling, waving and charming”. And, while Markle is doing all of these things well, and even clad in the prerequisite skin-coloured stockings, the activist in her appears to be alive and well.
In a speech in New Zealand to celebrate 125 years of suffrage in the country, Markle said, “The achievements of the women in New Zealand who campaigned for their right to vote, and were the first in the world to achieve it, are universally admired. Yes, women's suffrage is about feminism, but feminism is about fairness.”
Well, pour me another morning prosecco. A member of the royal family said the F-word! Twice!
The royals are not supposed to get involved with politics, any more than they are supposed to admit that their ancestors were all cousins. They are supposed to be neutral. Vague and vanilla. They are the elevator music of people when it comes to opinions.
But the only thing beige about Markle are her chaste Stuart Weitzman heels.
Nothing she says, does or wears is by accident. (To Drag Race fans, Markle is a walking – and, more importantly, talking – embodiment of Tatiana's favourite catchphrase: “Choices”.)
She even employed my favourite method of stealthy messaging – wearing a dress by a Uruguayan designer, who is also an outspoken political activist and feminist; Gabriela Hearst’s previous collections have been inspired by trailblazing women. If you know that your appearance is going to be scrutinised, why not give the commentators something to really unpick?
When her relationship with Prince Harry was first made public, the media relished its deep dive into Markle’s past, delighting in uncovering that, as an 11-year-old, she successfully admonished a washing-up-liquid advert for its sexist message. There was excited speculation about how Markle would handle being buttoned-up by her new in-laws, after she shut down her lifestyle blog and social-media accounts.
Because a little girl standing up to a big bad pharmaceutical company is cute, but a grown woman engaging with cultural affairs is frightening.
Her speech was the antithesis to 'I’m a humanist', 'I love men and women' and 'I don’t like to label myself'
After using an earlier speech on the trip to speak about the importance of education for women and girls, Markle took her next opportunity to extend a celebration of suffrage beyond merely the right to vote. She made it about society and humanity, rather than politics.
“Women’s suffrage is not simply about the right to vote for women,” Markle announced. “But also about what that represents: the basic and fundamental human right of all people. Including those members of society who have been marginalised, whether through reasons of race, gender, ethnicity or orientation, to be able to participate in the choices for their future and their community.”
And we must give credit where credit is due. These are not just statements that a royal might be hesitant to utter, but the kind that many people, and many celebrities, would skirt around. Her speech was the antithesis to “I’m a humanist”, “I love men and women” and “I don’t like to label myself”. There can be no misinterpretation or watering down of her message.
This isn’t a case of applauding someone for doing the bare minimum or praising mediocrity. While Markle’s words might appear fairly tame (at least for those of us who fall asleep clutching our copies of Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me), they are actually bold and spiky and resolute. It is no mean feat to throw around the word feminism without treating it like a scalding hot potato.
Markle is not going to convert royal eye-rollers into ardent monarchists overnight, or possibly ever, but if she keeps pushing the boundaries, it might be quite good fun to watch her try.