Walking the red carpet with Hollywood’s elite at Variety magazine’s Power of Women event in Los Angeles, the Duchess of Sussex enjoyed the social cachet the old Meghan Markle, cast member of TV series Suits, may only have dreamed of.
“We have so many exciting things on the slate,” she beamed as a microphone was waved in front of her. “I can’t wait until we can announce them. We’re just really proud of what we’re creating, and my husband is loving it too.”
If 2023 was Prince Harry’s year, 2024 could well see Meghan come to the fore as we await the latest developments for Brand Sussex.
It was a year bookended by Spare, Harry’s searing memoir in which he lobbed grievances at the royal family, and Endgame by royal author Omid Scobie, which reignited the “royal race row”. Harry also won a significant victory in his battle with the press.
But, while Harry seemed hardly off our screens – promoting Spare, his Heart of Invictus Netflix series, and blasting sections of British media with privacy and libel court claims – Meghan has been relatively low key.
The star-studded events she chose to appear at – the VIP boxes at Katy Perry, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift gigs, Kevin Costner’s charity fundraiser, Variety’s Hollywood red carpet – inevitably prompted speculation of a return to acting. With a Netflix spin-off of the hit series Suits in the offing, “one could imagine a cameo for her … if she wanted it”, Scobie has said.
One non-appearance was at Charles’s coronation, which Harry attended alone. This was, according to Scobie, to avoid further royal drama, and allow her to “launch businesses and more creative projects that no one can ever say she’s riding on the coat-tails of her royal connections”. She sees her future, he added, in business and philanthropy.
“Look, if you’re appearing on red carpets and premieres, that means you’re putting yourself on show for the type of people who might cast you, book you, use you,” said PR expert Mark Borkowski. “That’s what Meghan’s been about.”
What the couple seem to be seeking are people to back the kind of projects they want to be linked with, he added. “The trouble is, all this high-ended stuff around the values that they portray, it hasn’t delivered for them.” And they need to make money.
So far, their five-year Netflix deal, reportedly worth $100m, has produced the docuseries Harry & Meghan and Heart of Invictus, and they are reportedly now adapting Carley Fortune’s romance novel Meet Me at the Lake for Netflix. Their Spotify deal, rumoured at $20m, ended by “mutual” agreement after just one series of Meghan’s Archetypes podcasts. Spotify’s head of podcast innovation Bill Griffiths, famously later labelled the couple “the grifters”.
“Netflix hasn’t really worked, Spotify hasn’t really worked, and that is because the sort of content that they feel they want to produce, the platforms don’t believe it has any value,” said Borkowski.
According to Scobie’s book, the couple have learned “a mountain of lessons” over the business side of things, with some commercial deals made in haste.
Meanwhile, their Archewell Foundation supports small charities and builds partnerships. The unaudited figures it released show the charity made $5m (£3.9m) in revenue this year, issued grants of $1.2m and has $11.2m of remaining funding. It represents a significant drop in funding compared with its 2020-21 launch year, but Archewell said it was not unusual for high-profile foundations to receive a significant influx of funding in its first year to be used over several years as part of a financial plan to build its philanthropic work.
But “the true purpose and mission of their charitable vehicle is still not completely clear”, wrote Scobie.
When not battling the media Harry is expected to continue to focus on his military charitable work, including Scotty’s Little Soldiers and his Invictus Games. The couple’s New York summit on mental health in the digital age, and Meghan’s appearance at the TrebeCafé supporting homeless women in Düsseldorf, illustrate the kind of issues they hold dear.
Sources indicate Meghan is intent on building “something rooted in her love of details, curating, hosting, life’s simple pleasures and family” and “something safe and timeless … that won’t be accused of riding on the back of anything royal”, according to Scobie
But the couple need “critical friends” around them, “tough love”, “good people who can get them in the zone”, and not operate in an “echo chamber”, advised Borkowski.
“Harry clearly wants to be of value. They have to produce something that is meaningful, that captures their values. But, unfortunately people don’t want that. People want the ‘sidebar of shame’ sort of stuff, and turning up moaning and shouting and being disruptive,” said Borkowski.
More royal revelations, it appears, are not on the cards. Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine, said: “You’d hope not. But I would say they’ve done a huge amount of damage to the institution as a whole, intentionally or unintentionally, in the past few years.”
“I don’t think Spare has presented Harry in the best light. I think perhaps scores had to be settled, but at what cost? But you just have to draw a line and move on. Perhaps he feels that he’s said all that needs to be said.”