Why Meghan Markle's Vogue Issue Blew up Like No Other Royal Editorship

Meghan Markle's September 2019 issue of British Vogue has been described in a recently published book as her "unexpected Waterloo," coming at a pivotal point in her relationship with the U.K tabloids.

Tina Brown, author and former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, has charted in her new book, The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor, Meghan's entry into the royal family and her eventual exit, taking up residence with husband Prince Harry and her two young children in California.

The release of the book follows Meghan's first public visit to Europe for the Invictus Games in April since stepping down as a full-time working member of the royal family in 2020 and her bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021.

Brown pinpoints the summer of 2019 as period of seismic change in the Sussexes' relationship with the media. It followed the couple's secrecy over the birth of their son in May after issuing delayed statements over the progress of the duchess's condition, and multiple private jet trips taken by the royals in the same period of time that Harry spoke about climate change at a Google event.

"At the core of the difficulties," Brown writes, "was determining whether the Sussexes were celebrity royals or royal celebrities, two very different states of being."

She continued that, "the summer of 2019 confirmed to the media that the Sussexes had made the decisive and deadly pivot to the meretricious side of the equation."

Meghan Markle Vogue Cover
Meghan Markle guest edited the September 2019 issue of British Vogue in a special edition dedicated to empowered women. Meghan (L) photographed in New York, February 19, 2019. And (R) the September 2018 issue of British Vogue, Conde Nast. James Devaney/GC Images/ Peter Lindbergh/Kensington Palace via Getty Images

Interestingly, Brown believes that it was not criticism of the Sussexes' private jet jaunts or apparent refusal of an invitation to spend a summer holiday with Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral which garnered the most media scrutiny but it was the Duchess's collaboration with Vogue that bore the full force of media fury.

"It was the Vogue project" says Brown of the duchess's guest editorship of Britain's leading fashion magazine, "that was Meghan's Waterloo." A reference to Napoleon's defeat in the famous battle of 1815.

Many royals have guest-edited publications, radio programs and online news platforms with little tabloid commentary or criticism. "Celebrity guest editing is usually a risk-free media suck-up," Brown writes.

"Prince Charles has thrice done it for Country Life magazine. Harry received approving reviews when he took over an episode of Radio 4's prestigious Today show in 2017, the same year Kate's digital foray at Huffington Post UK was lauded for its championing of early-childhood mental health."

These examples were all received differently to Meghan's Vogue partnership and Brown attributes part of the blame to the wider Sussex movements of summer 2019.

The Duchess heavily collaborated with British Vogue's editor-in-chief Edward Enninful on the project which she wanted to be an authentic representation of her passions and personal beliefs.

To begin with, Meghan decided not to put herself on the cover of the magazine. In his editor's letter for the issue, Enninful wrote: "From the very beginning, we talked about the cover—whether she would be on it or not... In the end, she felt that it would be in some ways a 'boastful' thing to do for this particular project... She wanted, instead, to focus on the women she admires."

This was seized upon in the press as a veiled criticism of the Duchess of Cambridge—Kate Middleton, the wife of Meghan's brother-in-law Prince William—who had appeared on the magazine's centenary issue cover in 2016.

The content of the issue was a love letter to empowered female role models titled "Forces for Change" and included profiles of 15 women who the duchess admired including Greta Thunberg and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden. Criticism followed that the queen had not been included.

The issue also featured an interview with conservationist Jane Goodall undertaken by Prince Harry.

Though it became the biggest-selling issue of British Vogue in its 103-year history, the reaction in the press was scathing.

"The glossy package was seen as snotty piffle by the tabloids," Brown writes, "a pious fluff package by upscale columnists, and a mystifying bore by traditional Vogue readers who would have preferred solutions for more immediate problems like where to find the best camel hair coat with a kimono tie."

The environmental aspects of the magazine's content such as the inclusion of Thunberg and the revelation in Harry's Goodall interview that he and Meghan would only be having two children "maximum" due to the environmental impacts of large families, were criticized given the couple's numerous summer private jet trips.

"That went over in the media like a flatulent blast of methane, given that the duke had just loaded up his carbon footprint flying private to the Google camp," Brown highlights.

Though this accounted for a large proportion of critical response there was, however, a more sinister root cause identified later by Enninful.

Speaking to The Guardian he told of his belief that there was a racist undertone to the negative reaction displayed. "Was the criticism racist?" He mused, "Some of it, yeah... Actually it was more than racism... I thought it was personal."

Tina Brown Edward Enninful
Tina Brown (L) has charted in her new book The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor, Meghan's entry into the royal family and her eventual exit. Edward Enninful (R) editor of British Vogue, worked closely with Meghan on her special issue. Brown photographed April 3, 2014, and Enninful, October 25, 2021. Jemal Countess/Getty Images/Pablo Cuadra/Getty Images

There were also claims of a "double standard" between the way Meghan's Vogue work was received and how Kate Middleton's was in 2016.

Brown expresses her belief that the reaction was just an example of "renegade British sensibility, and the national inclination to laugh at earnest intent," something she implies that the American-born duchess may have misjudged.

Whether one or a combination of both of these justifications is valid, the overall negative press faced by the couple in the summer of 2019 set in motion a chain of events that can be seen as leading to their eventual split from the royal family.

Just weeks after the Vogue issue hit newsstands, Harry and Meghan embarked on a whirlwind tour of South Africa. This tour was widely praised by the press but an interview given by Meghan on one of its final days showed just how she was handling the negativity leveled against her.

When broadcaster Tom Bradby asked if she was OK, the duchess responded, "Thank you for asking. Not many people have asked if I'm okay."

Weeks after the trip the Sussexes left the U.K for an extended stay in Canada during which they set in motion plans that would eventually lead to their stepping-down as full-time working members of the royal family.

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