At first glance, Meghan Markle and Princess Mary might not have much in common. One has left the English royal fold to live in LA, make million-dollar commercial deals, and do tell-all interviews with talk show queens. The other is in training to become Queen of Denmark, and tows the royal line all the way.
However, the two women have more in common than you first think. Unlike many royal spouses, neither Meghan nor Mary come from elite backgrounds.
Mary was born in Tasmania to a professor dad and an executive assistant mum, while Meghan grew up in LA, where her parents were a TV lighting director and a social worker. They both had successful careers in their own right when they met their respective royal husbands; Meghan as an actress, and Mary as a PR executive.
They both met their other halves on the off-chance. Mary met Prince Frederik in a Sydney pub while he was visiting Australia for the 2000 Olympics, and Meghan was introduced to Prince Harry “through a mutual friend” who set up a date between the pair. Both women gave up a lot to join their respective royal families; Meghan has talked about how “she gave up her entire life” to become Harry’s wife, while Mary converted from Presbyterian to the Danish Lutheran Church, moved to Denmark and gave up her Australian citizenship in order to marry Prince Frederik.
But it’s there that the similarities end. Now Mary is a fully-fledged and beloved royal, while Meghan has fled her adopted country and seemingly alienated her in-laws. So how did two women, whose personal histories and relationship statuses could have resulted in almost identical trajectories at the start of their royal lives, end up on such different paths?
It certainly appears that Princess Mary was given a lot more initial support during her introduction to the Danish royal family than Meghan was when she and Harry first got married.
In her interview with Oprah, Meghan revealed she’d had no royal training before becoming the Duchess of Sussex. “There was no guidance,” she said. “There's no class on how to speak, how to cross your legs, how to be royal. There's none of that training. That might exist for other members of the family. That was not something that was offered to me."
In contrast, Mary enrolled in ‘social etiquette’ classes in Sydney before she moved to Denmark. The course, which taught her how to talk well in front of a camera, socialise appropriately and walk confidently was dubbed her ‘Princess training’, and is thought to have instilled her with confidence before first being paraded in front of the Danish press, and meeting her future in-laws.
Mary was advised by Queen Margrethe to learn Danish in order to prove her willingness to adapt to her new role, and show the Danish people she was committed to her relationship with Prince Frederik.
Although Meghan didn’t need to learn a new language before arriving in the UK, she may have benefited from some advice from the royal fold about the cultural differences between her home country and England, particularly what might be expected of her in terms of how to speak to other members of the family, and the press. “She doesn’t speak English. She speaks Californian,” one British journalist noted.
While Mary felt supported by Queen Margrethe and the Danish press, Meghan did not. And that’s where their stories really begin to differ.
Mary was educated in the protocol of keeping a low profile, and not saying too much in interviews, whereas Meghan felt the lack of support behind closed doors meant she had to use the press to get her side of the story out. Because she couldn’t speak directly, she spoke through friends, who she gave permission to talk to the press. And the stories were usually about her personal life; how she was feeling, and what she was aggrieved about.
Mary rarely speaks about her personal life – the interviews she gives are mainly about her work and the causes she supports. Slowly but surely, Mary became part of an institution, while Meghan started to shake one up.
Of course, Meghan’s claims of racism within the royal family may also have encouraged her and Mary’s paths to go further in different directions. Perhaps if Mary had come from a mixed race family, she may also have experienced similar obstacles and prejudices. Although that’s something we will never know for sure, it’s clear the race issue has become a large part of Meghan’s royal demise – something Mary hasn’t had to contend with.
Watching Mary turn from an awkward, PR executive into an assured, stylish woman was a fascinating journey for the public to witness, and reported on positively by press in both Denmark and Australia.
Meghan didn’t offer that journey in the same way. As an established actress, she already looked the part; she dressed well, knew how to pose, and was confident from the word go.
While Mary’s profile was an easy upwards trajectory, perhaps it should have been clear from the beginning that Meghan was ripe for Tall Poppy Syndrome. Already at the top of her game when she met Harry, the only narrative that satisfied the public was to be a downwards spiral.
Whatever their differences today, both Meghan and Mary still have one thing in common; they fell in love with men who asked them to give up a lot in order to create a life with them. Both women did that – and however you frame it, that’s no easy feat.
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