When it comes to marrying into the royal family, Granny's blessing means everything. Given Prince Harry's position in the line to the throne, Queen Elizabeth quite literally has to approve his future spouse, and saying no isn't out of the realm of possibility-she's done it before. So, when Meghan Markle met her boyfriend's grandmother in October of last year, it came with a little pressure. The following excerpt from Andrew Morton's new book, Meghan: A Hollywood Princess, details just what happened when Markle sat down with the Queen for afternoon tea.
It was the most important audition of her life. No rehearsal, no script, no second takes. This was live and improvised. When she was driven through the gates of Buckingham Palace on an overcast, drizzly Thursday in October in a black Ford Galaxy with darkened windows, she was about to give the performance of her career. Even though she has often said that she is not a woman who gets nervous, she could be forgiven for being a tad dry mouthed. She was about to meet the Queen for afternoon tea. Gulp. Of course, she had Prince Harry by her side, holding her hand, telling her it would be fine, just be yourself. Still, it was tea with the Queen of England.
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There was a touch of cloak and dagger about the affair, which did little to quell the nerves. The Ford Galaxy nosed in so close to the sovereign's entrance that Harry, Meghan, and their Scotland Yard bodyguard were able to slip inside unnoticed.
They were then escorted along the seeming miles of red carpet to the queen's private sitting room, which overlooks the palace gardens by Constitution Hill. So discreetly did they arrive and depart that even senior palace servants were unaware of their visit until a few days later.
If truth be told, Meghan had quietly anticipated this moment. A few months before, she had taken a secret excursion to Rose Tree Cottage, a little slice of England nestled in Pasadena in the suburbs of Los Angeles. It sells a plethora of British goodies, but the centerpiece of owner Edmund Fry’s emporium is the serving of afternoon tea. Meghan has visited several times, not only to buy English gifts but to take afternoon tea. Perhaps there had been just a little rehearsing, after all.
In a city dominated by coffee and to‑go cups, Rose Tree Cottage brings a soupçon of English refinement. It is where Meghan learned to crook her finger as she sipped her Earl Grey from her cup and saucer, necessary skills to remember after she dropped a curtsy to her future mother‑in‑law. However, the offering of thinly sliced sandwiches of cucumber and egg mayonnaise, the selection of small scones and cakes, and Her Majesty’s own Queen Mary blend of tea, with the option of coffee for the American visitor, tell only part of the story.
Afternoon tea is a chance for the Queen to catch up on the Upstairs gossip from her ladies‑in‑waiting, the Downstairs chatter from her senior servants, and to see members of her family. In times past, Princess Diana-when she hadn’t brought the boys with her, which was often-used these informal occasions to tackle the Queen over her eldest son’s affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. As she sipped her tea, the princess was looking for sympathy- vainly, as it turned out. The topic was much too emotionally unsavory for her regal mother‑in‑law, so the matter was dropped.
Though the encounter with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry was much less fraught, there was still an air of tension about the occasion. This was perhaps inevitable. As the fifth in line to the throne, the prince had to obtain his grandmother’s formal permission to marry. It was by no means a foregone conclusion. She could say no. She’d done it before. Then what?
For centuries the royal houses of Europe have been defined by bloodline and breeding. In Queen Victoria’s day, English princes and princesses could only marry their German counterparts. That changed during World War One, when in 1917 George V not only changed the family name to Windsor but allowed his offspring to marry English aristocrats. Down the decades, even this edict has been considerably diluted.
For the most part, the queen’s brood have married commoners, though not divorced commoners. An Olympic horseman, an equerry, a photographer, the daughter of the royal polo manager, and a public relations executive have all joined the royal family without a title between them. Only Lady Diana Spencer was from a traditionally aristocratic family-and look where that got them. The House of Windsor has been sustained by commoners, not by bluebloods. In fact, the same could be said of most of the royal houses of Europe. Meghan’s divorce was no longer a concern, as it had been for the previous American to marry a royal, and neither was her biracial heritage.
Any possible uncertainty about the outcome of this meeting lay not with Meghan, but with the man she wanted to marry. He is the one who has been if not on trial then under close scrutiny.
If he had come to see Grannie a few years earlier, when he had an unenviable reputation as an angry drunk with poor judgment, it would have been doubtful that the Queen would have agreed to him marrying a divorced mixed‑race American actor.
“It would have been a grim, unhappy confrontation,” observed a former senior royal official, just as it was when she had to put her foot down in 1955 over her sister, Margaret, marrying Group Captain Peter Townsend, who was divorced. If anything, Harry’s transformation over the last few years has, together with the popular union between Prince William and Kate Middleton, secured the future of the monarchy.
Harry’s impeccable behavior when representing the Queen abroad and his commitment to the Invictus Games have been shrewdly watched and assessed by the sovereign. As a courtier told me: “The queen trusts her grandsons. She has confidence in them in a way that she never has had with her eldest son. They have really established themselves as being in touch with the public. William and Harry have star quality, believable and authentic heirs to the monarchy.”
The final seal of approval came from the queen’s corgis. This normally irascible breed were friendly and welcoming when Meghan entered the queen’s sitting room. As Prince Harry said, somewhat ruefully: “I’ve spent the last thirty‑three years being barked at; this one walks in, absolutely nothing.” They lay at her feet and wagged their tails. “Very sweet,” Meghan later told interviewer Mishal Husain.
During their one‑hour meeting, Meghan witnessed at firsthand the genuine respect and love Harry feels for his grandmother. “She’s an incredible woman,” she said afterward.
With a flurry of barks and a final curtsy, Harry and Meghan bade their farewells, swiftly leaving the palace before the royal gossip factory was able to get into gear.
Excerpted from MEGHAN: A Hollywood Princess by Andrew Morton. Copyright © 2018 by Andrew Morton. Used by arrangement with Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
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