In 1991 Diana, Princess of Wales turned to journalist Andrew Morton to tell the world about the pain and suffering she had endured during her first decade of marriage to Prince Charles.
Frustrated by the palace media apparatuses and desperate to share her side of the story of her calamitous marriage, she had a trusted friend smuggle audio recordings out of Kensington Palace to Morton, whose ensuing book Diana: Her True Story sent shockwaves around the world.
Nearly three decades later, there is a certain sense of deja vu as her daughter-in-law Meghan, Duchess of Sussex similarly contends with a fraught relationships with the press and is, allegedly, frustrated by the rigidity of the palace media machine to adequately protect her against a barrage of negative stories.
Meghan Markle is reportedly upset after a number of negative stories about her were published. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Supplied
Earlier this year, five of the former actress’ friends anonymously spoke to People, defending her character and since then both George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey have publicly come to her defence, staunchly arguing she has faced undue flak and vitriol since becoming an HRH.
While Meghan has denied being involved with any of these PR salvos, for Morton, what has transpired this year is strikingly familiar.
“She’s taking a page from the Diana playbook,” Morton tells news.com.au from his London home. “The big difference is Diana was in the royal family for 10 years before she started talking to me.”
Meghan’s approach to the press is reminding many of Princess Diana. Picture: Ben Stansall / AFPSource:AFP
For Morton, whose biography Diana: Her True Story is still in print 27 years after its bombshell release, Meghan has shown no intention to meekly play by the conventional royal rules when it comes to the media.
“She set out her stall in the (September 2017) Vanity Fair piece before the engagement,” Morton says.
“That told me right from the start this is a very different kind of royal-in-waiting. The girlfriends and boyfriends of members of the royal family have always kept shtum, have never said a word and here we have Meghan dating Prince Harry and what did she talk about? “Love, romance, the kinds of things that would have had her cast into the outer darkness (previously). That for me was a really significant change.”
Meghan showing off her star power with Beyonce. Picture: Niklas Halle'n-WPA Pool/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Similarly, Morton sees the Sussexes’ May 2018 wedding guest list as being something of a strategic power play to shore up Meghan’s support base, safely outside of royal reach.
“(She) populated the wedding with A-list Hollywood celebrities who over the last year have proved their worth to her by speaking out in public about the criticisms of her,” he says. “I don’t think she (had) even met Oprah Winfrey (before the wedding). I don’t know whether Harry had. But she invited these people along and now she has her own court.”
And that court, to Morton, is an incredibly valuable resource as she faces mounting criticism of her approach to royal life.
“She’s a new player and she’s been quick out the starting box. Unlike Prince Harry’s friends who keep quiet, Megan’s A-list celebrity friends, the court of Meghan, is a very voluble court and they’re very powerful,” he says.
“She’s got Serena Williams, she’s got Oprah. She’s got Amal Clooney and George Clooney. She’s got the gang from Suits, all of whom will speak out for her.
“Oprah Winfrey, is the American equivalent to royalty herself. I mean, I don’t know who bows to whom, does the Queen curtsy to Oprah?” Morton jokes.
Oprah Winfrey at Meghan’s wedding. Picture: AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ian WestSource:AFP
Serena at the royal wedding. Picture: Shaun Botterill/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
All of this is in direct contrast to the royal family’s usual MO of “never complain, never explain”.
“When Prince Harry is under attack, his friends don’t say anything, they keep the British stiff upper lip,” Morton points out. “This is a very different kind of woman. She’s doing what Trump does, you know, if he takes a punch he’ll come back punching and so she’s doing that.
“This is not situation normal, we are dealing with an activist and a Hollywood celebrity, a wealthy woman who’s come into to the royal family and she’s doing (things) very much by her own rules,” he says.
Diana also had a troubled relationship with the media. Picture: Pool Photograph/Corbis/Corbis via Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
However, totally bucking the royal family’s customary rigid approach to media relations is not without risks, Morton warns: “I think she’s taking a leaf out of Diana’s Playbook was but I think she’s gone nuclear too early.”
Despite this, more than a year into her official royal life, Meghan remains unbowed and seems resolute in her refusal to blithely do what she is told.
“[Her A-list friends] have all come out punching on her behalf,” says Morton. “There’s not this dead silence from her and will it change the (royal) agenda? Well, you know if she keeps on doing it, probably.”
Andrew Morton’s Meghan: A Hollywood Princess is available online.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and freelance writer. Continue the conversation @DanielaElser