The Duchess of Sussex was last night embroiled in a fresh row over claims that she gave approval for a media blitz to boost her public image.
It followed Friday’s broadcast of a 60-minute primetime documentary on the US network CBS in which her friends tearfully lavished praise on the 37-year-old and railed against her detractors.
‘She’s a beacon of hope for a lot of women… I really hope this is the first step to changing the narrative of our entire world and how we feel about race,’ gushed the actress Jessica Alba.
Poignant: Vampire Diaries star and friend of Meghan, Janina Gavankar, 38, said that she and Meghan have been talking about the royal becoming a mother ‘for ten years’
Emotional: Meghan Markle’s longtime friend and makeup artist, Daniel Martin, broke down in tears while defending the Duchess of Sussex against ‘undeserved negative press’ in a new CBS special
No less enthusiastic was Janina Gavankar, another actress who has been friends with Meghan for more than 15 years. ‘They are very philanthropic,’ she said of Meghan and Prince Harry. ‘You see them do great things for the world.’
Celebrity make-up artist Daniel Martin wept as he defended the Duchess against reports that she is difficult to deal with. ‘In the years I’ve known her, the years I’ve worked with her, she’s never had a diva fit, never,’ he sobbed.
But the adulation was tempered by claims – angrily denied by the Palace – that Meghan had authorised her friends to take part in the documentary.
A CBS source told The Sun newspaper that each had only spoken ‘with the blessing of Meghan’. In an article headlined ‘Spincess Meghan’, the source added: ‘Our belief is Meghan has been aware of this TV project for at least the last month and hoped that certain allies and friends speak out… Meghan believes she is her own best PR.’
Star guest: Actress Jessica Alba, 38, also appears in the special, although it is unclear whether she is friends with Meghan. The pair do share the same makeup artist in Daniel however
Close bond: Janina, pictured with Meghan in an old social media snap, said of the couple’s royal baby, ‘To have the royal family bring a child of color into the world, it’s pretty awesome’
In an unusually fierce response, Buckingham Palace issued a statement rebutting the claims. ‘The Duchess has not had any involvement in the CBS special, nor has she requested or given permission to friends to participate,’ it said.
Sources close to the Duchess argued that the documentary had been balanced by combining contributions from British journalists, photographers and Royal experts with those from her friends.
The controversy appears, however, to have been fuelled by previous claims that Meghan authorised friends to speak positively about her to the media and her close friendship with Gayle King, the veteran US TV presenter who presented the CBS documentary.
No room at Sussexes’ for protection squad
Royal protection officers guarding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are staying at a hotel in Windsor because there is no accommodation for them at the couple’s new home, Frogmore Cottage.
Prince Harry and Meghan moved into their new abode in Windsor last month – but with refurbishments behind schedule, quarters for the couple’s guards are not ready. According to sources, the officers are instead ‘living out of suitcases’ in the three-star hotel and face doing so for several months.
Rooms at the lodging range from £80 to £110 a night, meaning the taxpayer could be paying a bill of about £13,000 a month on the basis of four guards staying there.
The officers work for Royalty And Specialist Protection, a team within the Specialist Operations directorate of the Metropolitan Police. They are highly trained and usually carry 9mm Glock 17 pistols, but an insider said the lifestyle was far from glamorous.
‘A lot of time is spent in hotels, eating on the move and sleeping with one eye open,’ he said. ‘They are always bottom of the list.’
A Met spokesman said: ‘We do not comment on protective security arrangements. However, when accommodation is required for operational purposes, we will always seek to achieve best value for money.’
A spokesman for the Duke and Duchess declined to comment.
According to reports, Ms King –who suggested in her documentary, Meghan and Harry, Plus One, that ‘critical press coverage [of Meghan] is rooted in anti-feminism, even racism’ – visited Meghan at Frogmore Cottage, the Royal couple’s Windsor home, just days before the birth of their son, Archie, on May 6.
She was also a guest at Meghan’s controversial New York baby shower in February.
The Duchess is far from the first person to struggle with balancing promotion and privacy after marrying into the Royal family.
She has, however, not been short of friends willing to fight her corner – even in her public disagreements with her estranged father Thomas Markle. Last July, in an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Mr Markle criticised Meghan for refusing to speak to him and for her ‘sense of superiority’.
But in February, five ‘unnamed friends’ of the Duchess told US People magazine that Meghan had written to her father, saying: ‘Dad, I’m so heartbroken. I love you. I have one father. Please stop victimising me through the media so we can repair our relationship.’
The friends claimed Mr Markle responded with a long letter – in which he asked his daughter for a photoshoot. ‘I think she will always feel genuinely devastated by what he has done,’ they said.
The article, which sent shockwaves through the Royal Family’s well-oiled press office, was the first sign Meghan and Harry wanted to handle PR in their own way.
It also put into focus that sometimes their priority would be their US, not UK, audience. The pair’s desire for independence came to the fore again this month when they ensured that the birth of their son, Archie, was shrouded in a cloak of secrecy.
Upset: Daniel Martin, who did the 37-year-old’s makeup for her wedding, spoke to Gayle King about Meghan and motherhood, admitting he thinks she will ‘make her own baby food’
Despite the worldwide interest in the new arrival, the Duke and Duchess made clear that they wanted the minimum publicity for the arrival of their first child.
They broke with protocol by refusing to name the medical team (consultants are named on the traditional proclamation posted outside Buckingham Palace).
‘Hands on’: Actress Janina Gavankar also spoke about her friend Meghan, saying she is very low maintenance and that she and Harry are one another’s ‘soulmates’
Even the location where Archie was born – the private Portland Hospital in Westminster – was kept secret until his birth certificate was published last week.
Then, when it came to unveiling their newborn, they staged a meticulously planned photocall. Posing for photos in St George’s Hall in Windsor Castle, the couple chose to invite a US TV crew to accompany a British broadcaster.
The prized slot went (by good fortune, insist Palace insiders) to CBS with the timing of the event helpfully coinciding with the start of Ms King’s morning TV show.
The Palace have pointed out that footage was filed directly to all broadcasters so that those present provided no unfair advantage.
However, the determination to up-end tradition has been coupled with negative headlines about the Duchess’s overbearing behaviour and a tense relationship with her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Opinions: Presenter Gayle King also sat down with a group of black women of all ages to discuss what a biracial royal baby means to them
If, as Meghan insists, friends have taken a unilateral decision to speak, their decision is a bold one because both William and Harry have long cold-shouldered any friends who talk publicly.
The CBS programme tackled the difficult relationship that Meghan has had with the media and how, as Ms King put it, she has turned from ‘Meghan Markle, the perfect Royal’ to ‘Meghan Markle, Duchess Difficult’.
‘What are the tears about for you?’ Ms King asked a sobbing Mr Martin. ‘Because I know her so well,’ he said. ‘She doesn’t deserve all this negative press.’