When Meghan Markle married Prince Harry, Americans got caught up in the whole fairy tale meets Masterpiece Theater fantasy of it all. The young American of middle-class origin was suddenly sitting near the top of English society with all the pomp, circumstance, and tiaras that implies. In reality, however, one can’t divorce Americans’ timeless romantic notions of the British monarch from the realities of the country where Markle’s new in-laws serve as figureheads.
England, whose electorate’s decision to exit the European Union is still sending shockwaves around the globe, is home to a notoriously vicious and well-oiled tabloid industry that makes America’s celeb rags look like reasonable and nuanced academic journals (or, depending on your point of view, amateur hour). And while Americans seem to marvel over how great BBC programming is, on the other side of the British dial is the kind of unabashedly tawdry reality television that would make even the most devoted watchers of Bravo and VH1 blush. Producers there have the trash down to a science, and we almost mean that as a compliment.
Unfortunately for Markle, those seedier sides of the English media are angling to get a piece of her story any way possible, and the estranged corners of Markle’s family tree are more than happy to sell fuel to the trash fire. Combine it all with the British public’s complicated relationship to their monarchy, and you’ve got a recipe for devastating family drama.
We should have seen this coming ever since it was revealed that the Duchess of Sussex’s half-sister Samantha Grant was caught masterminding a plan to sell staged paparazzi photos of her (and Meghan’s) father, Thomas Markle. Grant then led a contingent of other assorted Markles to England to serve as television correspondents to the wedding they weren’t invited to.
With the wedding now two months in the past and Markle settling into royal life, her family members are finding new lows in an attempt to keep their profiles high.
Take the unfortunate case of Thomas Markle, who can’t quite seem to keep his mouth shut. After laying relatively low for the month following the wedding he decided to skip, he’s been giving a steady stream of interviews to the British media, most of which he was paid for. That’s a far more common practice in certain segments of the English media than it is in America, and those producers and editors like to get some bang for their buck even if they lead their subject to providing some explosive quotes they might not otherwise utter. He’s dropped unsubstantiated claims that Prince Harry was pro-Brexit and open to the politics of Donald Trump, and also claims that he believes his daughter is miserable in her new life (even as he admittedly hasn’t spoken to her).
Meanwhile, Grant has purportedly struck a deal to appear on the upcoming season of the country’s notorious reality series Celebrity Big Brother. The term “celebrity” here is used loose and fast, and while some otherwise pleasant and down-to-earth British C-listers do sign up for the show to provide some balance (to their bank accounts and the histrionics of other contestants), producers have a flair for casting based on controversy and potential for drama. Unlike in America, where many of our competitive celebrity reality television shows see our stars competing either on behalf of a charity or by applying some actual learned skill (like, say, dancing), competitors on CBB negotiate their pay up front and get their money in full no matter when they’re voted off (assuming they aren’t kicked out for breaking the rules or leave of their own accord beforehand). Unlike our version of Big Brother, the British public votes, and they love to keep on a controversial contestant just for the drama of it all. In America, the voting public might vote to kick off the villains first. In Britain, they kick off the most boring contestants first.
The result is a surreal televised hellscape where Perez Hilton has a screaming breakdown while stripping down to his underwear, niche YouTubers cry over washcloths, and Angela Bowie’s discovery that her ex-husband David Bowie had died while she was in the house was hijacked by a misunderstanding and hysterical Tiffany “New York” Pollard. It is a mess. And even though Grant lives in Florida, as an American she probably doesn’t know exactly what kind of trouble she’s getting herself into (indeed, it seems like the show loves casting Americans who don’t fully comprehend or anticipate the nuances of British reality TV).
While the cast hasn’t been one hundred percent confirmed (they’re kept secret until the premiere), Grant has said that there’s no reason she wouldn’t do the show. She’s also basically admitted that, yes, she is profiting off her sister’s fame.
Of course, while the effect of Grant’s exploitation of her sister’s royal status may be to embarrass Meghan, it’s likely she may very well end up only further embarrassing herself in the process. Perhaps one of those otherwise pleasant and down-to-earth British C-listers will take the opportunity to very publicly call Grant out on the show (we’re sure the show’s producers are counting on it).
Brits don’t mind taking the piss out of their own royals when they represent the remnants of the country’s rigid class structure, but Markle represents something completely new to the family. If she were your standard Countess Von Aristocrat IV the Brit nobility usually marries, her embarrassing and less privileged family members might be treated as cheeky folk heroes. Precisely because Markle isn’t that (not to mention the fact that Grant is white, while Markle is mixed-race), Grant’s attempts to exploit her sister’s fame are becoming increasingly desperate and transparent to people on both sides of the audience.
While the British media is happy to pay Grant (and her father) for Markle-related dirt right now, they’d be just as happy to cash in on her by turning her into a bonafide public villain in her own right.
Be careful, Samantha—keep it up and it’s only a matter of time until the British press is digging into your past and embarrassing facets of your life as well. They can’t help it. It’s just what they do. Just ask Perez Hilton or the YouTuber who cried over a washcloth.