Meghan Markle’s new project doomed after appalling drop in US popularity

Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex might be about to prove Oscar Wilde right.

He wrote, “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

This week they were photographed on the tiny island of Canouan in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, their second luxury getaway in a month, after having spent several days at a coastal resort in Portugal.

The press barely blinked.

That is, unlike in August 2019, when Fleet Street nearly corpsed itself over the hypocrisy of Harry zipping about Europe like a tech mogul with stock options and zero cares for the polar ice caps while he was simultaneously yelling ‘fire’ about the climate crisis.

All Harry and Meghan got this time was a certain plus ça change shrugging.

What has happened to the Sussexes? Have they, in Hollywood lingo, jumped the shark?

On Friday, new polling was revealed showing that Americans are turning on Meghan, with her support in the US having slumped.

This now joins other signs, such as her supposedly soon-to-launch website having yet to actually eventuate; the @Meghan Instagram account remaining unerringly dormant while, more broadly, the Sussexes’ professional fortunes remain in doldrum territory.

No wonder the duke and duchess fancied, if not needed, a few days of room service club sandwiches to buck themselves up.

Let’s start with some cold hard numbers, brought to us via YouGov US, and reported by Newsweek. The latest data shows that over July, August and September, Meghan’s popularity fell seven points.

Specifically, in May, June and July, 40 per cent of surveyed Americans had a positive view of her, with 23 percent having a negative one, resulting in an overall +17 net position.

Now, the latest data has Meghan liked by 32 per cent and disliked 22 percent, seeing her net approval fall to +10.

(Harry, by contrast, remained steady, on a net figure of +24 in both quarters.)

The thing to appreciate here is that what these numbers represent is Meghan’s favourability taking a hit right as she increased her public visibility.

After spending much of the year largely out of public view, with the warmer months came a discernible shift.

In August, the 42-year-old posed with celebrated poet Cleo Wade and her hairdresser Kadi Lee for her first selfie in years, was seen out to lunch, was papped celebrating her birthday with Harry, and it was revealed that the couple would be adapting the best-selling novel The Me You Can’t See for Netflix.

September brought with it the return of the Sussex double act in a year that has seen the couple seemingly pursue different career paths. (Which is not to imply a thing about their relationship. Those reports speculating as to the state of the Sussex nation are now looking like nothing but tabloid pabulum.)

The couple partied at the Los Angeles stop of Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour before Meghan returned solo for a second night only a few days later.

Hot on the heels of that came the return of Harry’n’Meghan ™ in Germany for the Invictus Games, the duke’s wildly successful and capital ‘I’ inspiring sporting event for wounded military personnel. After giving an impromptu speech, apologising for being “a little late to the party”, the Sussex show was back on in prime time.

For days we got the duke and duchess dialling the bonhomie up to 11, while Meghan rolled out a series of outfits including, unusually for her these days, pieces from accessible brands like J Crew, Banana Republic and Zara. (As the Telegraph and multiple other sources reported at the time, “Aides revealed that Meghan has not travelled with a hair stylist or makeup artist, opting instead to do it herself.” Will wonders never cease.)

Hot on the heels of that, the Sussexes popped up at what I believe was their debut California charity circuit appearance, taking to the stage at Kevin Costner’s One805 fundraiser alongside the actor and Oprah Winfrey.

It was the most public appearances we have seen from the Sussexes all year and yet the end result? What these new YouGov numbers point to is that all of this effort, all of those days of applying her own eyeliner, have only had an adverse effect on Meghan’s favourability.

(I find it fascinating – and depressing – that while Harry’s numbers have not moved, his wife’s have taken a hit, proving, I’d argue, that misogyny is still alive and kicking.)

What exactly has happened? Over the summer, it seemed like there was real momentum around Brand Meghan, with multiple reports pointing to something big and exciting brewing in Montecito.

In August, an insider told Page Six: “Meghan and the team are working hard. I think it will be surprising, it won’t be what everybody is expecting it to be, it will feel familiar to who Meghan is.”

In early September, the Telegraph’s Victoria Ward reported: “Meghan is preparing to launch a major new commercial venture. There has been much speculation that it will be a version of Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s multimillion-dollar lifestyle business, which few could deny would be right up her street.

“It’s not Goop – but it is something that is ‘genuine to who she is’”.

One thing that Meghan has never, ever lacked is an abundance of ideas and it seemed like we were about to see her unabashed, unconstrained ambition and creativity finally unfurl in all its full glory. I even had the chrysalis cliches ready to wheel out.

But, to no end, so far anyway.

The new dawn of digi-Meghan is yet to arrive.

All of this, it must be noted, applies just as equally to Harry, whose career prospects can entirely be summed up by that handy shrugging emoji. His wife’s website might still be a yeti-worthy mystery but what exactly does the duke have going on?

There have been suggestions that he might be another book in the offing with renowned biographer Andrew Lownie telling the Daily Beast earlier this month that both the duke and duchess “have more books coming”.

So too, the duke might have a doco about Africa in the pipeline, but, as heartfelt as this might end up being, it’s hard to see this sort of show really amping up Brand Sussex’s fortunes.

As we approach the one year mark since the couple’s Harry & Meghan landing on Netflix and the duchess’ mock curtsy launching a thousand GIFs, the good ship Sussex is not looking quite as shiny a prospect as it once was. Their $20 million (USD) Spotify deal has gone the way of the dodo, it was reportedly Netflix who shelled out the $4.75 million for the rights for The Me You Can’t See for them, they have no other confirmed projects in the works, and they were overlooked by Emmy voters.

Still, Meghan has one ace up her sleeve, one quality that she shares with the inestimable Wilde. When he arrived in the US for a lecture tour in 1882, asked by customs what he had to declare, he responded “nothing, except my genius”. Wilde was not lacking in moxie, something Meghan has in impressive spades.

So maybe this is just the intermission and the second Sussex act is coming any minute now. Any minute now …

Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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