When the Queen had her four children she wouldn’t so much take maternity leave from her monarchical duties as mysteriously disappear from public view for a few months and then reappear, carting an adorable new baby, several months later.
So, for contemporary royal mums, there are no hard and fast rules, no set guidelines to assiduously follow as you Google whether Givenchy does post-partum mumus.
Which explains why Meghan, Duchess of Sussexes’s maternity leave is proving to be something of a PR minefield.
In the two months and a bit since Archie was born, the instances in which the 37-year-old has chosen to ditch her (I’m guessing) cashmere track pants to resume her place in the spotlight have proven increasingly controversial.
Her first appearance was at the Trooping the Colour, the Queen’s official birthday celebration on June 8. Meghan did her level best by wearing a very expensive hat and waving like the best of them. Full points!
Things got iffier after that, with her decision to accompany husband Prince Harry to a major league baseball game on June 29 raising more than a few eyebrows, while her July 4 trip to Wimbledon made international headlines for all the wrong reasons. (Having her protection officers instruct fellow spectators they were not allowed to photograph the royal, even though she was in a vast public space with TV cameras, resulted in a geyser of Marie Antoinette comparisons.)
Overnight, Meghan again took a breather from her maternity leave, this time to don a little $4924 Jason Wu number to venture out to the London premiere of The Lion King and to hug Beyonce.
All of which raises the uncomfortable question about how the 37-year-old is selecting which events to frock up for, and which to give a miss, while she is on a break from her official Duchess duties.
Because so far, the outings she has chosen to go to have tended to be high on glamour, Beyonce and Instagram-worthiness.
At the same time, over the past month there have been other official outings that it would have made sense for Meghan to potentially put in an appearance at, and yet she did not.
For example, June 6th was the 75th anniversary of D Day. Harry marked the occasion by donning his Blues and Royals military frock coat and meeting World War Two veterans at the Chelsea Founder’s Day event.
As the wife of a veteran herself, it would have made perfect sense for Meghan to, even briefly, join her husband to show her thanks to the men and women who fought so bravely. Standing by Harry’s side on such a deeply significant day would have created an indelible image of her commitment to her adopted homeland.
(Yes, it was only one month after Archie was born, but two days later Meghan clocked on for the Trooping the Colour, so clearly important symbolic events were doable for her.)
Nor did Meghan choose to break her mat leave for the Commonwealth Youth Roundtable, which Harry gleefully rolled up to, on July 11th, despite her being the Vice-Patron of the Youth Commonwealth Trust and the Patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities. Beyond Meghan’s official connections, given the Sussexes have been feverishly working to cast themselves as global youth ambassadors, putting in an appearance would have helped reinforce this image.
Ditto the Diana Award National Youth Mentoring Summit on July 2nd, which Harry, in his trademark slightly rumpled grey suit, fronted up to solo, ready to shake hands and turn on the charm.
No one would be questioning Meghan’s choice not to go to these (let’s be honest) less fun, Beyonce-free outings if she had decisively stepped out of the spotlight for the duration of her maternity leave. The issue is that the events Meghan has shown up for in the name of “work” all very conveniently don’t involve sitting around big tables covered in tiny flags, discussing policy initiatives or meeting nonagenarians.
Having said all this, I am absolutely cognisant of the fact that Meghan is the mother of a newborn baby. With that comes stress and levels of sleeplessness not normally seen outside of a Guantánamo Bay enhanced interrogation session.
We don’t know if Meghan had the best of intentions to attend the D Day anniversary, but on the day Archie was sick. Similarly, she might have had a particularly rough night before the Commonwealth Youth Roundtable.
However, no matter what is going on behind Frogmore Cottage’s whopping hedge, the image Meghan has left many people with is that she is more interested in events that bolster her star-power than ones which involve the more humdrum parts of being an HRH.
If the Duchess wants to hug baseball players and Beyonce and spend an afternoon watching a mate play tennis, then so be it — it’s what she does on all those other afternoons that matters. And, after all, wouldn’t it have been nice if we had a photo of her hugging D-Day veterans too?
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and freelance writer. Continue the conversation @DanielaElser
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