I'm not blind to Meghan Markle's flaws, but she's been treated abominably

Barbara Ellen
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Are you for or against Prince Harry and Meghan Markle? Are the couple wholly wronged and wonderful, no caveats permitted? Or is she an ambitious, wily, showbiz witch who hypnotised her prince into abandoning his family so that she could swan about the globe as a semi-royal, with all the privileges, but fewer tedious ribbon-snipping responsibilities? Perhaps most pressingly in this increasingly polarised issue, does the shabby treatment of Meghan in any way affect your view?

Even for someone as staunchly Team Markle as myself, the new biography of the couple, Finding Freedom, by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand (with insights from friends of the couple, perhaps even secretly the couple themselves), looks a tad too simpatico. In the extracts I’ve seen, Meghan is depicted “tearfully” saying to a friend: “I gave up my entire life for this family. I was willing to do whatever it takes”, which could be true, but it’s also a highly convenient pull-quote.

Elsewhere, there’s the total cringe of the Sussex Royal online venture and more than a whiff of entitlement about the Sussexes’ negotiation of their break from the royals, which initially seems to amount to: “We’ll pop back occasionally, when it suits, but you can forget opening rainy fetes in Doncaster.” I’m not blind to such occasional inconsistencies, perhaps even hypocrisies. I just think other Meghan-related issues are more important.

What is the main (vaguely legitimate) charge against Meghan anyway – that, all along, she fancied becoming a celebrity-philanthropist rather than a second-division royal wife? Well, so what if it is true – is it a hanging offence? Then there’s the more serious charge: that Meghan, being mixed-race, took on the mantle of victimhood to garner support. Well, this is tricky, because, while I wouldn’t accuse the vast majority of Britons of being racist, many of us detected elements of racism in Meghan’s news coverage.

Everything else aside, it seems to me that sectors of the press had a choice to behave absolutely impeccably on the racial front and they (not Meghan) chose not to. One particular news item, relating to her childhood, was, in my opinion, coded racism at its worst, probably not something that would even be attempted in these post-George Floyd times. It was so sly and horrible that it made me cry.

This is what matters to me. It’s why I don’t care if the Sussexes are occasionally naive, compromised or entitled or if they end up flogging royal wedding tea towels on Sussex Royal. What matters is that Meghan hasn’t “played the victim”, she is a victim, or, more accurately, a survivor. Whatever some people say, at certain points, the racism was real. And, if that had been me and my mixed-race baby, I’d have wanted to leave the country too.

Back to the gym? Don’t sweat it

A gym member works out
‘Lockdown appears to have opened up people’s eyes to the fact that gyms are all about fitness.’ Photograph: Morgan Harlow/PA

Gyms are reopening (the ones that can) and good luck to them. I am, however, mystified by people saying they’re unsure if they wish to return. The sense of no longer feeling drawn to gym culture: the people, the atmosphere, the life-altering spin classes... Maybe this says more about you than it does about gyms.

People have got into the habit of demanding that their choice of gym or workout reflects them. An “identity” factor has come into play whereby the gym that someone attended, their type of exercise, in which brand of stretchy clobber, said as much, if not more, about them and their chosen tribe than about any desire to do the only thing that makes sense at any gym: maintain fitness.

This is clever marketing: gyms presenting as microcosms of you and your mindset. Just as obviously, it’s absurd. Looking back to school - PE was just PE. There was no spin on it, no promise – for the talentless majority – of fun, increased social standing or a sense of belonging. Fitness was the sole aim. Put on your shorts and get on with it.

Now here we are again. Lockdown appears to have opened people’s eyes to the fact that gyms are all about fitness and the rather tedious effort it takes to achieve it. The rest of the breathless promises (you will be beautiful/popular/fashionable. You will belong) are exposed as promotional bells and whistles. Which is fine. Lockdown may have broken the spell of customer-expectation, but gyms still offer machines, classes and everything else to facilitate fitness. If your gym is now open, what more do you think you need?

Grin and bear it? Why should you? Neanderthals didn’t

Hyperrealistic face of a Neanderthal male
‘Prepare to embrace your inner Neanderthal.’ Photograph: Nikola Solic/Reuters

Are you a born wuss? The kind of person who truly believes that injections hurt them more? That you’re “just more sensitive to pain than other people”? If so, then prepare to embrace your inner Neanderthal.

Contrary to the popular belief that Neanderthals were knuckle-dragging, hairy thugs, a study published in Current Biology reports that they could be responsible for some of us being over-sensitive cry-babies. When Neanderthals bred with humans all those years ago, a group of their descendants ended up with a mutation, leading to extra-sensitive nerve endings and a lower pain threshold.

Other Neanderthal inheritances include a heightened resilience to the cold, but this pain threshold element is intriguing. Previously, I’d have thought that people claiming something “hurt them more” were – what’s the technical term again? – lying. Now it seems that there might be a solid evolutionary reason for their suffering.

Not that many people seem to have been affected, certainly not as many as are now probably reading this and thinking: “Oh my God, that’s me, with the Neanderthal low pain threshold genetic mutation thingie… It explains so much. I’m even braver than I thought I was.” While this research could alter the perception of Neanderthals, the smart money is on human nature remaining stubbornly unchanged.

• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist