OPINION - Meghan Markle's American Riviera reinvention is spectacularly insensitively timed

The Duchess of Sussex overnight debuted a lifestyle brand (PA Wire)
The Duchess of Sussex overnight debuted a lifestyle brand (PA Wire)

Broccoli stalks. Beetroot. Brussels sprouts. Red pepper. More broccoli. White turnip. All massaged together in a big bowl with, I’m guessing, olive oil for a delicious dish of wholesome roasted vegetables.

The pictures released of Meghan making stuff to eat in a professional setting — with one shot featuring an actual cook behind her — give a steer about what we can look forward to from her new venture, a cooking and lifestyle brand: American Riviera Orchard.

Given the Duchess of Sussex’s well-known attention to detail, are we actually surprised that the launch coincides with the absence from the field of her non-friend, Kate? While the Princess of Wales is recovering from surgery and from the pasting she got for doctoring her family photos, here’s Meghan, all too visible, all too glamorous. Suck that up, Kate.

Another more hilarious picture shows this hard-working mother-of-two in her huge, softly lit kitchen, dressed in spotless cream, sprinkling something into a tasteful white bowl with none of the mess that attends making anything at all chez McDonagh. Nope, this is cooking as lifestyle; cue for a lovely bowl of lemons, possibly from an orchard. It’s to coincide with the launch of a cookery series on Netflix. Can’t wait. Can you?

This, folks, is the relaunch of Meghan. But the lifestyle stuff isn’t the whole thing. It coincides — but with the duchess you can never assume anything is coincidental — with the presentation by her and Harry of the latest Digital Civil Rights award — plus $100,000 — by their Archewell Foundation in association with the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People of a prize to Dr Joy Buolamwini in recognition of her advocacy for equitable and accountable AI.

Now this issue is rather important, and it’s no disrespect to Dr Buolamwini to say that the optics of all this do no harm to the Sussex brand. And the award was made shortly before Prince William was giving prizes to the recipients of the Diana Legacy Award in London, established in memory of his and Harry’s mother. That attracted attention for one reason: William had left the stage before Harry made his video appearance from California. So, point made: the brothers can’t bear to be in one place, even remotely, not even to remember their mother.

It demonstrates yet again how unmoored the Duke of Sussex is from the family which is the point of him

It demonstrates yet again how unmoored the Duke of Sussex is from the family which is the point of him. It also shows what the Sussex brand is, now that the old one of SussexRoyal has been discontinued: chiefly Meghan.

A few days after we learned that she had appointed a PR to remedy her public relations problems in Britain — and good luck with that — she is curating a careful aspirational image: part-philanthropic, part-savvy businessy. It occasioned her return to Instagram, with 200,000 people jumping at the bait.

We can get a clue what to expect of American Riviera Orchard (rustic but glamorous) from the trademark application featuring “cookbooks, tableware, linens, a range of spreads and preserves including jellies, jams and nut butters, alongside table place card holders”.

International customers can look forward to stationery, textiles, string bags, yoga gear and a range of pet-related items such as leashes, collars, feeding mats and bird seed. Bird seed!

It’s not difficult to see the direction of travel here. Look no further than Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, a site for insanely expensive items, which includes a food and home element. There you can find what will almost certainly feature on Meghan’s menu: a series of recipes for Matcha and Coconut Chia pudding (bet you anything Meghan is big on chia seeds), healthy plant-based breakfasts and gluten-free mac’n’cheese. Plus dinner plates at $340 for six. Mind you, unlike Goop, Meghan’s offer doesn’t include sex toys.

The thing about Goop is that there are any number of women who, bless them, actually want to be Gwynnie. How many want to be Meghan? Let’s see.

Meanwhile if you want interesting ways with vegetables, try Elizabeth David. No glamour, few pics of the cook, but it’s all stuff you want to eat. Which is kind of the point of cooking, no?

Melanie McDonagh is an Evening Standard columnist