The Atlanticist

by Daisy Prince

Prince Harry poses with Meghan Markle following the announcement of their engagement in November 2017. Photo: AFP.

Dear Meghan,
First of all, congratulations on your engagement to Prince Harry. Being an actress is the perfect preparation for the job you are about to accept. But even with all the best preparation in the world, marrying an Englishman, let alone a royal one, presents certain challenges that you won’t learn about in Wikipedia. So, from one American girl to another, please allow me to give you the benefit of a little advice so you can win over the unusual set you are marrying into. The following is not advice for charming the British people; they already adore you, for being beautiful, and for providing hope, to a nation divided by Brexit, that a biracial American royal bride will signal to the world that they are not a nation of xenophobes after all. This instruction, Meghan, is instead to teach you how to thrive in the community of young farmers, die-hard fox hunters, and dusty landowners who make up the backbone of Prince Harry’s circle from Gloucestershire.

The first thing to know about the British upper classes, or at least this rural set that Prince Harry grew up with, is that they deeply adore the English countryside and unconsciously believe that all ailments can be cured by being in it. Their depth of feeling for land borders on the religious, and, for a nation that equates piety with hypocrisy, it is one of the few subjects upon which they will openly express their sentiments. This profound love of the countryside must come from the length of time England has been inhabited. The French call England Angleterre, meaning “Land of Angles,” after the Germanic tribes who were absorbed by the Roman and Norman invaders. There is still a touch of the pagan in the British landowning classes.

The Brits into whose company you are marrying may appear on the surface to be buttoned-up. But lurking just below are fierce iconoclasts who treat most laws with disdain, and who have a vast appetite for pleasure and vice. In fact, the upper-class ability to rail (quietly) against convention is one of its most attractive qualities. They are never cowed by their surroundings, whether they are getting a pint in the pub, partying in a field at a music festival, or eating off gold plates under the watchful gaze of their ancestral portraits. They have the self-confidence that comes from being totally at ease with who they are.

Americans on the hunt for a husband in the BBC adaptation of The Buccaneers. 1995.

I found all of this out firsthand, over the course of seven years. I worked in London as a journalist and spent my weekends in Gloucestershire. Initially, the combination of childishness, clannishness, and occasional downright barbarity of the “toffs,” as they are known, struck me as quite off-putting. I recall my first hunt ball, which I’d assumed would be a civilized, even stuffy affair, only to find myself caught in the middle of a food fight in which one Hooray tossed remains of his frosted cake at my fanciest dress. The gentleman to my right, who started out seeming normal, was transformed a few hours and many Jell-O shots later into a red-faced buffoon who got up on the table and shoved a bottle of champagne up his rear end. Finally, I decided: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I got stuck into the Jell-O shots myself, became paralyzingly drunk, and was having a very merry time until I was deemed a little too inebriated to be in public. I had to be hauled home by my erstwhile boyfriend, now husband.

And that, in a nutshell, is my advice to you, Meghan. Join ’em. I’m not saying get wasted at public events, but do try to appreciate the countryside and what it means to Prince Harry. You will be spending many weekends standing around at shooting events. If you really want to make a great impression on the toffs, take the time to get to know the stalkers and the keepers whose life’s work is keeping those estates in order. Your good manners will be noticed. Better still, take up one of the sports; you will never feel better than after a day’s fox-hunting, and women who shoot well are roundly considered to be super cool and sexy.

Aside from the practical aspects of learning how to be married to an Englishman, there are psychological challenges too. As Americans, children of Oprah and Dr. Phil, emotional openness is one of our hallmarks. I’m sure Prince Harry was attracted to your emotional ease. But never forget: this is a country that truly believes almost everything can be solved by a hot bath, a cold drink, and a long muddy walk with the dogs. “Shrink” is something you do in shame when someone tells you’ve used all the hot water.

I found it difficult, and I still struggle with the British inability to articulate their emotions. My solution was to find my own circle of friends through my work as a journalist. I’ve kept those friends, because the British are the most loyal of people, and once they love you, they love you forever. So I would advise, finally, you not to give up your work for too long. The fun and unity of working on a team is something that might end up being a lifeline for you, and if you are told employment is not becoming for an HRH, remind them that the British monarchy’s single greatest achievement has been its ability to change with the times. The institution has survived two world wars, a royal divorce, and Princess Margaret, against the odds. I’m sure it can accommodate a royal princess who works.

Daisy Prince is the former editor of Avenue.