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1st February 2020

John Mathew Smith & from Laurel Maryland, USA [CC BY-SA]

Journalists have been comparing Duchess Meghan to Princess Di for some time in every way except one. Both women did and do high-profile charity work. Both women were celebrities who seemed to see themselves somewhere above and beyond Britain’s royal family. Both jumped into the role of anti-establishment establishment figure, having their cake and eating it. Di and Meghan went and go to lengths to project empathy for the hurt, sympathy for the oppressed: they exude popular grace and the common touch, albeit from rather on high.  

Yet, surprisingly for the British and American press, one thought linking the two women has been tactfully left out.

Did Harry fall in love with a seemingly-vulnerable wild-child actress eerily reminiscent of the pretty mother he lost when he was 12? Has he found a replacement outsider victim princess he can rescue? Is he trying to somehow replay history, unconsciously save his adored mother’s life, put right the wrong he went through as a boy?

We’ve all met men who lose a girlfriend, mother, wife, even a cherished sister - then marry another woman strangely similar to the lost love. When you know one of those men, everyone can see the uncanny resemblance except him. Check the photographs – Meghan uses exactly that strange head tilt of Diana, head forward, a little down, forehead lowered, eyes meekly looking up, smiling half-shyly yet straight into the camera. Poised perfectly on the razor’s edge between flirtatiously coy and naïvely, primly girlish. It might be conscious, it might be unconscious – it hardly matters which.

In that quaint prewar expression, butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.

Primatologist Frans der Waal, author of ‘Chimpanzee Politics’ and populariser of the terms ‘alpha male’ and ‘alpha female’, describes a female chimp who had enormous moral authority in her troop, calling her the centre of the community, the “consoler-in-chief” of hurt or unhappy community members. Is this why both Meghan and Diana seemed so often to be apologising for their good looks? Does a candidate for Consoler-in-Chief need to ask for forgiveness, to constantly insinuate they are much more than just beautiful? Is that the expression they both have in common a kind of simpering appeal to be liked?

A Telegraph journalist I met a couple of days ago relayed a rumour that Meghan is contemplating a political career in the US, perhaps a run for Congress followed a few years later by a Presidential candidacy. Meghan’s claim that she has suffered racist unkindness at the hands of the British press and Britain in general sits oddly with the welcoming excitement across the country at her marriage to Prince Harry little more than a year ago. It sounds more like a slogan designed to identify her brand in later campaigns for political power. It also sits curiously with the vocal warnings by her own relatives to Britain not to accept her self-presentation at face value – certainly something unusual to hear from the family of a girl about to be socially elevated by marriage into a major royal house.

Dancers, catwalk mannequins, and athletes often have blank relaxed faces because they are used to letting their beautiful bodies speak for them. Comedian Chris Rock has remarked how Mrs Trump, the Slovene former model, has a single fixed look, like a puzzled squint as if she’s trying to remember where she met you. But does she always keep that same facial expression on the other hand because she isn’t apologising for being beautiful? Because Melania doesn’t need to emote all the time, to empathise and bridle for empathy in return?

This other style, more common in Eastern Europe, is unembarrassed. Neither Donald Trump nor his leggy wife offer explanations or apologies for who they are. Both seem relaxed with themselves – to the incensed fury of Trump’s political opponents. Both exude power and physical self-confidence. There was the odd way the younger good-looking Trump circa 2000 looked like a teleporter fusion of the two men from UNCLE, the actors who played Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin in the 1960s TV show. However, nothing about him suggests unease.

Whatever else we can say about Mr Trump’s astonishingly astute rise to power, it didn’t and doesn’t depend on a desperate pleading to be liked: quite the opposite. All he seems to want from his voters is that they feel he has genuinely earned their trust, that they accept he is doing what he and they sincerely think their country needs.

Nor does the prowling, panther-like Mrs Trump look anything but effortlessly lithe and lissome. Neither he nor she seems to feel any need to screw their faces up in cloying winces like Di or Meg, to engage in endless flirting for mutual empathy with the crowd. Trump is simply Numero Uno and Melania is the immaculate woman who won him. Sometimes they don’t even seem to need the other close by for support, so confident are they both in their own status and desirability.

But Mrs Trump isn’t campaigning to become Consoler-in-Chief. She isn’t trying to outflank a royal line who already fill that role and rather more.  

Mark Griffith is a financial trader in Budapest, Hungary with a weblog at He regularly writes about AI, state surveillance, economics, and culture.

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