Few public figures in history have experienced a fall from PR grace with quite the speed or ferocity of Meghan Markle, the former TV actress-turned-Duchess of Sussex.

Around the time of the royal wedding last year, media outlets were clamouring to heap praise on the graceful and intelligent American star. She proved captivating, injecting a huge shot of energy into the monarchy — and, together with Harry, became the face of the new era of glamorous and modern royals.

But over the course of this year, a "relentless campaign" by those same tabloids has painted Meghan in a starkly different light, and the onslaught of negativity has driven Prince Harry to snap.

Prince Harry said he has been a
Prince Harry said he has been a "silent witness to her private suffering for too long" and is over watching media outlets "lie" about her. Photo / Getty Images

Harry's extraordinary, emotional public smackdown of the British press over the treatment of his wife was a tirade nine months in the making.

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It follows a rocky year for the couple, who have struggle to modernise expectations in their roles and responsibilities.

Towards the end of 2018, the Commonwealth was truly in the grip of Meghan-mania.

The law firm acting for Meghan accused the Mail on Sunday of a campaign of false, derogatory stories. Photo / AP
The law firm acting for Meghan accused the Mail on Sunday of a campaign of false, derogatory stories. Photo / AP

Her popularity reached a feverish peak during the wildly successful royal tour in Australia last year, at the start of which she announced she was expecting her first child with Prince Harry.

She was dubbed Diana 2.0, praised for possessing all the positive traits of the People's Princess, and admired for her innovative approach to royal life.

Fast-forward to today, and she's being compared to Diana for all the wrong reasons.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have launched a lawsuit against tabloids. Photo / Getty Images
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have launched a lawsuit against tabloids. Photo / Getty Images

On the last day of their royal tour to Africa, the Duke of Sussex lashed out at the British tabloid media in an explosive statement, accusing them of "bullying" and warning that the tabloid frenzy is a case of "history repeating itself".

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when, or why, it happened, but reports of a "feud" with her well-loved sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, were probably where the Sussex's nightmare PR run really kicked into high gear.

Leaks from "sources" claiming to be within Kensington Palace painted a picture of a demanding royal bridezilla, who left the Duchess of Cambridge "in tears" after one particularly tense flower girl dress fitting for Princess Charlotte.

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Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, holding their son Archie, on their tour of Africa. Photo / AP
Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, holding their son Archie, on their tour of Africa. Photo / AP

Prior to that, there'd been plenty of public criticisms levelled at Meghan from her own splintered family — namely her half-brother and half-sister — but they were largely shrugged off as publicity-hungry opportunists who, by the Duchess' own admission, she "hardly knows".

Her father, Thomas Markle Senior, was harder to ignore. The noise he's managed to cultivate over the past year has been deafening.

The retired TV lighting director, who once enjoyed a close relationship with Meghan, was reportedly "frozen out" by the royals after failing to attend her wedding amid embarrassment over a series of staged paparazzi photos.

In the months that followed, he frequently spoke to the media, alternating between emotional pleas for contact with his estranged daughter and sharp public rebukes to both her and Prince Harry.

In February, he went so far as to release a heartfelt private letter she sent him last August — the contents of which are now the focus of legal action announced by Harry and Meghan today.

Plugging the gaps between the larger negative narratives has been an almost-daily onslaught of small — but significant — Meghan coverage, remarking upon everything from her "excessive" cradling of her baby bump to her decision to close a car door by herself.

As widely varied as these observations were, they shared one thing: a disapproving undertone.

Harry's made it clear he's fed up with the "relentless" and "ruthless campaign" targeting Meghan.

But it's also important to separate mindless abuse with the justified criticisms that come with being a royal.

Public outrage at their hefty $4.4 million renovations to Frogmore Cottage provided a fair debate, as the bill was paid by British taxpayers.

Similarly, backlash over Meghan and Harry's decision to travel via private jet four times in less than two weeks, while preaching to the world about the importance of lowering our carbon footprint, brought up reasonable questions about hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, the couple's demands for privacy and their forging of new rules around the birth of Archie (denying the public the opportunity to see a beaming Meghan with the newborn on the hospital steps caused a veritable s**tstorm) raised fair points on both sides about what access their publicly funded roles should entail.

But after the devastating loss of his mother at the tender age of 11 following years of press hounding, Harry has understandably become highly protective of his wife.

According to numerous palace sources over the years, Harry's relationship with the media is highly strained.

It's claimed he tolerates reporters and photographers as part of his duty but still struggles with the fact he blames them for Diana's death — and all the suffering she endured in the years prior.

According to Majesty Magazine editor Ingrid Seward, Prince William and Harry "hated their mother's celebrity life and they grew to really hate the photographers that were always surrounding her".

After growing increasingly frustrated at his inability to block the barrage of negative attention levelled at Meghan, Harry finally broke after seeing the "painful" result of her private letter being published by the Mail on Sunday — dredging up horrifying memories from the past.

It's never been more clear just how deep the scars of his mum's death run than in this latest statement.

"I've seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person," he wrote.

"I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."