Life in the UK just hasn’t worked out well for Meghan Markle. She has yet to find her feet in her new homeland. Not even with her fairy-tale wedding, new baby, ready-made social circle and the multi-million-pound renovation of her mansion, which might have made it more comfortable.
Hence the announcement on Wednesday that the Sussexes will base themselves between the UK and North America, i.e. Canada. Many Brits are baffled that they see their life of privilege here in England as a prison sentence. While in my view there is no reason why the couple shouldn’t move abroad, the way they have handled the announcement, not to mention suing the press, and the shenanigans with baby Archie, have been clumsy, to say the least.
A move to a new city is usually tricky, especially in the first two years. When I moved to London from Toronto, I struggled to navigate a new society, new points of reference and of course the British class system. I discovered that the Royal Family were not taken very seriously and learned to interpret the nuances in the language. “Let’s have lunch”, I discovered, really meant “don’t call”. Now, I do it myself.
My first two years were difficult, but I had a relatively easy start as I moved to London with my then English boyfriend, who was both kind and generous. The blunders I made at first included walking into the wrong, white stucco-fronted house that I lived in, as the long row all looked the same. I have confusedly handed a tin of tuna to a friend who had offered to fix my “tuner” (pronounced “tuna” by the English!). I learned that you must not make eye contact on the London Tube and that London bus drivers are generally hostile. In Toronto, they actually stop if you’re running to catch up. And I learned not to blush when my editor would say: “Keep your pecker up.”
Slowly, it came together for me. But not for Meghan. She might well have benefited from giving life at Frogmore Cottage a bit more time. But she is the stronger half of that union and keen on swift change, not something the Royals take lightly. I think one of the things that Meghan must like about Toronto, where she lived while filming Suits, is the friendlier atmosphere of the natives, who are as diverse as in London.
In a recent conversation with some fellow Canadian expats, we talked about the relationship between men and women. In Toronto, for example, people will approach you, talk to you and even ask you out on a date. Not so much here. Many years ago, a social anthropologist friend wanted to introduce me to someone who had recently lost his wife. After a year of all of us trying to find an agreed time, which proved impossible, I made the radical decision to go Canadian. I suggested that she gave him my number. I could hear my lovely English friend turn white over the phone. “We don’t do that here,” she said as she battled to retain her composure.
Meghan and Harry, if they go soon, will catch the final series of the TV comedy, Schitt’$ Creek, starring Home Alone and Canada’s own Catherine O’Hara. Hilariously funny, it’s written by Eugene and Daniel Levy and it has laugh-out-loud comic scripts.
Buying a house in Vancouver, Canada’s most expensive city, could be a good investment as real estate is expected to keep rising. And the homeless people the Duke and Duchess see on the streets in London will be just as familiar in Toronto and Vancouver.
There’s plenty for under-employed Royals to do. They could help the indigenous people who have many issues that need to be sorted out, not least getting potable water on some of their lands. They could look into the effectiveness of restorative justice or learn French, Canada’s other official language. Perhaps they could campaign for the freedom of the two Canadians languishing in jail in China on trumped-up charges with the possibility of execution hanging over them. They were arrested in revenge for the arrest of Huawei Canada’s CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is facing extradition to the US.
The Sussexes will get more bang for their buck, literally, as Canada suffers from a weak dollar, low growth and, until now, sinking oil prices. Mark Carney, the Canadian governor of the Bank of England, whose term comes to an end this month, might also help to bring some sparkle back to the economy. He’ll be based in New York, just over an hour’s flight from Toronto, and the nation’s capital, Ottawa.
Every time I go back to Toronto, I’m always impressed by how much better the city gets. If Harry and Meghan move to her old place, they can walk to Canada’s most prestigious department store, Holt Renfrew, owned by the Canadian owners of Selfridge’s. She can have her Tim Hortons coffee, a Canadian staple. As she is super careful with her diet, she’ll find delicious salads all over the metro area. Perhaps most importantly, they’ll be fêted, Canadian-style, everywhere.
There’s an apocryphal story about the Duke of Edinburgh. He had ventured to the rugged, rural north of Canada for a formal dinner. When dessert arrived, the person sitting next to him was heard to say: “Keep your fork, Duke. There’s pie.” I think Meghan and Harry will be very happy in the Great White North. Pass the maple syrup.