Daniela Elser: The embarrassing flip side of Meghan Markle's big court win

Daniela Elser: The embarrassing flip side of Meghan Markle's big court win

Opinion:

Never has a clutch of titled Brits made an American as happy as on Friday when the Court of Appeal in London ruled in favour of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex in the latest round of her privacy battle.

For the actress-turned-duchess-turned palace agitator, it was the second time she has prevailed in her seemingly never-ending legal stoush with the Mail on Sunday.

Her latest win means she will not face her estranged dad in a public showdown. The High Court issued a summary judgment in February – meaning she won without having to face a messy high-profile trial.

We are long past the two-year mark since it was announced that she was suing the Mail’s parent company for publishing parts of a letter she had sent her estranged father Thomas Markle.

In January this year, the court found in her favour and this week, the Mail’s attempt to overturn that decision was kiboshed.

2-0 for the royal.

No sooner had news broke of Meghan’s sweep than the now California-based content creator had put out a modesty-defying statement declaring “This is a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right” and “I have treated this lawsuit as an important measure of right versus wrong”.

Pop the good sparkling kombucha! Whip up a Tig Cup cocktail! (Mmm, gin, maraschino cherry liqueur and shavings of radish!) Friday was one for the forces of good in the face of the pernicious press! (BYO cape).

But let’s just slow things down here. Put down artisanal Brooklyn-made party poppers. Time for the lid to go back on the maraschino liqueur.

While the court ruling was unequivocally the result that Team Sussex had been hoping for, that’s not to say that this situation has been an out and out triumph for the mum-of-two.

Sure, she might have won but at what cost? She has, and could very well continue to, pay a steep price for so determinedly pursuing this case.

Most obviously, last month, Meghan was forced into the deeply embarrassing position of having to apologise for “unintentionally” ‘misleading’ the court.

See, at the heart of much of the legal argy-bargy here was the question of privacy and one of the key questions raised in the case was whether Harry or Meghan had been involved in the obsequious 2020 biography of them, Finding Freedom.

Previously, the court had been told that Meghan “does not know if, and to what extent, the communications team were involved in providing information for the book” … only for it to be revealed by Jason Knauf, the Sussexes’ former communications secretary, that they had given him the green light to brief Freedom’s authors, including on her estranged family.

(Meghan, in one email to Knauf and in which she oddly used the third person voice, offered disparaging details about half-sister Samantha: “Upon Meghan dating Harry, Samantha changed her last name back to Markle, and began a career creating stories to sell to the press. She had lost custody of all three of her children from different fathers.”)

Cue the most embarrassing instance of royal misremembering since the Queen managed to only recall at the eleventh hour that Paul Burrell, Diana, Princess of Wales’ butler, had told her he was removing hundreds of dresses of hers just before Burrell was about to stand trial for allegedly stealing said frocks.

(Prince Andrew told the BBC’s Emily Mailtis that he could not recall meeting sex trafficking victim Virginia Giuffre despite there being a photo of them together, so perhaps royal amnesia is a real and rare condition?)

For Meghan, this courtroom admission was nothing short of humiliating and raised a flurry of questions such as, could one really forget taking the decisive step of okaying participation in a biography?

Daniela Elser: The embarrassing flip side of Meghan Markle's big court win

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan visit One World Observatory on 102nd floor of Freedom Tower of World Trade Center. Photo / Getty Images

Doubling down on the mortification front was the fact that Knauf’s evidence also detailed how Meghan had written the original letter to her father “with the understanding that it could be leaked.”

No matter the fact that all this detail ultimately had little bearing on the legal outcome, that Meghan had so easily forgotten something so fundamental to this case and that when had she had put pen to paper she had called her father “Daddy” because she felt it would “pull at the heartstrings”, made it that much trickier for her to occupy the moral high ground here.

The end result of all this is that today, there is much more on the public record, potentially reputation-denting stuff at that, than there would have been otherwise.

More importantly, her credibility has taken a serious hit.

Keep in mind here, all of this comes at a time when trust in the say-so of the Sussexes is likely to be an increasingly furious topic of debate.

In March this year, Buckingham Palace announced an inquiry into allegations that Meghan had bullied a staff member, an inquiry that is still believed to be ongoing.

The Duchess has vigorously denied the claims and only this week, her lawyer Jenny Aifa told a documentary that the original report that first broke the news had “massive, massive inaccuracies”.

While there is no timetable to when the results of the inquiry, which is being conducted by an outside law firm, will be made known, this could well end up as an ‘aides said/she said’ scenario making it bad news for the Sussexes.

Then there is the fact that pursuing this case against the Mail has reportedly hardly won them any fans inside palace gates.

A royal source recently told The Times’ Roya Nikkhah: “There is frustration all the way to the top [of the royal family], because a lot of people told them that it was unwise to proceed with the case. Now she has been found out. They [the royal family] will think they should never have taken it to court.”

Daniela Elser: The embarrassing flip side of Meghan Markle's big court win

Thomas Markle interviewed Sunrise on Seven. Photo / Seven

So, what of Thomas Markle here?

The chances of the seemingly permanently-aggrieved former Hollywood lighting director suddenly piping down after years of lambasting his daughter and son-in-law anytime a microphone is waved in his face are less than zero.

Rather, it is all but guaranteed that in the months and years (if not decades) to come, Thomas will remain an ever-present, ever-angry staple in the media, erupting like a paternal Vesuvius with depressing regularity.

Likewise, while this week’s ruling was a significant blow for the Mail, they have said they are considering appealing to the UK’s Supreme Court, suggesting that a last gasp legal gambit might be on the cards.

While Meghan might have triumphed, and have the self-important press release to show for it, this week’s court decision seems like far less of a wholesale vindication and much more of a Pyrrhic victory.

Still, at least the Queen must be breathing a sigh of relief with the prospect of a grisly trial starring her granddaughter-in-law and grandson off the table.

Might we respectfully recommend a Tig Cup in celebration Ma’am? Just hold the radishes.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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