I HAVE always likened becoming a new family member by virtue of marriage or courtship to being the new girl at school.
You know that everyone around you is connected by years and experience; bonded by affection and proximity and, in the case of families, bound by blood and fortified by unity and a common identity.
Everyone has already established their feet under the table and you are observed and assessed and . . . judged.
So I can well imagine how intimidating it might have felt for Meghan Markle to enrol in the most famous family in the world.
While I never got as far as joining it (I stopped short of a bit of rough and tumble under the covers with Prince Edward), I have had to join a couple of other units over the past 30 years through my marriages.
And I don’t mind admitting that a very large part of the reason I married my first husband, John Turnbull, aged 23, was because I loved his parents so much.
As a child from a broken home and a somewhat dishevelled childhood, his family represented harmony and integrity in the purest form and I was truly hoping some of it would rub off on me.
I adored them. But I also recall on one of our first meetings that it was spelled out to me — in no uncertain terms — that, the word “divorce” did not exist in their family.
As a child of divorced parents I gulped and, many years down the line, perhaps inevitably, I messed up the marriage and let that word leave an indelible mark on their clan.
At the time, I burnt with shame at what I had done to them.
The process of naturalising into a new family is tricky territory, loaded with tradition and attitudes which require quick learning.
I was always desperate to be liked and I don’t think it’s too wild a guess that, as an actress, Meghan would also have been keen to make a great impression.
I, for one, wanted to know as much detail as possible about my in-laws in advance of meeting them, so I’m utterly perplexed by Meghan’s claim that she knew nothing about the Royal Family.
Even before the days of Googling, I posed my own questions, delved into detail, made assessments — all in the interest of familial research.
You want to be prepared — you don’t want to step out of line or put your foot in your mouth. At least not at the first meet.
Before my second marriage, I was introduced to my next set of in-laws and extended family. They shared a remarkable, almost intimidating bond.
I’m not sure I’ve witnessed one as strong and it felt impossible to try to penetrate this robust household circle. But on one occasion, my father-in-law (a former General in the British Army and a dear, dear man) came over to me and asked if they, the family, “were a bit too much”.
And the fact that he took the trouble to acknowledge it gave me a greater sense of belonging.
I’m just going to throw this out there: I’m wondering if — and I’m in danger of generalisation here — because Meghan came from a broken, disjointed background, in-laws and family were perhaps not as integral to her as they might be for others.
For me, it was crucial because I was young and felt so fractured, with no sense of belonging, that I craved it. But Meghan was a well-established, mature, self-assured woman who perhaps felt a bit more indifferent.
I’m pretty sure I nodded, agreed more than I should have back in those days, moulding my opinions to fit the in-laws.
On account of wanting to make an impression I would wear the right, respectable thing, speak in my best voice and attempt to not get paralytic at the first lunch.
If it happened today, I would be considerably more relaxed and willing to show my true self.
In fact, in my third marriage I only had to meet the father-in-law as the mother had passed away.
He felt deeply threatened by my presence and, despite going above and beyond, I still did not succeed in placating him, I told him what I really thought about him (privately, not on global TV) — and didn’t mince my words.
He chose to never speak to my ex-husband ever again. He took his silence and bitterness to his grave but my ex felt I’d done the right thing.
Which brings us to the fact that “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” — often incorrectly interpreted as blood relations being bonded more powerfully than those not related, when, in fact, the opposite is true.
And that is certainly the case with Harry and Meghan because he made a very firm choice in his wife over his family.
That may be as it should be but falling out with the in-laws and greater family is painful and not without consequence. Especially when there are children involved.
I’ve stayed in touch with my former in-laws because I wanted to retain the relationship despite the fact that my marriages expired.
It seems wholly unnecessary to make the grandchildren part of the collateral damage.
HM The Queen clearly agrees with me on this as she reached out with her statement full of love and understanding — considerably more generous than she needed to be.
No end for Naz ordeal
I HAVE been following the painful story of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s problematic, calculated and cruel incarceration in Iran on spying charges, which she denies.
I would never have believed that, five years on, she would still be in Tehran and her dignified, loyal husband, Richard, over here.
The toll on this poor woman’s mental and physical health, I worry, will be irreparable. And, of course, a huge part of the collateral damage is their darling daughter, Gabriella.
Nazanin may now have been released from house arrest but she is expected back in court imminently on new charges in this monstrous game of absolute mental torture.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab waving his fist in the direction of Iran and saying things in “the strongest possible terms” has never really cut it, and I don’t know how long he expects the situation to go on.
21st Century version of The Stepford Wives
HAD a lazy moment one evening and fell upon episodes of The Only Way Is Essex – a reality show I enjoyed immensely when it first came on our TV screens.
This time, however, I could not make out who was who.
Not being mean. But seriously – inflated lips, phony eyelashes, bloated, amplified cheek filler and hair extensions on every single one of the girls has rendered but one result: They all look exactly the same.
Like some 21st Century version of The Stepford Wives.
Yu must take me
JAPANESE billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has offered to pay for eight members of the public to join him for a flight around the moon on Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket.
Last year he was in search of a girlfriend to join him on the trip.
Mr Maezawa, could I save you a few bob and you just take me on a trip around my local pubs on April 12?
Gould for Ellie taking a stand
CONGRATULATIONS to the glorious Ellie Goulding, who is expecting her first child with husband Caspar Jopling.
The announcement was swiftly followed by a comment that the singer, “isn’t intending to slip away into the countryside and become a stay-at-home mum”.
Great news for all of us who enjoy her music but isn’t it frustrating that in 2021 women still feel the need to lay out their future path as mothers?
First, being a stay-at-home mum is a great privilege, if it is by choice.
Second, no one would ever dream of asking the father if that would be his intention.
Mike's top of class
I’M not sure slebs are a fair cross-section of society – most are proud, puffed up, vainglorious counterfeits.
But occasionally you meet truly genuine people. One of those is Michael Underwood, who I met many years ago on Dancing On Ice. The presenter, who has appeared on Ministry Of Mayhem with Holly Willoughby and on CBBC, also happens to be married to my friend.
Michael has just revealed that he has swapped the TV studio for the classroom because, when telly work dried up, he decided to fall back on his teaching degree. He is now a drama teacher at a primary school.
His mum had advised him to be ready for a time when the phone would stop ringing – just like my mother told me when I was about to embark on a drama degree that I would spend most of my working life unemployed (nice to know she had faith in me . . .) so I went to secretarial college.
I can now type it before you’ve thought it and I’m grateful for the skill. But back to Michael.
In all honesty, I just think he is too nice for the world of showbiz. He is kind, gentle, genuine and says he’s on a mission to build up children’s confidence.
And TV’s loss will be his pupils’ gain. What an amazing guy to have as a teacher. #Respect
ONE of my all-time heroines is the irrepressible Dolly Parton.
Not only one of the finest songwriters and most beautiful women in the world but quick-witted,savvy and empathetic.
(I engineered an encounter with her at BBC studios many years ago and she greeted me like a long lost friend and called me “her darling”. My life is now complete.)
So, you’d expect nothing less from such a warm, generous woman than her giving a million dollars of her own money to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s vaccine development and singing: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vacceeeeeen” to the tune of Jolene as she got the injection herself.
Why on earth wasn’t the jab named after her? I mean, most of us would prefer to have a dose of Dolly in our arms than a dull, muted “Moderna”.
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