Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

MediaMarch 9, 2021

Local commentator obsessed with American woman

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Maybe she’s just not that into you? Sam Brooks dives into Kate Hawkesby’s fixation on the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle.

What do you call it when someone devotes several thousand words over multiple years to writing about the life of a stranger who doesn’t know they exist? Being a columnist, I guess.

Newstalk ZB host Kate Hawkesby has been thinking about Meghan Markle… A lot. Her musings on the Duchess of Sussex are usually exclusive to the airways, but sometimes they make their way into printed commentaries on the ZB and Herald sites. Since 2018, this has happened 15 separate times.

These pieces read like rants to a weary bartender at last call. This is how you talk about someone who has personally wronged you.

Kate Hawkesby has not, of course, met Meghan Markle. Her closest encounter, it appears, was being on the same plane as Markle’s father-in-law one time. And yet Hawkesby evidently feels compelled to write about her in a way that’s not just overfamiliar, but deeply personal. 

Meghan Markle almost certainly has never read a word of it.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in their explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in their explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Three years ago, Hawkesby kicked off as she intended to continue. “Why I don’t trust Meghan Markle,” read the headline. Of course you don’t, Kate! You don’t know her. These are just good instincts.

This first piece lays out Hawkesby’s one-way relationship with Markle:

I don't trust Meghan Marklet

“I have a THING about Meghan Markle. I don’t trust her. It’s a theory based on nothing more than gut instinct. It’s the vibe. Here’s the thing though: she feels fake. Opportunistic, like she’s there for the wrong reasons.”

The piece goes on to judge Markle’s “collapsed marriage”, wanting banana cake for the royal wedding, having a messy bun hairdo, and finally, Hawkesby admits that maybe she just didn’t like her character on Suits. This last one is patently deranged, because Rachel Zane was a delightful character.

This is the sort of talk you reserve for brunch, chatting about someone you and all your friends sort of know but really don’t like. You know who I mean: that acquaintance who shows up first whenever you open up Instagram because you keep DMing her posts to the group chat with “can you ACTUALLY believe this [unkind noun here!]”.

Only a few months later, Hawkesby would travel to London to cover the royal wedding. You might be thinking, “Oh, she met Meghan here, which explains why she’s written so much about her!” You would think wrong. 

Hawkesby did show sympathy for the soon-to-be duchess in the wake of all her family drama, which resulted in her father not being able to walk her down the aisle, and some unpleasant tabloid coverage. She says, “Only the most hard-hearted person in the world would not feel sympathy for Meghan Markle at this point.” (I guess someone made eye contact with Medusa at some stage between writing this and the present day.)

Her writing around this point is less familiar and more distant, by which I mean healthier. She even leaves room to backhandedly praise Markle, saying she went from “zero to hero in two minutes flat” and from “a B-grade actress with a trashy dysfunctional extended family to icon and saviour of the royal family”.

This backhanded praise extends to this headline:

Meghan Markle's fake and insincere but she's having her baby her way

This piece ricochets back and forth between praise and shade, like a sunbather rolling in and out of the light. In one paragraph Hawkesby reckons Markle seems “like she’s permanently acting”, but then in another says, “I think what Meghan Markle would say is: who cares?”

This line stands out, however, less for its bizarre familiarity and assumption, but for its prescience: “Markle’s a lone wolf and I get the feeling she won’t be tamed by the royal family, no matter how hard they try.”

Kate, thy name is prophet.

This cooked parasocial relationship culminates in this corker of a headline:

I was right not to trust Meghan Markle

She writes as though Markle threw a brick through her window. This paragraph in particular is galling:

“Her behaviour and game plan’s entirely predictable – bag a prince, court the press, get some victim clout on board with claims of people being racist or sexist or toxic against you and then pull the pin.”

Oh that old chestnut! Marry a prince, get slammed by the media, and then claim racism! Tale as old as the thyme in your fridge. You might think this is the peak of Hawkesby’s obsession – she’s remained quiet on the duchess for most of the past year, other than claiming Jacinda Ardern ‘Meghan Markled’ Ashley Bloomfield, which makes even less sense when you start thinking about it – but that actually came yesterday:

Disingenuous Meghan steps back into the spotlight

This is the most savage piece yet and actually seems directed at Markle herself, as though the duchess is dutifully googling “meghan markle bad”. Here are the most vicious bits:

“This is all about marketing, reputation and branding and getting Haz and Megs front and centre in the hallowed halls of Hollywood fame where maximum revenue can be made.”

“Meghan, I get. I saw it early on, it seemed obvious to me what was coming. She’s an opportunist who knew exactly what she was getting into, then cried wolf when she got there and worked out she couldn’t in fact change anything.”

“Oprah of course was not remotely interested in interviewing Meghan Markle when she was a B-grade actress from Suits, but now with a title in front of her name and her willingness to throw her husband’s famous family under the bus – now it’s all on.”

It makes you wonder what about Markle personally offends Hawkesby so much. It can’t just be that she wasn’t very good on Suits and wanted banana cake at her wedding. Something has to personally, or professionally, offend you about somebody to write about her so much in such an emotionally charged way.

Consider this: compared to the 15 pieces about Markle, Hawkesby has written two about Prince Andrew. One shames him for giving a very bad interview, the other laments how hard it must be for the Queen to have Prince Andrew for a son. Prince Andrew has done a few things that warrant more judgment than a messy bun.

Perhaps Kate is one of those New Zealanders who feels a strange colonial loyalty to the monarchy, an institution that does not care about us on a personal level and never has. The problem isn’t that Markle isn’t playing by the established playbook – Diana didn’t either, but Diana’s grievances were a decade in the making. No, the problem is that Markle came in acting different, looking different and talking different. We’re used to a certain image of the crown – the same damn person has had it on her head longer than most of us have been alive – and any disruption to it is unpleasant, especially if you’ve invested in it as a benign, unproblematic symbol.

This quote stands out from that piece as being especially personal, because it says more about the writer than it does the subject:

“We are ready to be shocked, appalled and outraged, because that’s all anyone seems to want to be these days.”

Somehow nobody seems more shocked, appalled and outraged than you, Kate, about a woman you have never met, married to a man you have never met, who walked away from an institution that does not know you exist. (It’s worth noting I have never met Kate Hawkesby and have now spent over a thousand words talking about her. Enjoy your stay in my brain, Kate. Rent’s due on Thursdays.)

To quote: “I think what Meghan Markle would say is: who cares?”

Stories like these are powered by the generous support of our members. If you value what we do and believe in the importance of independent and freely accessible journalism – tautoko mai, donate today.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox