Ever since Meghan Markle joined the royal family last May, we’ve seen her subvert decades-old codes of etiquette in small yet significant ways.
Whether she’s sporting vegan trainers, wearing black in support of the Time’s Up movement, or delivering a stirring speech on feminism, the Duchess of Sussex seems willing to stretch unspoken rules around royal reserve and neutrality.
This refreshing step-change continued this weekend, as Markle shared an impromptu and powerful message of solidarity with sex workers in Bristol.
Visiting the outreach centre One25 in Bristol on Friday, the Duchess had the idea to scrawl messages of affirmation on bananas being handed out in food parcels to the city’s sex workers.
With her husband Prince Harry in tow, Markle wrote messages such as “you are loved”, “you are brave!” and “you are special” to vulnerable women struggling with a whole range of issues, from violence to poverty and addiction.
Markle said she got inspiration for the idea from an outreach programme in America.
“I saw this programme this woman had started in the States on a school lunch programme when on each of the bananas she wrote an affirmation or something to make the kids feel really empowered,” she said.
“I thought it was the most incredible idea - this small gesture.”
The Duke and Duchess’ surprise visit to One25 included a private meeting with Sam, a former sex worker who had been helped by the charity after being groomed into prostitution aged just 14.
“For the women to know that Harry and Meghan have come here, it says we do matter,” said Sam. “It sounds really cheesy but it is that feeling that somebody actually cares.”
Markle’s spontaneous gesture of empathy is important, because it continues the trend of younger royals to break away from the reputation of a household whose members - for all their merits - have often seemed aloof and non-demonstrative.
Even a decade ago, it would be hard to imagine the heirs to the throne talking about mental health, or their spouses sharing impromptu, heartfelt messages of empowerment with vulnerable women.
But gradually, this “stiff upper lip” mentality of hiding emotions (a national trait, after all) has eased, helped by a game-changing interview Prince Harry gave on his own experience of a near-breakdown two years ago.
“I can’t encourage people enough to just have that conversation [about mental health] because you will be surprised firstly, how much support you get and secondly, how many people literally are longing for you to come out,” he said at the time.
In boldly declaring her empathy for those who are struggling, Markle is continuing that conversation: and the power of her doing so can’t be underestimated.
Images: Getty, Twitter