Few people are in the position to ask Michelle Obama a favor.
Though to hear Meghan Markle tell it, the former First Lady is more likely than not to respond with a resounding yes. Such was the case when, as the Duchess of Sussex put it in the September issue of British Vogue, “over a casual lunch of chicken tacos and my ever-burgeoning bump, I asked Michelle if she could help me with this secret project.”
The proposal, of course, involved the issue of the fashion bible that Meghan was guest editing—specifically the final page Q&A feature. “It wasn’t a huge ask,” the 38-year-old admitted in her intro to the interview, “because the back page of Vogue comprises a few simple questions to garner a few simple answer.”
In other words, the overly scheduled writer, speaker and philanthropist could easily send over a few thoughts over email and call it a day. Though, of course, she’s never been the type to phone it in.”
“She graciously said yes (because she’s Michelle, she’s gracious), and then very promptly sent answers (because she’s Michelle, she’s prompt),” Meghan continued. But it was the effort she put into the assignment that left the new royal “somewhat speechless,” she said. “A few ‘simple questions’ (which she could have answered with a sentence or two) were returned to me as a thoughtful, reflective and beautifully curated narrative—a gentle reminder not of how but of why she has become such a globally respected public figure.”
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Not to mention a pretty solid friend.
Because Meghan’s request wasn’t so much a formal inquiry from a member of the British royal family to an American queen as it was an ask from a pal, the two woman having grown increasingly close since they initially sat down in London roughly a year ago.
By all accounts it was their first face-to-face hang, Meghan attending the Becoming author’s talk at London’s Royal Festival Hall—a stop on the widely-attended tour of her memoir—”in a private capacity” as a Kensington Palace spokesperson put it, sharing the two “had a conversation after the event took place.” But Obama’s later confession to Ryan Seacrest that the casual chit-chat was meticulously planned well ahead of the moment suggested that they had been in touch for some time: “Yeah, we’re used to keep secrets.”
Not that she’s about to get into the nitty gritty about how their friendship blossomed, but it seems fair to say it was born from a mutual admiration and, of course, the circumstances that placed them in the same social circles.
After all, their husbands have been chumming it up for years. Having already hosted his wife, daughters and mother-in-law for tea at Kensington Palace that June, Prince Harry initially bonded with then-President Barack Obama during his October 2015 official visit to the United States. By the time the Obamas had dinner in London in 2016, hosted by Prince William and Kate Middleton, the two were old friends.
By 2017 (when they met up both in London to discuss the terrorist attacks in Manchester and in Toronto where Harry was hosting his beloved Invictus Games), they were so close that then-private citizen Obama allowed himself to be interviewed by Harry on BBC Radio 4’s Today program. (While he was happy to give his thoughts on Friends‘ Monica vs. Rachel, he drew the line at answering the infamous boxer or briefs question.) The former POTUS was even thought to be on the guest list for Harry’s 2018 nuptials to Meghan before the royal decided he could save himself a lot of headaches by not including any world leaders at all.
That their wives would grow close was pretty much a given, it generally being easier to get on with your spouse’s friends. Plus they know all the same people, the Obamas also scoring a prime invite to George Clooney and Amal Clooney‘s Italian villa this summer. And of course there’s the whole earnest do-gooders eager to use their tremendous influence to affect real change thing that they have in common.
Such was the basis for their initial chat, with a source telling the UK’s Evening Standard, “They spoke at length about the importance of supporting and empowering woman across all cultures and communities.”
And it’s a thread that has continued through their now-yearlong friendship. When putting together the itinerary for her and Harry’s tour of southern Africa this fall, their first official trip since welcoming Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor in May, Meghan was said to put a focus on working with local organizations that strive to promote women’s health, education and leadership.
So during a September 24 reception at the British High Commissioner’s residence in South Africa, she carved out some time to meet with the Girls Opportunity Alliance, an education-focused program under the Obama Foundation umbrella, and made sure to capture the moment for maximum influence.
“She just asked to take a picture with me to send to Michelle Obama,” student and Obama Foundation worker Sithembele Ncube told the Herald Live. “I was gob-smacked because I am a huge fan of Michelle as well.”
Naturally, the image ended up on Obama’s Instagram, the change-maker touting the royal as “a thoughtful leader who is breaking the mold and making our world better for it. Whether meeting with our @ObamaFoundation Leaders or helping girls around the world seek the education they deserve, she is an inspiration to so many.”
Get you a pal who knows how to pump you up like that.
But with Meghan already four months along in her pregnancy during that December sit down, conversation naturally turned to kids. “They also talked about shared experiences of pregnancy and raising children,” the source told the Evening Standard, “plus shared causes including girls’ education.”
Of course, the memoirist, mom to college students Malia Obama, 21, and Sasha Obama, 18, knows a thing or two about raising kids in the public eye, perhaps the person most uniquely qualified to offer such advice outside of Meghan’s sister-in-law.
“We had to parent by creating this cocoon of normalcy in a pretty crazy, abnormal world,” she shared during a March appearance on the Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend podcast. With her daughters just 10 and 7 when they moved into the White House, “We spent eight years just going, ‘It’s OK! You’ll be fine, this is normal, just go to school. You have men with guns…hey, you know, you’re safe, don’t complain! You have food, so don’t complain to me.'”
Beyond that, she continued, “It was very much, keeping them in their reality. Making sure we went to the parent-teacher conferences and that we went to the games and that we were sitting on the sidelines with them.”
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Her advice spilled over into a 2019 issue of Good Housekeeping, Obama relating hard to the glaring spotlight Meghan found herself in once she swapped her career as an actress for one as an official working royal, a job description that boils down to affecting positive change in the world and doing good for others.
“Like me, Meghan probably never dreamt that she’d have a life like this, and the pressure you feel—from yourself and from others—can sometimes feel like a lot,” the former FLOTUS shared. “So my biggest piece of advice would be to take some time and don’t be in a hurry to do anything. I spent the first few months in the White House mainly worrying about my daughters, making sure they were off to a good start at school and making new friends before I launched into any more ambitious work. I think it’s okay—it’s good, even—to do that.”
While Obama no longer need deliver her pearls of wisdom through such public channels, preferring to send Mother’s Day wishes to new mom Meghan privately this year, she made an exception for her interview in British Vogue.
STEPHEN CROWLEY/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Asked what she had learned about parenting, the former attorney told Meghan, “Being a mother has been a masterclass in letting go. Try as we might, there’s only so much we can control. And, boy, have I tried—especially at first. As mothers, we just don’t want anything or anyone to hurt our babies. But life has other plans. Bruised knees, bumpy roads and broken hearts are part of the deal. What’s both humbled and heartened me is seeing the resiliency of my daughters.”
Through that, she continued, she’s learned “that my job is not to bulldoze a path for them in an effort to eliminate all possible adversity. But instead, I need to be a safe and consistent place for them to land when they inevitably fail; and to show them, again and again, how to get up on their own.”
More importantly, she summed up, reflecting back on the past two decades, she knows now how crucial it is to simply take it all in. “Don’t get me wrong, early parenthood is exhausting. I’m sure you know a thing or two about that these days,” she told the mom to now 7-month-old Archie. “But there is something so magical about having a baby in the house. Time expands and contracts; each moment holds its own little eternity. I’m so excited for you and Harry to experience that, Meghan. Savour it all.”
And should she need someone to phone up for advice? Well, we’re sure her friend will be gracious and prompt in her response.
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