Why Meghan Markle Isn't The Only Royal To Dabble In Wellness Fads
Don’t blame the Duchess of Sussex for the Windsor’s wellness fads. The monarchy has been at it for centuries, says Guy Kelly
She has dragged them a little further into the 21st century, that’s for sure. She has given them a bit of star power and, some might say, she has bumped the gene pool’s mean intelligence quota up a few notches. But there is one claim about the Windsors — made increasingly often these days — that certainly shouldn’t be chalked up to the 37-year-old Duchess’s arrival: that it is she, with her out-there Californian ways and former existence as an #inspirational lifestyle blogger, who has transformed the Royal family into a bunch of New Age eccentrics.
“The Windsors are going all Gwyneth,” The Guardian exclaimed in January, referring to Paltrow’s second career as high priestess of scientifically dubious wellness fads, through her brand Goop, “and there is a suggestion that it might be Meghan’s influence”.
In fairness, there has been an upturn in tabloid reports of Paltrow-esque activity among royals in recent months — but then there’s also been an upturn in tabloid reports of everything the Duchess has done in recent months.
The Guardian’s declaration came in the week the Duke of Sussex told a Buddhist monk in Liverpool that he meditates daily (said monk, Kelsang Sonam, then gave him a copy of Eight Steps To Happiness), and, shortly after, the Duchess of Cambridge revealed that she has become keen on shinrin-yoku, the Japanese activity of “forest bathing”, which was previously known as going for a walk.
Then there’s the Duke’s Oura wellness ring — a chunky black band he has worn on the fourth finger of his right hand since last year — which “measures the physiological signals of your body” by monitoring sleep, activity and heart rate; the reports that a shaman hired by Louis Vuitton kept the rain away from their wedding day (long story, leave it); and the Duchess’s apparent installation of a floating yoga studio in their new home, Frogmore House.
We’ve had the woke baby shower — both the lavish thing in New York, and another in which fans using the hashtag #GlobalSussexBabyShower raised more than $40,000 for the couple’s favourite charities. Then came speculation the Duchess has arranged for a doula, a non-medical assistant who helps before, during or after birth, to be with her on the big day.
And last week the couple were seen paying a two-hour visit to Ilapothecary, an exclusive Kensington store that “offers a cutting-edge synergy of naturopathy, homoeopathy, herbology and phytoactives”.
The shop, which labels its products based on the ancient belief of numerology and plays vibrations that attune the body “with the natural frequency of the universe”, is a favourite of Hollywood stars like Natalie Portman and — yes, cross off your bingo cards — Gwyneth Paltrow.
It’s a lot to support the theory that the Windsors have indeed “gone all Gwyneth” in only the last two years. Yet, in reality, it only takes a meander through history to see that the Royal family has been New Age since the Middle Ages. The Duchess is merely the next in line.
A good place to start might be with her own in-laws — all three of them. The Prince of Wales revealed he talks to plants more than 30 years ago, and more recently said “now I instruct them instead”, but has an equally well-known interest in homoeopathy. It is something he inherited, given that the Queen, her father George VI, and his father George V, are and were all advocates, while controversial herbal medicines have been associated with royal doctors for centuries. In fact, to this day, there remains a court homeopath to the Royal family.
The Prince told the World Health Assembly, in 2006, that the practice, which has landed him in trouble with high-ranking doctors over the years, is “rooted in ancient traditions that intuitively understood the need to maintain balance and harmony with our minds, bodies and the natural world”. (He could always write advertising copy for Goop if he doesn’t fancy being king.) He’s experienced a telling-off: in 2009, information about a range of herbal tinctures, sold under the Prince’s Duchy Originals brand, was taken offline after being labelled “misleading” by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
The Prince has even admitted to treating the cows and sheep on his farms using homoeopathic methods, and once lobbied former health secretary Jeremy Hunt for a register of practitioners of holistic medicine. More recently, his charitable foundation has funded yoga (he is as much a fan as Meghan), meditation and “breath-focused stretches” for young prisoners.
The Duchess of Cornwall has had her own flirtations with alternative methods, enlisting the services of her husband’s favourite health guru, Dr Mosaraf Ali — a champion of integrated medicine, whose website boasts a hellish dinner party of testimonials from Morgan Freeman and Lord Lloyd-Webber to Kate Moss — to help her “re-energise” and quit smoking. She reportedly joined Dr Ali and a 12-strong party on a Himalayan trek before her marriage.
Two decades earlier, meanwhile, Diana, Princess of Wales, employed an astrologer, Penny Thornton, to read her chart. During their four hours together, Thornton identified her as a “gracious, graceful, charming and diplomatic Libra on her Ascendant — a perfect recipe for the fashion icon that she became”. Diana also entrusted a dream therapist, Joan Hanger, to interpret her night-time visions. Naturally, Hanger was entirely discreet about it, aside from publishing the book Diana’s Dreams: What Diana Dreamed, What You Dream — and What It All Means in 2005.
Further back, superstition and spiritualism abound in royal circles. Many of the stones in the crown jewels were chosen due to medieval beliefs about their power, and numerous monarchs have been visited by mediums. It is said that Queen Victoria held seances at Osborne House, her residence on the Isle of Wight. She even sent a gold watch to one medium, Georgiana Eagle, “for Meritorious and Extraordinary Clairvoyance produced at Osborne House, July 15, 1846”. Eagle died before receiving the watch, so it was entrusted to W T Stead, another renowned spiritualist who died in the sinking of the Titanic.
Then there’s Lilian Bailey, a famous psychic operating a century later. A friend of Bailey’s used to tell the story of her being picked up in a limousine and blindfolded one evening, before being taken to perform a seance in Kensington. When she sat at the table, the blindfold was removed and there at the table were the Queen Mother, the Queen, Prince Philip, Princess Margaret, Princess Alexandra and the Duke of Kent. It was a year after King George VI had died, and the hope, it’s thought, was that they could all have a final word with him.
Those stories could, of course, all be rubbish. Just like the therapies, fads, “medicines” and New Age practices could all be rubbish, too. But here’s an indisputable fact: whatever off-the-wall ideas the Duchess of Sussex suggests for the royals next, I bet they’ve done weirder.
— The Daily Telegraph