The epitome of the struggling actress, Meghan was so strapped for cash as she drove around Los Angeles from one failed audition to another that she couldn’t even afford to get her Ford Explorer repaired when the door locks broke.
For months she had to get into it by clambering through from the boot, and she made sure she parked the clapped-out jalopy well away from which ever studio she was visiting.
She was making ends meet addressing envelopes with a calligrapher’s pen one day in 2006 when she finally got a break. Her agent rang to say he’d got an audition for her as an assistant on one of America’s most popular game shows.
Meghan Markle was making ends meet addressing envelopes with a calligrapher’s pen one day in 2006 when she finally got a break. Her agent rang to say he’d got an audition for her as an assistant on one of America’s most popular game shows
After parading in the prescribed ‘body-conscious outfit’, reportedly a swimsuit, Meghan, then in her mid-20s, was hired on the spot.
It transformed her life overnight. Suddenly she was earning up to $28,000 (£25,000) a week and — like many others who’ve been ‘briefcase girls’ on Deal Or No Deal — had got on the rungs of the ladder to stardom.
You might have thought the Duchess of Sussex would have fond memories of her time on the long-running NBC show, but this week we learned that nothing could be further from the truth.
As she revealed in the latest episode of her podcast series Archetypes, the woman once known as ‘Briefcase No 24’ considered the show to be an exploitative bear pit of sexism and female objectification when she worked on Season Two in 2006, until the humiliation of being treated like a bimbo simply became too much and she had to quit. Although not, she omitted to mention, before she’d appeared in 34 episodes.
She provided an all-too familiar account of life in the pre-#MeToo era, a time when scores of women were routinely subjected to sexism, misogyny, exploitation and, in many cases, horrific sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of co-stars and directors.
Meghan clearly resented how ‘the girls’ in the show had to prepare themselves for each episode: ‘having your lashes put on or your extensions put in, or the padding in your bra — we were even given spray-tan vouchers each week’.
‘There was,’ she added, ‘a very cookie-cutter idea of precisely what we should look like. It was solely about beauty and not necessarily about brains.’
As she revealed in the latest episode of her podcast series Archetypes, the woman once known as ‘Briefcase No 24’ considered the show to be an exploitative bear pit of sexism and female objectification
Sighing with frustration, she said she would never forget how, moments before going onstage, a woman manager — who could never pronounce her name properly — would shout: ‘Mar-kel, suck it in!’
While being grateful for the money, she left the show — in which contestants guess which of 26 briefcases contain cash prizes rising to $1 million — because it made her feel ‘not smart’, adding: ‘I would end up leaving with this pit in my stomach, knowing I was so much more than what was being objectified on this stage. I didn’t like feeling forced to be all looks and little substance.
‘And that’s how it felt for me at the time — being reduced to this specific archetype.’
This week, actress and chat show host Whoopi Goldberg said Meghan’s remarks were naive. ‘That’s TV, baby. But what did you think you were going to? You know that’s what the show was,’ she said. ‘When you’re a performer, you take the gig.’
Women who appeared on the show at the same time as Meghan, meanwhile, tell a rather different story from the Duchess. They say the atmosphere was fun rather than oppressive or sleazy.
One of the briefcase girls who worked with Meghan was Lisa Gleave, a successful Australian model, TV presenter and actress now living in LA.
Like Meghan, she had to master the art of walking down stairs in a skimpy dress and five-inch heels, holding a briefcase and remember the cardinal rule: look delighted for the contestant if things go well for them and sad if not.
One of the briefcase girls who worked with Meghan was Lisa Gleave, a successful Australian model, TV presenter and actress now living in LA
Gleave told the Mail of her stint on Deal Or No Deal that she felt ‘blessed and lucky to have been on it’, adding: ‘For me it was a joy and a great career move. Most of the girls would say that.’
She said: ‘I never looked at it as a show that objectified women. The cast and crew treated us very well. It was a professional set. For many of us, it was a stepping stone on our careers and we went on to greater things.’
She accused the Duchess of ‘over-reacting about her time there’, adding: ‘If Meghan didn’t want to feel objectified and had bad feelings about her role then she could have chosen not to do the audition and not to do all the shows that she did. And that would have given another girl a chance, someone who would have jumped at the role.’
While Lisa acknowledged the show ‘revolved around beautiful women’, they were ‘all smart and intelligent women and nobody treated us like bimbos’.
Head-to-toe grooming, including weekly spray-tans, was de rigueur but hardly an ordeal. They also had to be prepared to pad out their bras with what were called ‘chicken cutlets’, which Ms Gleave said were actually ‘helpful’.
‘It was almost like a uniform that we had to wear, but it’s showbiz — you have to have glitz and glamour,’ she said.
‘I’m sure Meghan wasn’t the only one told to suck her stomach in. We were all told at one point or another. The dresses we wore were tight and tailored to our bodies so we couldn’t slouch or over-eat. I wasn’t offended by any of it. It was business — a job that most of us did gladly.’
Lisa says she never got to know the Duchess well because they were positioned differently on stage — Ms Gleave at the front and Meghan at the back. ‘Off stage we didn’t all mingle,’ she said. ‘I do know that she spent a lot of her [free] time studying scripts for auditions.’
While Lisa acknowledged the show ‘revolved around beautiful women’, they were ‘all smart and intelligent women and nobody treated us like bimbos’
Lisa Gleave’s views have been echoed by another of the briefcase bearers, Claudia Jordan, who went on to become a reality TV star on The Real Housewives Of Atlanta.
She said: ‘For clarity — yes getting a modelling gig on a game show isn’t necessarily about your intellect, but every show the executive producers picked five models with the most outgoing and fun personalities to place mics on, who they knew would engage with the contestants,’ she said.
‘And Deal Or No Deal never treated us like bimbos. We got so many opportunities because of that show.’
Alike Boggan was another contemporary of Meghan who said she enjoyed working on Deal Or No Deal and had no problem with what she was asked to do on the show.
‘I was there from the very first episode and I loved every minute of it. It was a great job and a great opportunity,’ she told the Mail.
‘There was an emphasis on us girls looking our best but it’s showbusiness — an aesthetic industry — and it didn’t bother me at all.’ Alike is now the mother of a toddler and a successful businesswoman.
‘I never felt uncomfortable and never felt there was anything undignified about it. I was grateful for the good salary and the good working conditions. I look back on it fondly.’
This week, actress and chat show host Whoopi Goldberg said Meghan’s remarks were naive. ‘That’s TV, baby. But what did you think you were going to? You know that’s what the show was,’ she said. ‘When you’re a performer, you take the gig’
Tameka Jacobs, another briefcase girl said she took new recruit Meghan under her wing. She has described Meghan as ‘super sweet’, ‘wholesome’ and ‘a little sheltered’, but added: ‘Looking back, it was clear that she had a brand and wanted to protect that brand for a future career as a serious actor. Meghan’s aspirations were to win an Oscar or be on Broadway, so if you’re in a mini-dress, high heels, with your boobs taped together and pushed up when what you want to do is serious acting, then it’s tough.’
But the job was also, as Meghan has conceded, very well paid. At the time, the assistants earned around $800 per episode but — given they were filming up to seven episodes a day — that could add up to as much as $28,000 a week. They also received generous healthcare benefits. However it was also gruelling work — typically starting at 5.30am every day with long hours having their hair and make-up done, and sometimes as many as three wardrobe fittings.
Their dresses, ball gowns that were drastically shortened and cut up, were sometimes so tight the women couldn’t bend to put on their heels. But while the filming schedule for the three-nights-a-week show was intensive, the flipside was that it also included plenty of off-weeks when the girls could audition for acting work or perform bit parts elsewhere.
During such a break, Meghan went to New York to take a small role in crime drama CSI: NY. Not that she played against type: her character was required to wear a corset and suspenders. She also did modelling work.
In retrospect, such flaunting of her assets was clearly an offence to Meghan’s high-brow ambitions. After all, she points out in her latest podcast, she was a woman who had studied international relations at Northwestern University on the outskirts of Chicago, adding: ‘There were times when I was on set at Deal Or No Deal and I was thinking back to my time as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Argentina, in Buenos Aires, and being in the motorcade with the Secretary of the Treasury at the time and being valued specifically for my brain. Here I was being valued for something quite the opposite.’
This account is technically correct but significantly over-eggs her role. She owed her six-week foreign internship at the U.S. State Department to her uncle, Mick Markle, who did communications systems work for the U.S. government. At the embassy in Buenos Aires, however, far from hob-nobbing with the bigwigs, she toiled as a humble junior press officer, answering phones and filing.
‘She was a struggling actress and I think if it wasn’t for Deal Or No Deal she probably wouldn’t be where she is now. She might not have met Harry, she might not have been cast on Suits’
According to biographer Andrew Morton, she only got permission to join the motorcade to collect U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill from the airport because it was her 21st birthday and not necessarily ‘for [her] brain’. While in Argentina, she sat the entrance exam for the U.S. diplomatic service, but failed.
But her ambitions were evident to everyone at Deal Or No Deal. Meghan kept herself to herself and didn’t much socialise with the other women after work, rarely joining them on their regular raucous jaunts — accompanied by minders — to karaoke bars in West Hollywood. Colleagues said she was remarkably composed, never being heard to swear and never photographed with any drink that wasn’t a glass of champagne.
Nor did she cosy up to Donald Trump — then running the Miss Universe pageant — when he once visited the game show set, reportedly giving him a wide berth as other briefcase girls accepted his business card and invitation to play golf at his clubs. As we now know, the Duchess had other priorities.
The last word should go to Lisa Gleave, who finds Meghan’s remarks ‘insulting’ and reckons she might not have got her big acting break on the U.S. legal drama Suits — and all that followed — if not for the game show:
‘She was a struggling actress and I think if it wasn’t for Deal Or No Deal she probably wouldn’t be where she is now. She might not have met Harry, she might not have been cast on Suits.’