Meghan Markle staunchly stood by boycott of Brunei hotels, until she met Prince Harry
The British royal family has strong ties to the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, and it shows, with even Meghan Markle softening her stance after her marriage to Prince Harry
When the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah announced in 2014 that the tiny Muslim-majority nation would go ahead with its controversial implementation of the Sharia penal code that would see anyone found guilty of homosexuality stoned to death, it prompted an international backlash.
Joining the protests were prominent celebrities and advocates of the LGBTQ community, who decided one way to hurt the Sultan and his massive coffers — Forbes estimates his net worth at $20 billion — was to boycott the Dorchester Collection, a luxury hotel operator owned by Bolkiah's Brunei Investment Agency (BIA).
The nine luxury hotels that fell under this umbrella were: The Dorchester (London), 45 Park Lane (London), Coworth Park (UK), The Beverly Hills Hotel (Beverly Hills), Hotel Bel-Air (Los Angeles), Le Meurice (Paris), Hotel Plaza Athenee (Paris), Hotel Eden (Rome), and Hotel Principe di Savoia (Milan).
The boycott at the time was being led by Stephen Fry, Sir Richard Branson, and crucially, US Vogue editor Anna Wintour and Henri Pinault, the chief executive of Kering group which includes brands as Stella McCartney, Gucci, and Alexander McQueen.
The boycott seemed to be working as well, with it being reported that the Beverly Hills Hotel suffered a $2 million loss in the aftermath due to a slew of canceled bookings and events. But it seemed that in the months that followed, the boycott was all but forgotten, allowing the hotels to return to business as usual.
That is, until the announcement this past week that Brunei was finally going to go ahead with phase 3 of the implementation of the Sharia law that would see the death penalty for homosexuality enforced properly.
In an op-ed piece for Deadline, George Clooney slammed the decision and once again called for the boycott of any hotel owned by the BIA, stating "every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery."
His call for action was immediately followed up by other celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, and David Furnish — all of whom have been vocal and steadfast about their boycott since the initial announcement in 2014 — asking that their fans avoid the hotels at all costs. The subsequent fallout saw the hotels even shut down their social media pages.
But back when the hullaballoo around the hotels had died down, and well before Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, was a household name, she ensured she stood by her principles and refused a stay at one of the hotels.
Gina Nelthorpe-Crowne, Meghan's commercial agent from October 2014 to October 2016, revealed to the Daily Mail that she had arranged for the Duchess to stay at The Dorchester for free during one of her initial visits to the UK, an offer she said for which her clients "would give their teeth."
But Meghan refused because doing so would mean going against her personal beliefs. "Meghan emailed to say she would never stay at the Dorchester, or any hotels they are involved with. We understood and of course agreed," Gina said.
However, it seems her stance has softened considerably since she met Prince Harry, and she broke her boycott in May 2017 to watch him play polo at the Sultan's vast Cosworth Park estate in Ascot. Furthermore, Harry then selected Coworth Park as his choice of stay for the night before his wedding to Meghan.
The royal family, in fact, has long-running ties with the Sultan and a history with the Dorchester — Queen Elizabeth II famously visited the Dorchester when she was a princess on the day prior to the announcement of her engagement to Prince Philip in 1947. Prince Philip also held his stag night party at the hotel, which has even been documented with a plaque.
Prince Charles is similarly an old friend of the Sultan and invited him to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. A few years later, in 2014, William and Harry were also snapped playing polo at the West Sussex ground owned by the Dorchester Collection, and the same year, Kate did not see it fit to boycott a wedding being held at the penthouse in Dorchester.
The Daily Mail even reported that the wedding was "a big boost for the hotel" and "shows that royals will not let the Brunei business keep them away."