How do we explain Meghan Markle's brother asking Prince Harry to call off the royal wedding? The crab bucket effect

Perhaps her siblings are bitter about not being invited, or maybe they’re running out of childhood photos to sell. But whatever the reason, they’re clearly not happy

Rebecca Reid
Thursday 17 May 2018 13:38 BST
Royal wedding countdown: The plan so far for Harry and Meghan

Given that she wore a $75,000 (£55,000) dress for her engagement pictures, and I’m still deciding whether I can afford to add an extra hold bag on my upcoming flight, I’m surprised to say this. But today I found myself sympathising with Meghan Markle.

Why? Because her siblings just don’t seem to be able to leave her alone to get on with it and enjoy her wedding. Perhaps they’re bitter about not being invited, or maybe they’re running out of childhood photos to sell. But whatever the reason, they’re clearly not happy. And now her half-brother, Thomas Markle Junior, has published an open letter to Prince Harry, telling him to call off the wedding.

Some choice quotes from the letter include: “As more time passes to your royal wedding, it became very clear that this is the biggest mistake in royal wedding history,” and “It’s very apparent that her tiny bit of Hollywood fame has gone to her head, changing her into a jaded, shallow, conceited woman that will make a joke of you and the royal family heritage”.

Thomas also claims that Meghan bankrupted their father and that she hasn’t offered him financial support since becoming famous.

On the face of it, “future princess’s half-brother writes angry open letter which is shared in every major news outlet in the world” seems like a very niche problem. But if you strip away the glamorous side, what’s really happening here isn’t that unique at all.

It’s something that happens to people all over the world, and it’s (unofficially) called the “crab bucket effect”.

The crab bucket effect is best explained like this: you’ve got a bucket full of water, and crabs. Every now and then one crab climbs on top of the other crabs and climbs the side of the bucket, making a break for freedom. But then another crab will swipe at it, pulling it back into the bucket. Now both the crabs are stuck in the bucket.

It really happens with crabs. And you know who else it really happens with? People. People who do things like move away from the town where they grew up, go to college, or university, or undertake apprenticeships. People who want “more” than their parents had.

“More” doesn’t have to mean going to a top university, living in a big city and earning lots of money (though often, it does). “More” can be anything you want. That’s the ugliness of the crab bucket. It doesn’t matter what you’re working towards. If it’s different from what you were given the day you were born, there will always be those people who see your desire for change as a betrayal.

For Meghan Markle the crab bucket effect is her brother publicly humiliating her on the national stage because she’s no longer like him. For regular people, it’s snide comments about a changed accent or being “up yourself” when you come home from the university holidays. But it’s tantamount to the same thing. The price for wanting “more” is, apparently, betraying everything that you came from.

Royal wedding invites for Meghan and Harry's wedding made using special gold machine

“When I came back from uni, half my friends didn’t want to speak to me,” one anonymous woman who attended Cambridge in the early noughties told me. “They clearly expected me to be a snob, but actually it was they who were being judgmental. Not me.”

This experience is echoed by another twenty-something, who went to a Russell Group university in 2013. “I’d go home at the weekend or in the holidays and my parents would take the p*** constantly. They’d ask if I was too good to do the washing up, or if I was too clever to join in with a family board game. I think they were trying to be funny but it made me feel like I wasn’t welcome there. I go home a lot less now.”

The most confusing aspect of the crab bucket is that it often comes from the people who encouraged you in the first place. Parents who stood on the sidelines cheering you on and siblings who helped you with your homework suddenly struggle when you show signs of defecting from the world that they have built.

So what motivates this kind of behaviour?

Well, very often it’s a sense of hurt. Watching a person you love speeding away from the world that you built for them because they want something that they perceive to be better must be upsetting, even if that hurt is mixed with pride.

As with all things family, the only real solution is to talk about it, to explain that the jokes about your “fancy London ways” or “forgetting your roots” have a real sting.

The chances are, the people making the jokes are smoothing over their own self consciousness – their own worries that the higher you rise, the less you will want to come home and be with the people who raised you.

That’s the mad thing about the crab bucket effect. It’s cruel and hurtful and even humiliating. But at the end of the day, it’s motivated by a fear of losing you, and ultimately by love. Misplaced, badly expressed love, but love nonetheless.

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