In 2013, Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan made me cry.
And then they made my husband cry.
But our whole family loved them for it.
I had followed their writing and TV shows: they are brilliant designers. But they didn’t know me. How surprising then, that Colin and Justin should have done something special for my first book that helped launch my career as an author.
It happened at a time when I was coping with serious injuries from a car accident and had lost all self-confidence. Gone were the days of being a high-flying TV exec, of heading up big projects, of knowing my own strength.
Now, I badly needed to believe in myself. The book I’d been writing over twenty-plus years was about to be published.
Colin and Justin’s support, and that of other readers and reviewers, made an impact. On me, and on the book-reading public.
A Good Home became both critically acclaimed and a bestseller.
In the years since then, I continued to follow Colin and Justin’s projects, cheering them on when they launched a new TV show and an excellent home accessories line.
Occasionally, I dropped them a note. But I still never met them.
Yesterday, an appointment fell through. I ended up strolling through a nearby store, delaying the long drive back home.
I looked up at two men and recognized them instantly.
With several books to my credit, I once again know what it’s like to have fans; I know what it’s like to be approached by strangers. But no fan could have behaved as bizarrely as I did yesterday.
I think I yelled something like “Colin and Justin! It’s me, Cynthia Reyes!”
And then I hugged them.
They probably should have called store security.
But Colin and Justin hugged me back as if deranged women with windswept hair, absolutely no makeup — and no attempt at coolness — attacked them in stores every day.
They asked about my writing, and whether their support had helped. I was so proud to tell them that it had.
If you look at the back cover of my first book, A Good Home,you’ll see a lovely testimonial from Colin and Justin. But if you want to know the full story, and why my family and I are so grateful to these two men, please read this:
To understand why supporters are so protective of Harry and Meghan, we have to go back to 2016.
Deesa Roberts, the Atlanta lawyer, knew nothing about Meghan Markle until October 2016. However, she and her two daughters had been royal supporters for decades.
“When Princess Diana died, we bawled our eyes out. We felt so sad for her children, and especially for Prince Harry, who was so young to experience such a loss. I always had a soft spot for him.”
She kept track of Harry as he grew up.
“Then, in October 2016, news broke about his relationship with Meghan Markle and was confirmed in November.”
November 8, to be specific. That day, in a strongly worded statement, Kensington Palace asked British media and “trolls” to stop harassing Harry’s girlfriend.
“His girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment. Some of this has been very public – the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.”
The “wave of abuse” didn’t stop.
Following the coverage from Atlanta, Deesa was shaken by the anti-Meghan “racism and misogyny” in the UK tabloids.
There are few (known) persons of colour in the British royal family. Though Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, is said to have been part-African, she’s been dead for centuries.
Meghan Markle was an anomaly.
The attacks on Meghan Markle weren’t isolated to Britain. Comment sections of several UK newspapers had as many American anti-Meghan remarks as British.
Deesa, meanwhile, read everything she could about Meghan. “I sensed that she was the one for him. I felt she could handle the pressure. She was older than his previous girlfriends and more mature; she had faced difficult issues and overcome them.
“I decided I had to support her. I was born in Georgia and my grandfather was born in slavery. So I’m thoroughly familiar with racism. I recognized the attacks by some royal reporters early on. I tried to engage them and other royal watchers in respectful conversation, but it didn’t go anywhere. For my efforts, I was dubbed a ‘race warrior’.”
Deesa’s concerns were echoed by others whom I interviewed for this series.
Mimi, also American, admired Princess Diana and felt protective of her sons after Diana’s death.
“Prince Harry was my favorite. I always rooted for him and supported his causes. I became a Meghan fan when she was with Suits. I followed her blog The Tig and admired the speech she made at UN Women. Having loved them both separately, it was a no-brainer that I’d support them as a couple.”
Chris, from the US south, loved Princess Diana. “When she died, my heart ached for Harry. Sometimes the press was so hard on him, but he truly has such a caring and loving heart.
“When I heard he and Meghan were dating, I was thrilled. I truly thought it was a match made in Heaven.
“From their engagement interview, to their wedding, and everything they’ve done so far, they’ve really impacted me. Their passion to help others and change the world is inspirational. I’m old enough to be their Mom (lol) but they’ve really impacted my life.”
From Melbourne, Australia, David says: “I really believe in them as a couple and think they will achieve great things together and individually. They seem to both be driven people and that really resonates with me. Also very impressed with Meghan’s background before meeting Harry.”
Many Sussex supporters around the world felt they had to speak up against the “lies and vitriol” being directed at the couple on social media “and sometimes the press.”
Portia, an education assessment officer in the UK, says: “What was distressing, and still is, is the press giving a platform to trolls by using their quotes and giving press coverage to them. That I find sad. There is a need for a re-balancing of issues in the press.”
On Twitter, Sussex fans fact-checked and rebutted reporters’ stories. Some reporters saw them as trolls who were brutally insulting, a few even “threatening”. (Author Note: I’ve seen no threats myself, but have seen many angry, and some insulting, tweets.)
As the battle waged, Sussex fans became familiar with each other through their tweets and Twitter profiles. After Harry and Meghan married and became the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Deesa says, she suggested fans call themselves The Sussex Squad.
As organizers of the global baby shower, Sussex Squad members turned their focus to helping vulnerable people and pets through charities associated with the royal couple.
When people hurl online insults at the Sussexes or the baby shower, most Sussex Squad members try to rise above it, often replying with these slogans:
“Don’t Hate. Donate”.
“Leading with Love”.
It’s a strategy of positivity and kindness.
But they’re also strongly committed to defending the duke and duchess against the media and ‘haters’.
“As I read through An Honest House, I kept thinking that what happened to Cynthia Reyes could happen to any of us.
I wondered how all of us would cope if we were stripped not only of our health but of our identities as successful, involved leaders and found our new selves to be pain ridden, physically altered, and anxiety prone among other things.
Would we have the indomitable spirit that kept Cynthia fighting to regain her former self and role in life despite her enormous frustrations adjusting to her injuries following her accident?
How did she keep going?
How did she find her new role?
Three of the many take-aways in this inspiring book stand out for me and my partner, Ernie Eves, who experienced loss of a different kind when his only son was killed.
The first, of course, is Cynthia’s determination, however wavering at times, to come back both physically and professionally.
Then, over time, as she realizes she cannot turn back the clock, there is her gradual recognition and appreciation of the overriding value of what she has already: her supportive, caring husband, Hamlin, her two daughters and their families, her friends, faith and community and, not to forget, her enchanting nineteenth century Ontario farmhouse.
The third inspiring finding for us is that Cynthia has managed to continue to play a significant role in Canadian life by writing books that show how someone can create new meaning and purpose in their lives, however futile it might seem at first.
Given the challenges all of us face at some point in our lives, especially as we suffer the debilitating side effects of aging, we can learn from Cynthia Reyes’ courage, determination and spirit.
In our view, An Honest House should be required reading for everyone.”
— Isabel Bassett and Ernie Eves.
Thank you, Isabel and Ernie. I share the credit with three extremely caring editors, a dogged publisher, great beta readers, my loving family and friends.
I’m grateful for all of you who extend yourselves to help others — especially in tough times.