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Tears, tiaras and those rumoured tensions: Leona O'Neill's advice to Kate and Meghan

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at Sandringham this Christmas when Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle tuck into some turkey. After reports of a rift between the two women, two writers reveal what they have learnt when it comes to keeping the peace with relatives

By Leona O’Neill

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. It's a joyful time when people return to the warm bosom of their family, eat, drink, be enthusiastically content, picture perfect and extremely merry.

At least that is what the actors do in the adverts, peddling the perfect Christmas. The reality is that Christmas can be a very trying time for families, thrown together and expected to get on.

Add in the intense pressure we put on ourselves to have the perfect festive season, add a splash of alcohol and tensions can boil faster than the potatoes, insults can fly over the Brussels sprouts and before you know it, Christmas has fallen flatter than a souffle gone horribly wrong.

It's not just us ordinary, everyday folk for whom Christmas can sometimes be an endurance. Newlywed Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, were expected to spend Christmas apart following rumours of a royal rift between the sisters-in-law.

But now insiders have moved to quell speculation and confirmed the duchesses will be celebrating the festive season together, working out their differences over Christmas pudding at Sandringham.

The latest news is that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are to stay with William and Kate at the Cambridges' Norfolk home, Amner Hall, and then travel to Sandringham for Christmas lunch with the Queen.

The cracks started to appear in the seemingly strong royal sisterhood when it was reported a stressful bridesmaid fitting for Princess Charlotte for Meghan's wedding to Prince Harry left Kate in tears.

Meghan and Harry then announced plans to move out of Kensington Palace and into Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, out of the 'goldfish bowl of royal life'.

Before long, there were rumours of a serious fallout and talk of spending Christmas at the two separate ends of England.

When Harry was recently asked if the royals had disagreements between each other, he joked: "Oh, yes! Working as family does have its challenges, of course it does. But we're stuck together for the rest of our lives."

I think we've all been there. It's hard enough transitioning into a new family, getting used to their quirks and weird traditions, without it being the actual Royal family. That would surely be advanced awkwardness multiplied by infinity, intensified by the glare of the world and media.

I am married to Brendan and we have four children: Daniel (15), Caolan (13), Finn (10) and Maoliosa (8). I'm lucky enough to get on with all my wonderful sisters-in-law, one of them a beautiful, young, fabulous, independent American woman, not unlike Meghan. Granted, we are more Royale, than Royal Family, but we are also not immune to festive fallouts. We always have Christmas dinner in my house. I cook and everyone comes around, eats all my food, drinks all my wine and leaves me with the dishes.

When my mother-in-law was alive, we stayed in Belfast one year and went to my mum's in Derry the next, or brought everyone together under one roof, which was preferable, so no one was left out.

I'm not saying it was ever perfect. Far from it. There were arguments, roast potatoes that flew too close to the sun, mad presents that you had to pretend you liked, children having tantrums, people fighting over the remote control, relatives complaining about the food, much falling out over board games and people who drank too much and made fools of themselves with the kids' karaoke machine that Santa brought.

My mother-in-law - a strong, feisty, take-no-nonsense north Belfast woman - was no stranger to a sharp, cutting comment. She was straight up and down and could be depended, at all times, to tell you exactly how she saw things, whether you wanted to hear it or not.

She would have openly and loudly criticised my cooking skills over the Christmas dinner table.

But I smiled through gritted teeth, because that is what you have to do when you are family - you grin and bear it, then give your poor husband an ear bashing when they all go home. My own mother, and her expert knowledge of all things in the world that he is apparently doing wrong, is the reason my husband drinks on Christmas Day.

There was an argument one year after my sister bought my toddler son a toy saxophone for Christmas and smiled menacingly across the table as the child happily blasted the thing in my ear for three hours.

There were harsh words exchanged over roast potatoes while husbands and various in-laws looked on, afraid of being sucked into the sisterly squabble abyss.

There was an elderly in-law, God rest her, who used to knit me and the children jumpers for Christmas and insist we wore them on the big day.

She would consistently miscalculate neck measurements, with the result that wearing the jumper at the Christmas table felt much like being strangled. That and the itchiness, the sweatiness and the looking like an idiot ensured you were about ready to murder come dessert.

Then there was the year my husband panic bought my gifts on Christmas Eve and purchased for me what he thought was a make-up brush set, which turned out in fact to be a tough beard shaving kit. Relations were frostier than the eggnog ice cream that year. It's still a sensitive subject.

Passions are intensified because our families are so personal to us.

They are the ones who know our strengths, weaknesses and flaws best of all and don't mind speaking up to remind us of them after four glasses of wine at the Christmas dinner table. And frustrations can also build because we cannot escape our family, we are tied to them for life.

If I had any advice for Meghan, it would be this. Smile through it all. Even if you are a raging torrent of fury inside. It's Christmas, it is one day. We can't choose our extended families. They are given to us and we are stuck with them like pigs in blankets, whether we like it or not. You don't have to like them, you just have to abide them. And Christmas spirit helps, as does wine.

I would say to Meghan, have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light. And if the urge rises in you to throttle a member of your family with the fairy lights, close your eyes and count to 10. Think of Boxing Day and perfect peace.

Belfast Telegraph

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