Belfast Telegraph

Why Meghan and Harry are not the models of junior royalty that they seemed to be this time a year ago

A backlash against the Duchess of Sussex was not unexpected, but feud with William and Kate was

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry

By Sarah Caden

According to reports on Boxing Day, the warm and even tactile Christmas Day display of familial affection between the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex was as a result of a warning from the Queen.

Apparently, the regent and grandmother to the two women's husbands had, in effect, told the two women to wise up. It's a strategy many matriarchs would have enjoyed employing in the last week.

If only it were possible for every head of the family to tell the bickering bodies to get a grip, to see the bigger picture and the effect on the extended family. Most matriarchs, however, don't have quite the Queen's investment in domestic harmony.

Sure, a family row will wreck any Christmas, but a seasonal family row in the House of Windsor could undo the great good done for their image in the year past.

Things are good for the royals as 2018 comes to an end and it has been far from an annus horribilis, but in a family such as theirs, these things cannot be taken for granted.

It has been quite a year for the royals and, at the heart of it all, undeniably, has been Meghan Markle. This time last year, the American former actress was the newbie, Prince Harry's fiancee, and spending her first festive season at Sandringham.

She was relatively shy last year, her curtsy to the Queen inadequately low as she seemed stiff with the unaccustomed formalities. William and Kate, pregnant with their third child, Louis, were the comfortable incumbents, from whom Meghan was taking her lead. Last year, Harry and Meghan played, to perfection, the role of the respectful juniors. What a difference a year makes.

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Meghan and Prince Harry's May wedding in Windsor was, without doubt, the highlight of that family's year. The wedding was a harking-back to the dawning of the Diana era, not least because it was perceived as healing the broken heart of the little boy who had tragically lost his young and beautiful mother.

It helped that Meghan, far more so than William's wife Kate, is a glamorous beauty with a frisson of passion and danger. She, it has been decided, will do more than be dutiful with Harry. She will be fun and maybe a bit fiery, a match for him and a lively one for the public to watch.

Meghan's scaling of the royal pecking order was obvious on the day of Princess Eugenie's wedding to Jack Brooksbank in early-October. Conducted in the same chapel at Windsor, the streets were far from thronged with onlookers and the BBC declined to broadcast it.

You could tell yourself that these things don't matter in families such as the royals, but then one newspaper had a lip-reading expert report Zara Philips leaning in to her cousin Harry in the church to opine that the viewing public's joyous screaming had been much louder for him. It was on the very day of Princess Eugenie's marriage that Harry and Meghan (above) told the family of her pregnancy. Yes, there were those who suggested it was bad form to distract from Eugenie's big day with this huge news, but somehow Meghan came out of it unscathed.

Meghan's tour with Harry of Australia and New Zealand in late-October seemed to seal her success. Dignitaries and the general public delighted in her and the press, doggedly incorrect, referred to her as Princess Meghan, another harking back to Diana.

She charmed the Antipodes with her glamour and her first pattings of her tinily pregnant tummy, but then came home to the first whisperings that all was not right in the younger royal ranks. You could say a backlash against Meghan had to happen at some point, but it was something of a surprise that it came in the form of a feud with William and Kate.

To that point, it had been remarkable, really, how positive the year of press had been for Meghan, given her high-profile estrangement from her family. It's hard to tell why we don't have more sympathy for the Markles and their fury at being seemingly dropped for the superior in-laws.

The underdog generally does well on compassion grounds alone, but half-sister Samantha's mean-spirited book, her TV appearances and even her arrival at the palace demanding to see Meghan smacks too much of self-serving attention-seeking - even if she insists it's all conducted on her poor father Thomas's behalf.

Either way, public opinion has seemed to support Meghan's choice of her husband and his family over her own, in the manner of "you can choose your friends, but not your family".

So, the messiness that could have scuppered the embrace of Meghan into the Windsors proved something for a boon for her.

In today's world, relatable is worth gold and, oddly, the Markle family feud worked to her benefit.

The same might not have been said for the rumoured falling-out with Kate, though. First came talk that Meghan had gone full bridezilla before her May wedding, upsetting staff, being high-handed, throwing strops about tiaras. Harry was reported to have told courtiers that "what Meghan wants, Meghan gets".

Then came reports that Kate had left a bridesmaid dress-fitting for her daughter, Charlotte, in tears, though this was partly attributed to stress after the recent birth of Prince Louis. No one said explicitly that Meghan made Kate cry, but the suggestion was there.

The duchess, it seemed, was a bit of a princess.

She and Kate were reported to be very different people who simply don't click, which wouldn't be a stretch to believe, but it struck many as sad that Harry's married happiness seemed to have set him apart from his brother and his sister-in-law, with whom he had always seemed so close.

But, then, little brothers grow up and they form their own units and, in the ordinary world, no big deal would be made of the fact that Harry and Meghan had decided to move out of the palace that is also home to his big brother and his brood.

If Meghan Markle has taken anything from this extraordinary year, it should be that she's not operating in any ordinary family. Her own family may be complicated, but this one has centuries' old ways and rules and highs and lows that she might never fully understand and which Meghan will never be allowed to grow greater than.

This has been a good year, but it has been only a year. There is a central truth to being part of any family and that is that it's a long and winding road and short spats never go anywhere good.

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