Not causing a fuss is often held up as a guiding principle of the queen’s existence, and one of her many virtues.
Understandably, given that she never causes one, Her Majesty is known not to be crazy about people who do.
In an ideal world, therefore, people who join the royal orbit are expected to go along with the royal way of doing things. Square pegs that don’t get their sharp angles rubbed off fast—see Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson—have found life in the royal fold unbearable.
Meghan has made it very clear that she wants to do things her way, and, the family have made it clear they are determined not to repeat the mistakes made with Diana and Fergie.
But, ultimately, if Meghan can’t or won’t conform (in the way that Kate Middleton, after initially breaking the rules in lots of ways, eventually did) it may spell trouble ahead in the long run.
Take, for example, something as simple and uncontroversial as mealtimes.
Royal mealtimes have always operated according to their own civilized, but inflexible timetable. Awaken shortly before 8am (with or without piper) for a cup of tea, have breakfast finished shortly after 9am, lunch at 1pm, afternoon tea at a quarter to five and dinner no earlier than 8:30pm.
Dinner in many upper class British households would not conclude before 10:30pm, and the Windsors are no different.
Of all American diet trends, the notion that eating late in the day is somehow worse for you than eating at some other time is one that incurs the most voluble snorts of British derision.
No matter what the scientific evidence may be, dinner, cheese and perhaps a glass of port has been, and ever will be, the only way to pass an evening either alone or with friends. Prince Charles is no exception. “He has dinner ridiculously late at night,” his son, Prince Harry sighed in a recent documentary on his father.
Meghan was said in one recent Daily Mail report to be up before dawn, rising at 5am to kick off her day with yoga (her mom is a yoga teacher), meditation and smoothies.
Bed comes commensurately early, and while this may not be a problem in her day-to-day existence with Harry, it might not go down too well this Christmas at Sandringham, where it is a not inconsiderable breach of etiquette to slip off to bed before the queen does.
Diana—who hated late nights—was said to find waiting up for the queen to retire to be torture.
A minor example this may be, but it is indicative of the vast gulf between the way things are done in Meghan’s former and new worlds.
The same Mail report claimed that several Palace aides have moved on since Meghan's arrival, and that she bombards staff with texts (up to 6 or 7 a day), that her fashion choices are causing raised eyebrows, and that there may be tension between Harry and Meghan, and Will and Kate, as well as tension between Meghan and Kate Middleton.
“Malicious gossip? Very possibly. What female friendship is without its sharp edges?” the Mail added bitchily, terming the impact of Markle on the royal household as “Hurricane Meghan.”
How much of this is true, fabrication or just plain bitchy is unknown; the Daily Beast has noted the snobbery and prejudice of some of the upper classes towards Meghan before.
But she is an independent female spirit in a family not previously noted for welcoming and encouraging them. Meghan has gone from being the star of her own show, the one calling the shots and setting the agenda (and the alarm clock), to being a worker bee in the Palace hive. Now, much of the time she is expected to do as she is told.
She is, it has been reported, not universally popular with royal household staff. British newspaper The Sun quoted a source as saying: “Meghan can be difficult. She has very high standards and is used to working in a Hollywood environment. However, there’s a different degree of respect in the royal household and Kate has always been very careful about how she has acted around staff.”
Interesting stories have also surfaced in the past few days of some alleged irritation on the part of the queen at some of Meghan’s wedding clothing choices: her veiled white bridal gown (ivory and no veil, the queen is said to have thought, may have suited a divorcée better) and a dispute about which tiara she could wear.
Royal biographer Robert Jobson alleges in his new book, Charles At Seventy, that in the days leading up to the Meghan and Harry’s wedding, Harry occasionally shouted at his staff: “What Meghan wants, she gets.”
Stories about how the members of one of the most privacy-obsessed and protected families in the world think and behave behind closed doors are hard to stand up definitively.
But The Daily Beast has been told by sources that Meghan’s amazement at the relatively poor levels of British service, in comparison to what she enjoyed as a TV star in America and Canada, has left her dismayed at times, and that she has not maybe been as tactful as she might about keeping her views to herself.
There has been no pushback from the Palace against the anecdotes contained in Jobson’s book, but it would be wrong to imply that Meghan is getting a reputation for being unreasonable within the family.
She freely admits to being demanding and exacting, but the extraordinary way she has embraced her royal role, taking on an unprecedented number of engagements, including a monster two-week tour of Australasia while pregnant, has reassured Palace elders that she takes her duties extremely seriously, and is eager to please.
Meghan wants to do things her way—whether that’s closing her own car door, hugging the crowds or taking a weekend house nowhere near the royal estate at Sandringham—the challenge for the institutions of royalty is understanding that does not make her ‘difficult.’
She has, for example, completely gone along with the Palace way of doing things when it comes to dealing with her troublesome father and sister, by simply not acknowledging or reacting to their increasingly hysterical attacks. This has proved to be the right course of action.
As Prince Charles and his advisers plot the best strategic way forward for the next 50 years, they are acutely aware that Meghan holds a significant number of cards; the family are the ones who have everything to lose if they fail to embrace and nurture Meghan.
The old guard who have for so long controlled the levers of power at the palace—the ‘men in grey’ as Diana called them—know this.
It’s debatable whether the monarchy could survive another messy fairytale-gone-wrong.
The royal family cannot reasonably both embrace Meghan as a breath of fresh air and simultaneously demand she slots neatly into their pre-ordained grid.
Inflexibility, often misrepresented as the virtue of steadfastness, has always been the Windsors’ weak spot, and Meghan’s arrival in their bosom gives them a powerful incentive and opportunity to abandon such fixed rigidity.
And bringing dinner forward an hour might be a very good place to start.