Feud or not, it seems likely that the next time the British people will see Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton together in public will be on Christmas Day at Sandringham, on their way in and out of church with the Queen.
The Christmas Day picture, as well as being a gift to news organizations on an otherwise dead news day, has always been a kind of stop-motion paean to that most royal of virtues: incremental change. The frosty grass in the background, the loyal serfs clustered around the ancient stone building, and, most importantly of all, the royals themselves, trussed up in their best overcoats, positively beaming with moderation.
But first Kate, and now Meghan, have both shaken up Christmas at Sandringham, publicly and behind the scenes.
Kate upended several traditions, including disregarding the queen’s longstanding ban on giving presents on Christmas Day (Her Majesty observes her parents' Germanic tradition of presents being exchanged on Christmas Eve, on the understanding that Christmas Day itself should be a somewhat austere religious celebration and observation of duty).
Meghan, who spent her first Christmas at Sandringham last year, for her part ignored a custom that no one stays talking to the crowd after the queen leaves, spending over an hour talking to every single member of the public who wanted to chat to her.
Kate, however, made one change that puts all the others in the shade; simply not turning up. In 2012 and 2016, Kate simply skipped Christmas at Sandringham in favor of spending the day chilling with her parents.
There has been a rumor doing the rounds that Kate and William would skip Sandringham again this year, but after the events of the past week that would be unwise.
Appearing together on Dec. 25 will be a useful way for the Sussexes and the Cambridges to telegraph that there is peace between the two families, or at least a Christmas truce. For one of them not to show up would be a declaration of civil war.
The Christmas photo opportunity will be the best chance the two royal princesses will have to demonstrate the line that Kensington Palace has been pushing all week, that stories of a falling out between the two are nonsense.
The stout denial by the palace that there is any trouble at all in paradise is at odds with a flood of reports suggesting that tension between Meghan and Kate (or, depending which account you read, Harry and William) triggered Harry and Meghan’s decision to move out of the Kensington Palace compound for a country retreat in the grounds of Frogmore House, near Windsor.
Reporters noted for their usually accurate sourcing have claimed, amongst other details, that the trouble stems from an incident when Meghan made Kate cry, in a stressful bridesmaid dress-related incident ahead of her wedding, while Kate was still feeling emotional after the birth of Prince Louis.
Another report has claimed that the row actually dates back to the run-up to Christmas last year, when, apparently, Harry was annoyed that William failed to ‘roll out the red carpet’ for his new fiancée.
While stories about the private lives of the senior members of the royal family are, almost by definition, impossible to prove one way or the other, most families would be familiar with the experience of the strain new in-laws can bring. It’s not fair to blame Meghan for the fact that the delicate balance of any family needs to be recalibrated when sons and daughters marry and new expectations emerge.
This is why presenting a united front this Christmas is more important than ever for the royals.
It was, frankly, pathetically childish of Camilla Parker Bowles not to attend Princess Eugenie’s wedding (and the snub achieved nothing except setting the cause of rebranding Camilla as a nice person back a few paces) and any move by Kate not to be present by Meghan’s side on Christmas Day would reignite the catfight narrative which has proved catnip to the global gossip industry this past week.
The drama has provided some interesting insights, particularly in Britain, into deep seated negative attitudes to Meghan. The alleged fallout with Kate has provided a highly convenient Trojan horse for the British media to renew their classist attacks on Meghan. The subtext of the row in some outlets has been: Meghan should learn her place.
The Daily Beast wrote, just a few weeks ago, that the unprecedented levels of adulation with which Meghan and Harry are received wherever they go might, in the long run, grate on the future king and queen.
Jealousy, when it has reared its head in the context of the royal family, has always been a poisonous strand in their interpersonal relationships.
Unfortunately it appears to be hardwired into the Windsor DNA: Charles’ jealousy of Diana, she believed, was a significant factor in the destruction of their relationship, and Andrew’s jealousy of Charles has blighted both their lives. Even Margaret and the saintly Elizabeth had their moments.
Kate has in fact done a brilliant job of making sure nobody, not even her husband, has an excuse to get jealous of her, mainly by keeping as low a profile as possible and never breaking protocol, which is there in large part not for the fun of the fair but to insulate family members from the third rail of criticism.
It’s entirely possible that the attacks on Meghan this week would have taken place however she had behaved over the past year. Had she done less, she might have been criticized by the press for being lazy.
The royals must feel they can’t win. To rehash an old adage; they can’t please some of the people any of the time.
Kate and William seem to have found a freedom and serenity in accepting that, and just ploughing on, regardless and impervious, in their rather boring way.
Meghan, it seems, still wants to be liked, but she should be far more wary about the risk reward ratio when it comes to choosing between putting her new family’s noses out of joint or not being totally available to her adoring public.
And while Kate would be well advised to take a few tips on crowd engagement from Meghan, Kate, by dint of her experience, also has much to teach the new arrival.
But both the Sussexes and the Cambridges need to eat a dollop of humble pie if they are really serious about showing the world they are partners, not rivals, on Christmas Day at Sandringham. It needs to be a perfectly choreographed joint effort—and a shrewd Harry and Meghan will beware of spending even a second longer greeting the waiting crowds than their future bosses do.