This story was one of the top-performing stories for Herald Lifestyle in 2020
From the outside, Kensington Palace looks sort of like a noble but impregnable fortress. Surrounded by 265-acres of public park and hordes of iPhone-wielding tourists gawping at a real life royal palace and bearing down on the gift shop, the main entrance to the compound itself is protected by a horde of terrifying, semiautomatic carrying specialist police officers. Vast and incredibly elegant, it looks like the sort of enchanting palace you might expect in a fairytale.
That is of course, unless you live there with occupants past and present creating a picture of life inside the palace as far less glamorous and far more troublesome than you would otherwise expect. (In the ’90s, Princess Diana compared it to “an up-market Coronation Street. As we go out you’ll see all the curtains twitching.”)
Life for the palace’s most recent transplant, according to reports, was far from plain sailing. In late 2017, Meghan Markle moved into Prince Harry’s home Nottingham Cottage (or ‘Nott Cott’ in Windsor patois) inside the walls of Kensington Palace, with the couple living there until their April 2019 move to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor.
Writing in his recently released biography Kensington Palace: An Intimate Memoir from Queen Mary to Meghan Markle, author Tom Quinn instead makes the case that intra-palace jealousy and quarrelling contributed to the Sussexes’ decision to move to leave.
Central to the rising temperatures was the indisputable hierarchy of the line of succession an anonymous Kensington Palace communications department staffer, told Quinn.
“Tensions were bound to arise because Meghan inevitably had to accept that although she is a duchess she is not married to the next king. I think she has found that difficult to deal with and although Harry loved their cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace, Meghan was conscious that it was tiny in comparison to the vast apartment complex where Kate and William live,” a Kensington Palace communications staffer told Quinn.
According to Quinn, the Sussexes were determined to “outshine” the Cambridges, however, “(Meghan) and Harry cannot hope to outshine William and Kate, and Meghan and Harry cannot accept second place.”
(Or as a report in Private Eye, the British satirical magazine put it: “The rivalry between Meghan and Kate is very real. Kate remains semi-detached from it all, secure in her position as a future queen, and wife and mother of kings, with nothing to prove.
“But her sister-in-law now realises she will never again have the largest star on her dressing room door and that her role on the royal stage will only get smaller.”)
The palace “bickering” became so bad that the Queen herself made the approximate eight-minute drive from Buckingham Palace to try and stamp out the squabbling, according to the Kensington Palace communications staffer.
The question of Harry and Meghan’s rocky relationships with other members of the royal family, and the rivalries, envy and jealousy that were allegedly at play behind the scenes, have come to the fore of late. Essentially, according to reports, Harry and Megan’s fractured family relations went far beyond the “KP” gates.
For years, Harry was particularly close to his cousins Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, hitting up exclusive London soirees and even partying with Margot Robbie together. In short, they were mates however that closeness has reportedly taken a serious blow of late.
This particular vein of royal history goes back to 2017 when Harry proposed to Meghan (inside Nott Cott if you want to know) and Princess Eugenie’s long-term boyfriend Jack Brooksbank popped the question during a jaunt to Nicaragua.
While no firm dates for both events have ever been revealed, Harry and his bride-to-be were given precedence, meaning that Jack and Eugenie’s wedding had to be pushed back, according to royal biographer Lady Colin Campbell in Meghan and Harry: The True Story.
Causing even more friction was the question of which tiara both royal brides would wear. Lady Colin writes that the Queen had promised her granddaughter the use of a diamond and emerald tiara that had belonged to Grand Duchess Xenia of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II’s elder sister.
However, per Lady Colin: “There the matter should have rested, and would have, had Meghan not decided that she wanted to wear (the same tiara) at her wedding, and Harry, so eager to fulfil her every wish, neglected to point out that she couldn’t be lent something that his cousin had already been promised … The Queen, after all, could not collude with her granddaughter’s thunder being stolen by a granddaughter-in-law.”
Thus, Lady Colin claims, Her Majesty turned to her trusted dresser Angela Kelly to convey the news, at which point, the couple “made an almighty fuss”.
Relations between Harry and Meghan and his family were allegedly further tested when, five months after their own wedding, they returned to St George’s Chapel for Eugenie’s big day.
Investigative journalists Dylan Howard and Andy Tillett, writing in Royals at War, report that Meghan “put her foot in it” and committed a “huge social gaffe” by deciding that was the perfect moment to tell the royal family she was pregnant.
“Harry would have been only too painfully aware just how big a no-no this would be, yet he went along with Meghan’s wishes,” the authors write. By “stealing the limelight from Eugenie”, the duchess reportedly left both the bride and her mother Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York “furious.”
(Adding insult to injury, it has previously been reported that Harry made only the briefest of appearances at Eugenie’s night-time wedding reception, staying for one drink and then leaving.)
Then, in February Harry and Meghan put out what read as a somewhat sullen statement about their impending exit from official royal life, in which they claimed that they were being treated differently to other members of the family who were allowed to earn money, a move that was widely interpreted as a not-so-subtle dig at the York sisters.
(While Beatrice and Eugenie might vary occasionally take part in royal engagements, such as attending Buckingham Palace garden parties or in 2019 when Eugenie accompanied the Queen to the Maundy Thursday service, they do not, and have never, carried out full time engagements on behalf of Her Majesty and have always had full-time professional jobs. Nor have they ever received any money via the Sovereign Grant and currently do not have any sort of official police protection.)
Meghan aired similar claims again this week. In new legal documents filed with the British high court as part of her privacy fight with the Daily Mail’s parent company Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), she named Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, along with the Queen’s cousin, Prince Michael while responding to a claim that members of the royal family don’t work.
What is striking is that, based on the reporting done thus far and without apportioning blame, Meghan struggled to build strong relationships with Windsor women. The picture that has emerged of late is that Meghan’s time, living in both Kensington Palace and in Windsor, was wrought with instances of rivalry, friction and resentment.
Maybe Diana was right all those years ago and that palace life does bear an uncomfortable similarity to a soap opera, replete with all the infighting, antagonism and envy. At least we can say this: No two Windsor women have ended up, a la Dynasty, pushing each other into Kensington Palace’s famous Sunken Garden pond – yet.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
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