It was the first question asked when the Duke of Sussex announced plans to fly back for his grandfather’s funeral: who will he see first when he steps off the plane (and will the visit be the key to patching up the reported rift with his brother?)?
The answer is what many had long expected: his cousin Eugenie, who recently gave birth to Archie’s cousin, August, and has been living with her husband Jack Brooksbank at the Sussexes’ property Frogmore Cottage on the Queen’s Windsor estate. The cottage was gifted to Eugenie and her husband for their growing family, and under the condition the Sussexes would bunk in with them on the odd visit to London.
But the reason behind Harry’s decision to stay with his first cousin is unlikely to be a practical one. Eugenie has long been close with her first cousin and is said to have played a key role in Harry meeting his wife Meghan Markle. Since then, she has held a unique position as a close confidante to Harry and his brother William, even since reported rifts between the pair. Indeed, she’s the main - if not only - member of the royal family long believed to have maintained a special relationship with the Sussexes’ since they moved to LA - confirmed by Meghan in hers and Harry’s bombshell Oprah interview, when she explained that she and Eugenie had known each other before she met Harry.
But Eugenie’s peacekeeper role goes beyond the brotherly rift. Yesterday’s tribute to her grandfather Prince Philip was a reflection of her quietly crucial status within the wider family. “I remember incinerating the sausages and you swooping in to save the day,” she wrote in a post on Instagram that has been praised on social media for being the most down-to-earth of all the royal family tributes.
“Thank you for your dedication and love for us all and especially Granny, who we will look after for you,” she continued, confirming reports of her long-reported close relationship with the Queen.
So what is Eugenie’s history with her royal cousins and how did she maintain a post-Megxit relationship few others could?
Watch: Prince Philip - 'We all miss you', Eugenie says in touching Instagram tribute to Duke of Edinburgh
The confidante cousin
Eugenie’s special relationship with her cousins is nothing new. She and her sister Beatrice were close with William and Harry growing up, spending summer holidays at the Queen’s Balmoral estate in Scotland and playing together at Sandringham. The princes’ late mother Princess Diana was close with the princess’ mother Sarah Ferguson and they spent several ski holidays with the Yorks in the 1990s.
Eugenie went to the same school, Marlborough College, as Kate Middleton and has always been close with her cousin William, the Duke of Cambridge - last week, a former royal chef recalled how a young William pranked Eugenie and her sister Beatrice at Easter using a sugar mouse.
But it is Eugenie’s closeness with the younger of her male cousins that has attracted more attention over the years. Eugenie and Harry are just five years apart in age and are said to have always been said to share a particularly close bond, with Harry long confiding in his female cousin about his dating life and both boasting a long list of mutual famous friends.
Their shared pool of A-list pals now includes the Clooneys, who Jack got to know through his work as brand ambassador for George’s Casamigos tequila, and singer Ellie Goulding, who Eugenie reportedly introduced to her now-husband Caspar Jopling.
“Out of all the Queen’s grand-children, Harry and Eugenie have one of the most natural connections,” royal authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand explain in the Sussex biography Finding Freedom.
“Like Harry, Eugenie is loyal, honest and great fun. The two had many nights out together in London, sneaking into back entrances of clubs, such as Mahiki, where Jack once was manager, or Tonteria, where in one of the VIP cave areas they downed shots from Mexican skull shaped glasses and a giant frozen margarita (with multiple straws).”
Nicknamed “Youj” or “Bouj” by her friends, the book also noted that like Harry, “Eugenie also struggled to carve out her own identity growing up”. It continued: “Harry had always confided in his cousin when it came to the women in his life. Not only did he trust her implicitly, but friends say that she gives great advice and has always been ‘beyond wise’ for her years.”
Watch: Princess Eugenie says she hopes her son will see world as place that can be changed
A dutiful granddaughter
It’s not just her friends and cousins who can attest to Eugenie’s wise words and warm ways. Despite receiving no public funding, the princess often accompanies her grandmother to events such as the Easter Day church service and Royal Ascot. She’s also attended engagements such as the Queen’s summer garden parties and the Commonwealth Youth Forum, which insiders say would not have taken place were it not for the Queen’s fondness for her six-born grandchild.
Unlike her cousins, Eugenie is known to be relatively informal around her grandmother in public, referring to her as “Granny” rather than “the Queen” in interviews and not being afraid to laugh or joke in her presence. She speaks fondly of the Queen’s estate Balmoral, to which she is a regular visitor.
“It’s the most beautiful place on Earth,” she said in the ITV documentary Our Queen at Ninety. “I think Granny is the most happy there, I think she really, really loves the Highlands... Walks, picnics, dogs—a lot of dogs, there’s always dogs!—and people coming in and out all the time.
“Family-wise we’re all there, so it’s a lovely base for Granny and Grandpa to be—for us to come and see them up there, where you just have room to breathe and run.”
The Queen was also one of the few people who knew about Eugenie’s engagement from the start (before cousins William and Harry) and the princess clearly had a close relationship with her “Grandpa”, the Duke of Edinburgh, too. “You would be so touched by all the tributes that have been shared with me the past few days,” she wrote in her Instagram tribute yesterday, quickly cementing herself as many social media users’ favourite royal.
“People remember sitting next to you at a dinner, or shaking your hand once, who remember you saying hello in passing, or remember how much their DofE award meant to them.
“I remember learning how to cook, how to paint, what to read. I remember laughing at your jokes and asking about your spectacular life and service in the navy,” she continued. “I remember incinerating the sausages and you swooping in to save the day. I remember your hands and your laugh and your favourite beer.
“I will remember you in your children, your grandchildren and great grandchildren. Thank you for your dedication and love for us all and especially Granny, who we will look after for you. With all my love Eugenie.”
Eugenie the matchmaker
Cousins Eugenie and Harry have long mixed in similar celebrity circles and their shared connections have often spilled into romantic ones, too. Eugenie is good friends with Harry’s ex Chelsy Davy - Davy attended her wedding in 2018 - and it was Eugenie who first introduced Harry to her longtime friend and actress Cressida Bonas, who he dated for two years from 2012.
Sources say the princess also played a key role in introducing the Duke to his current wife, Meghan. In last month’s Oprah interview, the Duchess confirmed she had known Eugenie before she met Harry, and Eugenie and Jack were spotted with Harry and Meghan at a Halloween party at Soho House in Toronto in 2016, before the Duke had publicly confirmed the pair were dating. Eugenie and Jack are believed to have been on multiple double dates with the couple in Toronto and London and been instrumental in helping to keep their relationship a secret.
In 2019, Eugenie captioned an Instagram of the Sussexes’ engagement photo “welcome cousins” and went onto lend a hand in their royal wedding plans. The couple returned the favour last year when they gifted their beloved Frogmore Cottage to Eugenie and her husband for their growing family.
A friendship fit for a Duchess
Harry isn’t the only one of the Sussexes to share a special relationship with the princess. According to Meghan herself, she and Eugenie are longtime friends - a fact that no doubt strengthens her relationship with Harry. “Eugenie and I had known each other before I had known Harry, so that was comfortable,” she told Oprah last month. “We’re friends with them as a couple.”
It is unclear how the princess and Duchess first met but it is a friendship that has lasted, despite a rollercoaster few years for the royals and the Sussexes’ rifts with many other members of the royal family since they moved to LA. “Eugenie is really the only member of the royal family that Meghan is still close to,” a source told Us post-Megxit, while another source said: “They are sort of an unlikely pair, but remain in contact. They bond[ed] over their pregnancies.”
Indeed, both women had similar experiences with their firstborns. They both gave birth at London’s Portland Hospital before bringing up newborns Archie and August at Frogmore Cottage. The princess’ recent Instagram of August surrounded by daffodils in the grounds shares a likeness with Meghan’s alfresco pregnancy shoot under a tree in LA.
“Obviously as they were both pregnant at the same time have had a few chats over social media either Zoom or WhatsApp more likely the latter,” editor of Majesty magazine Ingrid Seward told Entertainment Daily earlier this year. “I am sure they are both avid texters.”
But the pair have more in common than their children. Both share similar interests in charitable causes and they are also keen on their exercise. Eugenie has said she likes to start her morning circuits by 7am while Meghan once said she woke up at 4.30am for light yoga.
They’ve also both been described as kind and a good friend by their inner circles of (often famous) BFFs and are known for their straight-talking honesty. “I tell it as it is,” Eugenie once said. “I am shyer at first. Like, at a party I will say to Beatrice as we go in, ‘Oh, you go first.’ But then, when we’re actually in, I am much louder.” Was this honesty key to forging her peacekeeping role?
Eugenie the peacekeeper
Several royal relationships appear to have been damaged since the couple’s Megxit move. The Duke said he felt “really let down” by Prince Charles and that his father had stopped taking his calls, and suggested that a certain family member or members had raised “concerns” about Archie’s skin tone. Only two family members with whom they’d maintained positive relationships were named: the Queen herself, who Harry said he had “too much respect” for to “blindside”, and Eugenie and her husband, who Meghan confirmed were “friends” of theirs as a couple.
Watch: Princess Eugenie's latest photo features family and florals for Spring
The relationship between the princess and the Duchess clearly remains a close one. “They have all become great friends,” a source told the Sunday Express during the early days of the Sussexes’ relationship. “Eugenie loves Meghan to bits and believes she is perfect for Harry. They are thick as thieves and may even all go on holiday together soon. Eugenie has lots of friends who could let them stay and be discreet, away from prying eyes.”
Yet even when relationships between the Duke and his brother were reportedly souring - sources have said William warned Harry not to “rush” things with Meghan early on - Eugenie appears to have maintained a similarly friendly relationship with the Cambridges, too. At a similar time to hers and Jack’s early double dates with the Sussexes, the couple would reportedly also enjoy evenings with William and Kate at Loulou’s, the exclusive private members’ club in Mayfair.
Since then, both friendships appear to have continued. The couple were neighbours to William and Kate at Kensington Palace before they moved to Frogmore Cottage at the end of last year, and the Cambridges were among the first to like Eugenie and Jack’s new baby announcement from their official Instagram account.
Meanwhile there were even rumours around the time of Megxit that the Sussexes might be trying to persuade Eugenie and her husband to follow their non-royal lifestyle, and insiders have suggested Meghan and Harry kept the Prince Andrew scandal out of the Oprah interview out of “loyalty” to Eugenie and her sister Beatrice. “We don’t know the reason, but one can only suspect that maybe out of respect for her, they didn’t want to go into her father,” royal author Anna Pasternak told Fox News following the broadcast.
Since their grandfather’s death, Harry is understood to have spoken to his brother on the phone before arriving in Britain and insiders have already said Prince William’s decision to ditch his official military uniform for the ceremony could be an “olive branch” to his brother to ensure he doesn’t stick out.
Perhaps Eugenie the peacekeeper has already been busy.