It was the first, and only, joint royal engagement between the Dukes and Duchesses of Sussex and Cambridge, as William and Kate were then known – and it didn’t go well.
Appearing on stage together at the Royal Foundation Forum in February 2018, the tension between the so-called “Fab Four” was palpable as William admitted there had been family disagreements and Harry added: “Working as family does have its challenges, of course it does. But we’re stuck together for the rest of our lives.”
As Tina Brown later pointed out in her 2022 book The Palace Papers, Meghan “fluently” took up the majority of the airtime. “With blithe proprietorship, she deployed an issue that was not even on the foundation’s docket – women’s empowerment, then at its fervid height with the acceleration of the #MeToo movement,” she wrote.
“‘Women don’t need to find a voice. They have a voice. They need to feel empowered to use it,” Meghan quotably exhorted as Harry looked on with awe and his brother and Kate stood by with expressionless irritation.” The event was supposed to be about promoting better mental health, and here was the Duchess, seemingly politicising it.
But the awkwardness on display that frosty day provides an insight into the many reasons why Meghan appears never to have taken to Kate – and vice versa.
The Princess of Wales has once again been on the receiving end of criticism by the Sussexes’ unofficial spokesman, Omid Scobie, whose second book Endgame doubles down on the couple’s Oprah Winfrey interview, Netflix documentary and Harry’s autobiography Spare by depicting Kate as “cold”, “a part-time royal” and a “Stepford Wife”.
It comes after he blamed Kate for failing to foster a “meaningful” relationship with Meghan in his first book Finding Freedom, which was written with the cooperation of the Sussexes. Although Scobie insists Harry and Meghan didn’t brief him for Endgame, the couple have yet to denounce the hagiography, which paints an entirely favourable picture of them while once again trashing their nearest and dearest.
Although some believe the royal sisterhood broke down following a tearful row over a bridesmaids’ dress fitting for Princess Charlotte in the run-up to Harry and Meghan’s wedding in May 2018 – that Royal Foundation Forum proved to be a significant pinch point.
At the time the Beast from the East was sweeping through the UK, leading to freezing temperatures, heavy snow and heavy winds. Royal aides were therefore surprised to find Meghan had dressed in a summer dress for the summit – as Kate, who was seven months pregnant with Prince Louis at the time, opted for something rather more conservative.
According to an insider with knowledge of the engagement, Meghan seemed uncomfortable having to so publicly play “second fiddle” to William and Kate as the superior royals in the palace hierarchy. “I think there was always a sense that Meghan felt she was a self-made woman whereas Kate hadn’t really had her own career.
“She seemed to feel like she had more of a right to speak than her sister-in-law, who had married into the family as an unknown whereas Meghan regarded herself as a philanthropist who could teach the royals a thing or two about charity. I think she found it difficult that the Royal Foundation was already a well oiled machine by the time she got there,” said the source.
Around the same time as the Forum, Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland flew to London for her daughter’s baptism and other wedding preparations but, curiously, she was never introduced to William and Kate – despite the Prince and Princess repeatedly asking to meet her.
“It was all very bizarre,” said one source. “Meghan seemed to want to put a separation between them.” In truth, there had been a degree of frisson almost as soon as Meghan officially arrived on the royal scene in 2016 to a lukewarm reception from “formal” William and Kate, who as well as finding her “a little full on”, had no idea she would be a keeper, having met a succession of Harry’s girlfriends.
The Prince and Princess of Wales may well have been influenced by mutual friends raising concerns following a shooting party at Sandringham when Meghan apparently clashed with 16 invited guests over issues including the imminent election of Donald Trump as US President in January 2017.
As Tom Bower revealed in his 2022 book Revenge: “Without hesitation, Meghan challenged every guest whose conversation contravened her values. Beyond Harry’s hearing, some friends questioned Meghan’s “wokery”. Meghan was a dampener on the party, they concluded. She lacked any sense of humour. Driving home after Sunday lunch, the texts pinged between the cars: “OMG what about HER?” said one; “Harry must be f***ing nuts.”
To add insult to injury, as Harry revealed in Spare, when he first introduced Meghan to his brother - Kate remained in the garden, playing with the children – hardly the welcome they both wanted. From that point onwards, Meghan always pointedly insisted on calling the Princess of Wales “Kate” even though the rest of the family referred to her as “Catherine”.
The Middletons also soon proved to be a bone of contention for the Duchess. She mistakenly believed that Kate’s parents, Michael and Carole, were cashing in on their royal connections to get special treatment. Harry had apparently already voiced concern about Kate’s sister Pippa Middleton publishing a book on entertaining called Celebrate in 2012, rather ironically accusing her of commercialising her links to the monarchy.
The Sussexes were then upset when Pippa declined to invite them to her wedding to James Matthews in May 2017, perhaps fearing she would be upstaged by Harry’s new girlfriend. She later relented and invited them to the evening reception “to keep the peace”. According to Harry in Spare, William and Kate then took exception to the couple moving the name places at the table – before being accused of doing the same when the Sussexes got married.
Another bugbear for Meghan was the Windsor Suite, the VIP lounge at Heathrow. Wrongly convinced that Kate’s family had free use of the facility, which usually costs around £5,000 to access, she insisted Doria be able to use it when travelling to the UK, allegedly citing the risk to her safety. In fact, no one can recall the Middletons using the Windsor Suite – although William and Kate do use it whenever they travel through the airport. Doria was spotted there en route to Windsor for Harry and Meghan’s wedding.
William and Kate’s superior accommodation at Apartment 1A, Kensington Palace was said to be another sore point for Meghan, who was confined to the rather more modest Nottingham Cottage with Harry until they moved to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor in April 2019, before the birth of their first child Archie.
William and Kate had not only used Nottingham Cottage as their London residence after their marriage from 2011 to 2013, but even had Prince George living with them there for several months – something Meghan either didn’t know or was apparently reluctant to acknowledge, preferring to think they had been living at the Middletons estate in Bucklebury, Berkshire. When Doria came to stay, she made a point of cramming her into the cramped cottage, insisting she couldn’t stay at the nearby Royal Garden Hotel because it “wasn’t safe”.
As well as seemingly resenting the close knit nature of the Middleton family – which was in stark contrast to her own rather more fractured upbringing – Meghan would “bristle” when praise was lavished on Kate for her mothering skills, wardrobe and general kindness. The Duchess was a woman in a hurry while Kate was the complete opposite: an introvert, uncomfortable with confrontation. Meghan was a natural oversharer while the Princess has always kept her cards close to her cards close to her chest. She was also seemingly unassailable when it came to the loyalty of their shared team.
As one former aide pointed out: “The Princess of Wales is very popular with staff. I remember after Prince Louis was born, she popped into Clarence House, quietly knocked on the door of the staff quarters and introduced them all to the baby. They were really touched by that.”
In Spare, Harry insisted that his wife “spread kindness” with baskets of food and flowers, “bought pizza and biscuits” and “hosted tea parties and ice-cream socials”. Yet when an ice cream van was sent to Kensington Palace, it allegedly came with Meghan’s strict instructions that it should only be enjoyed by the Sussexes’ crew.
On another occasion, Meghan allegedly gifted an employee a Charlotte Tilbury lipstick set, but only after she had removed her preferred shade.
Having developed a habit of regularly exchanging letters with her father-in-law the King, parcels would arrive for Meghan in Queen Camilla’s distinctive bespoke wrapping paper, which rather runs contrary to the suggestion that they were all but abandoned by their royal relatives.
While she certainly got on well with her father and mother-in-law, there was perhaps also a sense that William and Kate got on with them even better – and sometimes even gossiped about the Sussexes over dinner, as Harry suggested in Spare. Kate was also adored by the late Queen for the very reasons Scobie seeks to denigrate her in Endgame. She was “coachable”, “comfortable in her role” and “willing to bring the requisite smile and elegance to her duties as princess”.
Despite being comparatively less charismatic and an inferior public speaker, Kate was loved by the public for “never putting a foot wrong” – and carrying the mystique of someone who has never given much away about themselves. She was also a renowned clothes horse – and as a self-styled trend setter, the endless focus on her wardrobe appears to have irritated Meghan, who subsequently complained she had less help with her clothes and was forced to wear muted tones – even though she appeared in a vast array of colourful outfits.
It perhaps can’t have helped that when Kate was first introduced to Meghan’s best friend and stylist Jessica Mulroney, “she fangirled like crazy”.
The Canadian trend setter, who met Meghan in 2011 while she was working in Toronto on the US legal drama, Suits, had helped her to secure brand partnerships for her lifestyle blog, the Tig.
But when Meghan became engaged to Harry in November 2017, sources claim that she may have expected to receive even more preferential treatment from hand-picked suppliers than she had already grown used to.
As with the family hierarchy, however, there was a pecking order: and to Meghan’s dismay, Kate always appeared to get first dibs on designers, including one of the Duchess’s favourites, Erdem Moralıoğlu.
“She was constantly competing with Kate,” said one observer, commenting: “Whatever she had, she wanted more.”
Ultimately though, there was only ever going to be one Princess of Wales, replacing Princess Diana in the public’s affections.