Early September is normally a busy time on the royal calendar, marking the Windsors official return to work after a scant two months of summer holidays (troopers, aren’t they?).
After all those long walks across Scottish moors and letting Princess Anne have a go with the BBQ tongs – nothing says summer like the scratch of woollen kilts on pale English thighs and the joy of midge bites while enjoying a burnt venison snag – it’s time to get back to what they do best: Trying to look useful.
But this year, September is shaping up to be anything but usual with a report out of London suggesting that not only Prince Harry but his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex might return to the UK that month.
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Yesterday, The Sun reported that the prince is set to return to the UK in September for a second celebration of the statue of his mother Diana, Princess of Wales that he and Prince William unveiled last week and that Meghan might travel back with him.
Hear that? That’s the sound of diehard monarchists’ rapiers being sharpened, Fleet Street hastily ordering millions of reams of paper and Piers Morgan chuckling with glee.
Meghan’s return to London could be cataclysmic both publicly and privately. The trip would mark her first time back on UK soil since she and Harry appeared on global TV screens and managed to do more damage to the monarchy than Oliver Cromwell could have ever dreamed.
The $180 million question here is, after the Sussexes’ media tempest of 2021, just how will the royal family, and Kate especially, react when Meghan does return one day?
Will old wounds be politely forgotten in the name of healing, or will it be Strathberry handbags at dawn for the two duchesses?
Because while recent events have seen Harry very, very tentatively accepted back by his family (for both Prince Philip’s funeral in April and last week’s statue event), the question is, would that same level of polite acquiescence be extended towards his wife?
In the long-running William vs Harry rift, Kate has previously assumed the peacemaker role, diplomatically helping bring them together after Philip’s funeral and in full view of the cameras (funny that). However, her willingness to adopt that same Blue Beret-esque approach when it comes to Meghan seems far, far less assured.
Just look back at the images of the last time the Sussexes and the Cambridges were photographed together, namely at the Commonwealth Day service in March 2020. Despite the fact that Kate is a consummate professional at the royal game, and knowing full well that TV lenses would be trained on her the entire time, she totally cut Harry and Meghan, refusing to even acknowledge them.
Throughout the service Kate’s positively stony mien was in stark contrast to Meghan’s plastered on megawatt smile.
That the Duchess of Cambridge, a woman who personifies amiable inoffensiveness, so unequivocally let her feelings towards her brother and sister-in-law be telegraphed to the world might tell us something about the depth of hurt and anger.
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That was then and things have only gone south in the meantime thanks to Netflix’s shiniest (and so far, least productive) hires, who have spent the last few months airing corrosive allegations about the palace, singling out both William and Kate for mention.
While Kate has never publicly commented on her sister-in-law other than to offer up polite, anodyne platitudes, the same cannot be said for Meghan. During the Sussexes’ Oprah interview earlier this year the LA-born duchess not only mentioned the cruel nickname (Waity Katey) the Duchess of Cambridge was forced to bear before her marriage to William, but also told the world that it was Kate who had made her cry before her wedding in 2018, and not the other way around as has been persistently reported.
At the time, the Telegraph reported that William “is understood to have been furious that Meghan, 39, had ‘thrown the Duchess of Cambridge under a bus’ during the interview.”
Meanwhile, Harry’s characterisation of his brother and father being “trapped” by the monarchy during the interview, no matter how much credence there might be to his words, in such a brutally public fashion surely didn’t help things either.
Having passed the ten-year mark of her royal career, Kate has demonstrated, time and again, that she is a highly dedicated royal trooper (In 2019 the Queen made her a Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, the highest rank that can be personally granted by the sovereign). For the 39-year-old, Harry and Meghan’s prime time grievance airing has targeted not only her personally but also threatened, intentionally or not, the very institution she has dedicated a decade of her life to resuscitating.
For Kate to not only have survived but thrived in the royal bubble suggests an iron backbone and a certain steely countenance that her taste in flouncy floral frocks belies. She might often look like a walking Laura Ashley commercial but don’t let that image fool you for a moment.
In June, after the arrival of the couple’s daughter Lilibet, Kate told reporters of her niece’s arrival, “I wish her the very best. I can’t wait to meet her. We haven’t met her yet. I hope that will be soon.” She also said she had not FaceTimed with the bub.
Crucially, she did not mention either Harry or Meghan by name or wish them well during that press conference, which seems unlikely to have been an accidental omission.
Given this frosty climate, if Kate and Meghan were required to reunite publicly alongside their balding menfolk for the Diana event in September, polite iciness, with a slew of aides diplomatically wedged between them at all times, would be the best anyone could hope for.
And privately? It is impossible to imagine either woman particularly wanting to speak to the other right now. If some sort of Cambridge and Sussex reunion did take place, odds are both sides would be whispering favourable interpretations of the meeting into the ears of sympathetic journalists before their teacups had hit the saucers.
Recent events could suggest that Harry and Meghan might also face a chilly reception from other wider royal family.
Harry is not reported to have met with the Queen while he was back in the UK last week, even though he was staying at Frogmore Cottage and she was in residence at nearby Windsor Castle. Nor did Harry meet with his father Prince Charles.
Last month, Buckingham Palace refused to deny a BBC report which alleged that the couple had not asked the Queen for permission to co-opt her lifelong nickname – Lilibet – for their newborn daughter. Lawyers acting for the Sussexes said the report was “false and defamatory.”
With so many feathers ruffled and so many hackles up, for the time being no one seems particularly interested in the extensive exercise in fence-mending and bridge-building that would be required to one day see this unseemly chapter closed.
I suppose it all comes down to the ‘why.’ Until the impetus, on both sides, is strong enough to force them to deal with the turmoil and hurts of recent years then this miserable, frigid state of affairs will continue.
Even if it is not in September, the day will come when Kate and Meghan – both strong women, totally devoted to their husbands and loyal to a fault – will have to face each other and have to look each other in the eyes. It’s probably not too soon to start to brace for impact.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
Originally published as Kate and Meghan showdown on horizon