Royal Christmas 2018

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Ohhh, where to begin with the royal Christmas this year? The meat of it – beyond the photos and the Duchesses’ fashion – is really the reported angst behind the scenes between the Cambridges and Sussexes, so really there is no coverage of this year’s holiday without delving into this a bit.

So, in order to do that I’m going to re-raise an Emily Andrews article that ran on December 8 because what it reports strikes me as the most likely of a series of scenarios that have led us to where we are now – a rather fraught fab four. The full article can be read here – below I’m going to pick it apart bit by bit to weigh in. From there we’ll return to the holiday itself, the optics of which mean a bit more with this context.

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The first hint of friction came after William was introduced to Meghan, 37, when she was staying at Kensington Palace. Once she’d returned home to Canada, Wills sat Harry down for a chat — meant as brotherly advice. He knew Harry was already head-over-heels for the US star but wanted him to take it slowly. A well-placed source said: “William told his brother they knew nothing about her background, her intentions, what she was really like. “He just wanted to stress that becoming part of the Royal Family is a massive undertaking and the pressure and scrutiny is unrelenting. Was Meghan the right one?”

The chat did not go down well. “Harry went mental,” said the friend. “He accused his brother of trying to finish his romance before it had begun. The brothers’ relationship has not really recovered.”

This strikes me as true. William is the more cautious of the two, sure, but the real split to me is taking a look at how the two handled their courtship of the women who became their wives. William and Kate dated for the better part of a decade and lived together for about a year before getting engaged. She had been slowly introduced to the public and private nuances of joining William’s family and was given time to get used to the intrusiveness and interest that would follow her – a very different animal than the celebrity that might follow a successful actress.

Harry and Meghan’s whirlwind courtship – and the long-distance nature of it – was likely anathema of William, and if ever there was a person well-positioned to offer a note of caution it would be him. And Harry and Meghan’s relationship did seem fast and intense. From living in different countries to that rather memorable press release to press interviews and social media, there’s a lot there that gave any Windsor a lot of new material to sift through as they considered this relationship. Nearly every new member into the BRF has stumbled, particularly the women, and so it’s not necessarily anti-Meghan to take a look at these factors and say, hey, maybe take a beat.

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Meghan also faced some opposition from the Middleton family, who didn’t want to invite her to Pippa’s wedding last May. They feared Meghan’s first public appearance with Prince Harry would overshadow the bride’s big day.

I’m not quite sure what I make of this, mainly because the Middletons approach to the media can be difficult to assess at times. They’re pretty straightforward with the realities of the attention, in my opinion, and Kensington Palace confirmed the event details prior to the wedding, as well as the attendance of Prince George and Princess Charlotte. They’re not camera-shy, but at the same time, I can understand a fear that things would turn into a circus if Meghan had attended the ceremony itself.

The other thing that jumps out at me is that Pippa Matthews and her husband were reportedly not invited to the more intimate reception after Harry and Meghan’s wedding. That caught me by surprise at the time, but now I wonder if there might be some residual bitterness.

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[Meghan] hoped that in Kate, another “outsider” who had navigated the choppy waters with aplomb, she would find a natural best friend. But Kate, 36, was recovering from terrible morning sickness in her pregnancy with Prince Louis and was busy with George, now five, and Charlotte, three.

A royal source said: “Meghan hoped Kate would show her the ropes. But, equally understandably, Kate was busy. She didn’t have as much time for her as Meghan would have liked. They were at very different places in their lives. Meghan felt quite let down. She had really tried but felt rebuffed, and so just stopped trying.” Harry did not take this lightly and spoke to William about making Meghan feel welcome. William, of course, took his wife’s side — after all, she was following his lead.

This also strikes me as true. I think many of us assumed that behind palace gates, Kate was giving Meghan plenty of guidance in the lead up to the wedding. They’re the same age, neighbors and in a uniquely bizarre situation. For that matter, Kate was mentioned by name in Harry and Meghan’s engagement interview as being welcoming, so as far as any of us knew, the two were friendly and Kate was happy to have another young woman in the fold.

But the reported reality is also really understandable. Kate has difficult pregnancies, was working full-time and has two small children at home, while her own sister became pregnant earlier this year. Meghan was brand new to London, likely still finding her footing and reaching out, but Kate wasn’t in a great place to reciprocate. Once Harry intervened – if he did – that likely only made it awkward and feel more pressurized, which certainly isn’t going to encourage Kate to extend herself further.

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Harry then joked that there are so many clashes that “they come so thick and fast.” When asked if they’d been “resolved”, Wills jokingly replied: “We don’t know!” Could he have been thinking about Harry’s new role as a youth ambassador for the Commonwealth? Wills’ nose was reportedly put out of joint when the Queen gave the plum job to his brother instead of him. Afterwards William had to be cajoled into doing anything for the Commonwealth, say courtiers.

But aides point out that if he’d wanted to veto Harry’s appointment, he could have done so. However, the tension didn’t help matters, coming as it did before May’s Royal Wedding.

I went back and looked at my coverage of the CHOGM meetings in April to see if Harry was noticeably present more than William and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Harry attended solo engagements, as well as accompanied Meghan for a few joint appearances, while Kate was just days away from giving birth. Had Kate been in the mix, it’s possible we would have seen more of William – at the same time, had his wife not been due to go into labor at any moment, it’s possible William’s schedule would have been more packed.

Also, since the announcement of Harry’s role was made public prior to the meetings, there was some hubbub about that. So, chicken, egg, etc.

Did William resent Harry’s appointment? If he did, it’s the first I’m hearing of it, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it strikes me as odd. The position makes a lot of sense for defining Harry’s future role, which is ambiguous at best, whereas William’s is anything but.

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Meghan’s father Thomas Markle was about to pull out of walking his daughter down the aisle after it was revealed he had posed for paparazzi pictures. Calm but collected, Meghan decided her team should say nothing publicly and cut him off. However, William — having lost his mum — couldn’t understand ignoring a parent, whatever they’d done. He thought Meghan was making a mistake.

Even Charles, who dotes on Meghan, asked a senior member of his staff to intervene. But the policy stands and The Sun understands she has still not spoken to Thomas.

This is a topic I try to avoid on this site, but I will weigh in only to say that the media’s other favorite narrative for the past two years has been Charles’s relationship with his sons. Which is it? William is all about family and can’t wrap his head around parental tension, or he keeps his father at arm’s length due to residual anger from his parents’ divorce?

Again, it could be true, but it strikes me as a strange thing for William to make a judgment of Meghan about. I do believe that he quite literally detests the press the Markle family generates, but that’s another matter altogether.

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Meghan is said to be far less intimidated by the royals than might be supposed. At a recent gathering of senior family members, including Meghan, one well-placed aide remarked: “All their IQs put together would not equal hers.”

I hate to say it because it’s unkind, but this I 100% believe.

Next year the brothers are splitting their household, with staff choosing which prince to work for. As the Sun revealed, Harry and Meghan will move to Frogmore Cottage on the Windsor estate. As they prepare to become parents in the spring, perhaps Harry feels it’s time to spread his wings. Admittedly things remain civil between the couples — and only this week Harry and Wills worked out their diaries together for next year. But for these two brothers-in-arms, the bonds are creaking.

Well, that remains to be seen in the new year, doesn’t it?

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Ok, let’s move on. Reportedly, the Cambridges were planning to spend this Christmas in Berkshire with the Middletons, as they occasionally do, but ended up opting to join the rest of the BRF at Sandringham to help quell rumors of tension with the Sussexes. I’m not sure I believe that, if for no other reason then in fact the Cambridges have only spent two Christmases with the Middletons since their wedding. It’s not exactly an every other year event for them, and I think they’ve found a balance on spending time with the Middletons post-Christmas day and near Kate’s January birthday.

The Cambridges in Berkshire in 2016

The other rumor is that the Queen – and possibly Charles – sat the fab four down and told them in no uncertain terms that they needed to put on quite the dog and pony show during the walkabout to rebut headlines. I’m also not sure I believe this. The Queen is famously laissez-faire when it comes to her family’s personal dynamics, and I’m not sure I can picture Charles taking up the mantle on this one. More realistically, the foursome can read themselves and have their own staff and press people to help them navigate choppy waters.

Sandringham House

Which brings us to logistics – last year, Harry and Meghan joined William and Kate at Anmer Hall instead of staying with the Queen and the rest of the BRF at Sandringham. The latter is a small (by royal standards) residence full of Edwardian splendor, but not necessarily enough bedrooms to accommodate everyone. Minor royals infamously have to make do with old servants’ quarters when everyone is squashed together. So, it stands to reason that Anmer Hall would be the more comfortable option, but that really depends on the depths of awkwardness.

Anmer Hall
Anmer Hall

It’s unclear where Harry and Meghan stayed this year, but if I had to put money on it, I’d say they were in the big house with the Queen. My reasoning is mainly that if they were at Anmer Hall, KP would have done a better job of leaking that to make everything seem rosier.

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So, the day itself. As you no doubt picked up on, the foursome did make an attempt to be photographed together. Kate and Meghan, in particular, took time to smile and chat with one another as they made the walk to church. They also both took time to shake hands and say hello to members of the public who lined up to greet the family as they made the trek from Sandringham to the church service.

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The general consensus is that the girls did better than the boys, though that may not be William’s fault. Harry did look a tad awkward at times, but that may have had more to do with him walking with his hands in his pockets. In all, it was a civil, mostly pleasant, slightly stiff display of family togetherness. The royals, they’re just like so many of us.

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As for the clothes – Kate wore a cherry colored Catherine Walker coat. It’s essentially a red version of the green that she debuted last year for the Paris trip, though this version has been tailored to be longer. The Jane Taylor hatband is a look Kate is definitely making her own, having debuted the style at Louis’s christening this summer. I wasn’t a fan at the time, but it’s definitely starting to grow on me and I appreciate the bow detailing in the back and the fact that she wore her hair down with this. I’ll call this a very classic Kate win.

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Meghan’s look was less of a hit in my book. Both the navy coat and dress are by Victoria Beckham, as are the tall black boots and purse. I am decidedly not a fan of tall boots and dresses/skirts, so this look was probably killed for me on that front. Even so, I also thought the open coat with the neckline of the dress felt slightly too hurried and a tad sloppy. Under other circumstances, maybe this would have worked, but the Sandringham walk has always struck me as a pretty buttoned up affair.

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There was some chatter about when George and Charlotte might make their debut – I think it’s likely that the two will appear together in the next year or two, and it won’t be a staggered emergence of George and then Charlotte. That gives George another year off from this showing, and based on what we’ve seen recently, he’s a bit publicity shy.

Also there included Princess Eugenie and her new husband, Jack Brooksbank:

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Princess Beatrice, pictured here with Autumn Phillips.

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The Wessex family:

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Mike and Zara Tindall:

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Savannah and Isla Phillips:

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And Her Majesty herself:

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Bonus points for Meghan’s deep curtsy when the Queen arrived this year. A marked improvement from last year!

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With that, I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. Later today and tomorrow we’ll continue with some year-end wrap ups.

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