Back on November 26, 2018, The Telegraph’s Camilla Tominey wrote an article that in the lead-up to the Sussexes’ wedding, The Duchess of Sussex made The Duchess of Cambridge cry. The incident was described as having taken place at a dress-fitting for the bridesmaids, but the why or how was not included. All that was noted at the time was that Kate was particularly “emotional” because she had only given birth to Prince Louis a couple weeks before.
The story was widely picked up because the timing coincided with news that Harry and Meghan were moving to Windsor, contrary to expectations that they would set up camp in a more formal apartment in Kensington Palace. The splitting of their personal household was later confirmed to be a professional parting of ways, and that autumn saw the beginnings of a narrative we’re now wholly familiar with – something was amiss between William and Harry, and perhaps with Kate and Meghan as well.
As I’ve said before, I’ve always thought the dress fitting story was utterly stupid. Not because something didn’t happen, but because, again, it’s completely stupid. Whether a post-partum mother or a nervous bride cried – or both – isn’t particularly groundbreaking or interesting. And against the backdrop of what we actually saw going on – a formal parting of ways – it was, in my opinion, a fluffy non-story.
I’m apparently very wrong on this issue because this story has had a strange after-life. In October 2020, Robert Lacey published a book, “Battle of Brothers: William and Harry – The Inside Story of a Family in Tumult,” which described the incident with:
“‘It was a hot day,’ recalled a friend of Kate’s to Anna Pasternak, describing a rehearsal a few weeks before the May 2018 marriage. ‘Apparently there was a row over whether the bridesmaids should wear tights or not.’ Kate, who had brought her three-year-old daughter Charlotte to the run-through, is said to have assumed that protocol should be followed. Meghan thought the girls should be bare-legged – and photographs of the big day suggest that Meghan got her way.”
In March 2021, Meghan sat down with Oprah Winfrey and proactively raised the issue, calling press around the story a “turning point,” after which her media coverage trended extremely negative. She described the incident as being one in which Kate made her cry and that Kate had followed up with an apology and flowers. Meghan stated that she forgave her and Kate had handled the situation as she, herself, would have done if she’d hurt someone – by taking responsibility. Meghan went on to say that Kate was a good person and that she would think that Kate wouldn’t have a problem with Meghan correcting the record because it was the truth.
Meghan’s broader point was that she couldn’t understand why Kensington Palace wouldn’t just deny the original narrative. She saw it as definitive proof that Palace staff would protect Kate and the Cambridges at her and Harry’s expense. Even more, that as she was becoming the victim of bad press based on racism and injustice, the Palace did nothing to protect her. And the bridesmaid dress incident started it all.
Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand updated their August 2020 book, “Finding Freedom,” after the Oprah interview and described the event as such:
“A source, who was at the mid-May fitting and has never discussed what really happened until this book, said that stories about tears have been ‘puzzling’ to those who were present. ‘Some of the children weren’t cooperating, and there was a lot going on. Everyone tried to help where they could, but it’s never easy with kids at fittings. There were no tears from anyone. And in the end, the fitting was fine. Kate and Meghan were both a little stressed but professionals in the room, and there other people there, including Clare […] Those close to Meghan questioned whether it could have been someone from the Palace or a former employee behind the story and wondered aloud why aides refused to just set the record straight there and then […] At the time, though, a Kensington aide said only that the women, who were both hurt by the accusations, were ‘very different people.’ (Several aides across the Royal Households now confirm to the authors of this book that there was no fitting that left the Duchess of Cambridge in tears.) […] The bridesmaid dress scandal remains in dispute with those close to the Duchess of Cambridge, maintaining that Meghan made her cry.”
In “The Palace Papers,” published in April 2022 by Tina Brown, the incident is described with:
“With tensions rising, there was an altercation between Kate and Meghan at the bridesmaids’ dress fitting. The question-now wreathed in legend-is this: Who made whom burst into tears? It was later reported that Meghan had insisted that the little girls – including Kate’s three-year-old daughter, Princess Charlotte- dispense with tights beneath their ivory silk dresses, and that this had pushed the royal traditionalist Kate to the brink of a panic attack. Another version is that Kate was irritated that the flower girls’ dresses didn’t fit. And that the exhausted Duchess of Cambridge, having only recently given birth to Prince Louis, was sick of standing around in the heat being bossed around by the-not-quite-yet Duchess of Sussex. Who cares? Mainly Meghan, it would seem. When rumors of the spat leaked six months later, generating a rash of ‘impossible diva’ headlines, Meghan demanded that the Palace denounce or correct the story. She was outraged that they wouldn’t immediately deny something that, inconveniently, appeared to them to be true, if incomplete.”
And now, in Tom Bower’s “Revenge,” the story is that the fitting took place a few days before the wedding. Jessica Mulroney, Meghan’s close friend, was also present with her daughter. Kate and Meghan disagreed about tights and the length of Charlotte’s hemline. Jessica backed up Meghan, and, per Bower, “Some would say Meghan compared Ivy favourably against Charlotte.” In Bower’s version, Kate is described as exhausted in the aftermath of Louis’s birth, but also already irritated with Meghan in light of reports that she hasn’t been unkind to the couples’ staff within Kensington Palace. And Kate ended up crying.
Bower’s book has become a lightning rod in the online universe of royal discourse – to those sympathetic to the Sussexes, he is biased to the point of outright libel, and to those sympathetic to the Royal Family, his book is seen as the ultimate record-correction of what Harry and Meghan have claimed over the last two years.
At the core, my opinion remains unchanged. This incident, in a vacuum, is meaningless – two stressed out women disagreed over something pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things, one or the both of them cried, and that’s just not that groundbreaking for two women then-pushing 40. That it’s had the longevity it has is slightly more complicated.
The original story elicited a reaction because of its timing. There was fascination with how all four were getting along because, fundamentally, it was new and interesting that Harry had a wife and there was a new royal duchess. We also didn’t have many points on the board, save a joint appearance from Kate and Meghan at Wimbledon in July 2018 and guidance that Harry and Meghan had spent Christmas 2017 at Anmer Hall with the Cambridges. This news broke amidst a crescendo of new information that gave it new context – the Sussexes were moving to Windsor, all was not well between the brothers, the Royal Foundation was splitting, and soon there were stories that the lead up to the 2018 wedding had not been easy for anyone.
In other words, had this story hit the press without that additional context it would have been a curiosity and then died away – which is how I treated it at the time. Against the backdrop of a feud between the Cambridges and Sussexes, it becomes a little more interesting. And given that we have very little insight into Kate’s actual personality or opinion, the idea of her crying in public – if that in fact happened – is notable.
But again, if you consider those passages above, they build on one another. Lacey, writing pre-Oprah interview, considered the incident worth including, likely for the reasons I just said. Significantly, his write-up is pretty lean. Meghan invoking it in March 2021 gave it a whole new trajectory – not only did it happen, but it was wrong, and not only had she not brushed it off, she viewed it as a perfect example of everything that was wrong with her relationship with the press and Kensington Palace staff. It was worth updating in a second publication of Finding Freedom. And for Brown and Bower, writing over a year later, it was worth finding additional people to interview and then analyzing in-depth.
In other words…I would argue Kensington Palace was right. Had this been treated as a non-issue, it likely would have been drowned out. Whatever traction this anecdote received on Twitter doesn’t equal serious consideration from the rest of the media landscape or public. A disagreement over toddlers’ wedding apparel has been forced to take center stage in much broader public discourse over institutional racism and the Sussexes’ reputation.
Meghan was correct that a divide between her and Kate’s fans was toxic and increasingly nasty, but incorrect that the petty back-and-forth between online trolls on Twitter and comments sections is indicative of how she is being reported on by actual journalists. Both may be negative – that negativity is not equal or the same. If Meghan believes The Telegraph article foretold her decline in popularity, then I’m forced to disagree – the real story was the rift between the brothers, and the “why” of that, unfortunately, was always going to lead to a divide between how the Cambridges view their role and what the Sussexes hoped to build.