Prince Harry gives various explanations as to why the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Sussex did not get on “from the get go”.
From the “awkward” moment Kate “grimaced” over Meghan borrowing her lip gloss to rows over hormones and bridesmaids’ dresses – his autobiography, Spare, confirms reports of two very different women who never really hit it off.
His revelation that Prince William and his sister-in-law were never “expecting me to get… into a relationship with someone like Meghan who had a very successful career” speaks to the culture clash between the royal wives.
Harry has accused both the palace and the press of pitting Kate and Meghan against each other. While there may be some truth to that, what he fails to mention in his memoir is the internal rivalry that doomed the royal sisterhood from the start.
And like the tearful wedding row – dresses played a central part.
As a self-made woman with her own successful TV career and website, The Tig, Meghan entered the royal fray having already secured paid partnerships with the likes of Neiman Marcus in the US.
Aided by her close friend Jessica Mulroney, a Canadian stylist, the glossy website proved the perfect platform for product placements – from clothes to make up to home furnishings.
Naturally, when Meghan became engaged to Harry in Nov 2017, she would have expected to receive even more preferential treatment from hand-picked suppliers than she had already grown used to.
But as with the family hierarchy – there was a pecking order: and the problem for Meghan was that Kate always appeared to get first dibs on designers.
Erdem Moralıoğlu was one of Meghan’s absolute favourites, but even after Harry had put a ring on it, Kate, who was already a client, continued to get priority. (The Montreal-born, Bethnal Green-based designer had also just unveiled a Spring 2018 collection inspired by Elizabeth II, who made her first appearance at London Fashion Week that year).
Suffice to say the notion of her soon-to-be sister-in-law receiving preferential treatment did not, it is claimed, go down well with Meghan, especially as she “wasn’t even Queen”. (Meghan always pointedly insisted on calling the Princess of Wales “Kate” even though the rest of the family referred to her as “Catherine”. Harry reveals in Spare that when he first introduced Meghan to his brother Kate remained in the garden, playing with the children – hardly the welcome they both wanted).
Meghan loved the designer, having worn the “Davina” dress from his 2015 autumn winter collection for a fashion item on NBC’s Today programme in early 2016, before she met Harry. She later recycled the floaty frock for Christmas lunch with the late Queen in 2018.
When she and Harry attended a wedding in Jamaica in March 2017, eight months before their engagement, she wore another Erdem dress from the designer’s “Pre-Fall” collection – before it was even available to the public, suggesting she had built up a relationship with the couturier. She also wore Erdem’s red “Sebla” dress after the Invictus Games in Toronto in September 2017.
Yet while Kate was regularly stepping out in Erdem, as a royal, Meghan did not wear the brand on an official engagement until Commonwealth Day in March 2019.
Resentment also grew over Meghan’s mistaken belief that Kate’s parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, were cashing in on their royal connections to get special treatment.
Wrongly convinced Kate’s family had free use of the Windsor Suite, the VIP lounge at Heathrow, Meghan insisted that her mother Doria 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 in May 2018.
Meghan was also said to be upset that Kate’s sister, Pippa Middleton, initially declined to invite her to her wedding to James Matthews in May 2017, perhaps fearing she would be upstaged by Harry’s girlfriend. She later relented and invited her to the evening reception “to keep the peace”. According to Harry, 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.
When it came to Harry and Meghan’s own wedding a year later, it is fair to say the planning proved stressful for all involved.
In Spare, Harry confirms an argument with Angela Kelly, the late Queen’s closest aide, over Queen Mary’s diamond bandeau tiara she borrowed for the big day. Although he denies saying: “What Meghan wants, Meghan gets”, there is a sense that this was the unofficial slogan of the nuptials. Air freshener was indeed requested to improve the aroma of “musty” St George’s Chapel.
He also confirms a row between Kate and Meghan over bridesmaids’ dresses, despite describing it as a “sci-fi fantasy”.
The French couture dresses did not fit any of the bridesmaids properly and, contrary to Harry’s suggestion that Kate was the only one who made a fuss, Meghan told staff at the time she had complained to the designer and that several of the mothers were angry. The row didn’t actually happen at a fitting but when Kate went round to Meghan’s to discuss it. (At this point both women lived at Kensington Palace: Meghan at Nottingham Cottage and Kate at Apartment 1A).
Ironically, it was Meghan herself who acknowledged to the then Cambridges’ staff that Kate “had left in tears” – in a bid for help to smooth it over. That’s why the palace couldn’t demand a retraction.
Contrary to Harry’s claim in Spare that the original story claimed “Meghan had reduced Kate to tears about the bridesmaids’ dresses”, actually the rather more balanced 1,200-word feature read: “The Telegraph has spoken to two separate sources who claim Kate was left in tears following a bridesmaids’ dress fitting for Princess Charlotte.
“‘Kate had only just given birth to Prince Louis and was feeling quite emotional,’ said one insider.” (It was the Sun who splashed the headline: “Meghan Made Kate Cry” the following day, with a piece written by Jack Royston, now Newsweek’s chief royal correspondent and one of the Sussexes’ cheerleaders).
It is true that Kate went round again the next day with a bunch of flowers and a card to apologise (another bid to keep the peace).
Those who were party to the fallout from the incident were left stunned when Meghan turned the tale on its head in their Oprah Winfrey interview – only for Harry to double down. Meghan may well have been sobbing when he returned home – but as he concedes, her father Thomas Markle’s heart attack had just thrown the wedding into chaos.
Mr Markle went on Good Morning Britain in June 2018 and revealed he had never actually met Harry despite talking to him about “Donald Trump” and “Brexit” over the telephone. Then his daughter Samantha Markle took to the airwaves, publicly questioning Harry and Meghan’s treatment of the gravely ill former lighting director. That was the moment the Sussexes’ staff felt they “lost control of the narrative”.
Harry insists the bridesmaids’ dress story was briefed by the palace, claiming Kate told Charles and Camilla about the altercation over dinner. But more negative headlines started appearing after the wedding precisely because the histrionics staff had grown well used to were now being witnessed by all and sundry. The palace could no longer keep a lid on it.
Even the Prince of Wales had witnessed the aftermath of Meghan’s “bridezilla” behaviour.
The Duchess is alleged to have spoken particularly harshly to a young member of the team in front of her colleagues after criticising a wedding plan she had drawn up, saying: “If there was literally anyone else I could ask to do this, I would be asking them instead of you.” When William heard of the incident, he took the woman aside and said: “I hope you’re okay. You’re doing a really good job,” prompting her to burst into tears.
But the Cambridges, as they were then known, had their reservations from the start.
Harry’s insistence that their joint communications secretary Jason Knauf put out a statement in November 2016, claiming his “girlfriend” had been “subject to a wave of abuse and harassment” at the hands of the media created early unease between the brothers. Harry feared he would be “dumped” if he didn’t “protect” the American actress. Yet having already warned him to “take as much time as you need to get to know this girl” (a description that apparently offended Meghan), the rashness of the statement rang alarm bells with William.
The princes had already disagreed over Harry’s desire to punish the press by taking ownership of his own narrative by upping the use of social media. William, who along with equally introverted Kate has never craved the limelight, felt it was too much of a “celebrity” approach. Being of a more “never complain, never explain” persuasion, William questioned the wisdom of Harry going to war with the newspapers so early on in the relationship. It was risky, for a woman he had only been with for a matter of months.
It then didn’t help that Meghan seemed intent on reminding staff that she was “different from other royal girlfriends”, according to Valentine Low’s book Courtiers. In the spring of 2017, he writes, six months before the couple were officially engaged, Meghan told one of Harry’s advisers: “I think we both know I’m going to be one of your bosses soon.”
As she never shied from reminding aides, she already had a public profile thanks to starring in the legal drama Suits. “Her approach was: I know everything but I want you to control me so I can rebel against it”, said someone familiar with her modus operandi. She didn’t seem to fully understand how the monarchy worked, however. At one point during the Sussexes’ tour of Australia in 2018, according to Low, she allegedly declared: “I can’t believe I’m not getting paid for this.” On another occasion she asked those involved with the Royal Foundation why they weren’t doing more to “monetise” the Invictus Games, Harry’s charitable initiative for wounded ex-service personnel.
Contrary to Harry’s suggestion he was unsupportive, it was the Prince of Wales “in fix it mode” who agreed that experienced and highly professional Amy Pickerill be moved from the press office to become Meghan’s deputy private secretary following her engagement to Harry.
Yet shortly after the announcement, a senior aide discreetly raised with the couple the difficulties caused by their treatment of staff who were “bending over backwards” to help them. People needed to be treated with understanding, even when they were not performing to Harry and Meghan’s exacting standards. The Duchess is said to have replied: “It’s not my job to coddle people.”
Then there was the ongoing confusion over “freebies”. His claim that Meghan “shared all the freebies she received, clothes and perfumes and make-up, with all the women in the office.” Not only is this disputed, but if it were true it would amount to a serious breach of the rules on the receiving and registering of gifts.
Members of the Royal family are not allowed to accept any gift unless it is for a major royal occasion such as a birth or marriage. And then it needs to come from a Royal warrant holder. (“Official” gifts including those received on tours or from foreign visitors, are all listed on a register). Royals are expected to pay for their wardrobe – official and unofficial. Yet when she first came on the scene, Meghan’s expectation was that she could keep some of the dresses she had been loaned.
In Spare, Harry refers to an assistant being “asked to resign by Palace HR after we showed them evidence she’d traded on her position with Meg to get freebies”. It echoed Meghan’s friend Janina Gavankar, who appeared on ITV’s This Morning in March 2021 claiming “someone had to leave for gross misconduct”. Both statements are denied by those working for the couple at the time.
One example which demonstrated Meghan’s confusion over the issue was when she wore a pair of diamond earrings given to her by Saudi prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) to a state banquet in Fiji in October 2018, just days after his regime admitted killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi. At the time, the palace claimed they had been loaned by Chopard. Only later did it transpire that they were a wedding gift from MBS. Meghan’s lawyers, Schillings, initially said: “At no stage did the Duchess tell staff that the earrings were ‘borrowed from a jeweller’, as this would have been untrue and therefore any suggestion that she encouraged them to lie to the media is baseless.”
Two days later, Schillings added: “It is possible she said the earrings were borrowed, which is correct, as presents from heads of state to the Royal family are gifts to Her Majesty the Queen, who can then choose to lend them out to members of the family.” Yet if the earrings were loaned by the Queen, staff would have said so. Nor would they have been described as “loaned” if they were a wedding gift. Schillings also claimed Meghan had no knowledge of Khashoggi’s murder, despite the Northwestern international studies graduate once admitting to being a voracious reader of the Economist, which ran several stories about the killing.
It wasn’t long after their engagement that the exit door began rapidly revolving with Harry’s private secretary Ed Lane Fox announcing his intention to step down after the wedding, followed by deputy communications secretary Katrina McKeever, who left in September 2018.
Rumours of “tensions” then went into overdrive when the Sunday Times reported on Oct 28, 2018, that the brothers would be separating their “courts” under the headline: “Harry and William to call it a day for their double act”. (The official announcement wouldn’t be made until March 2019).
Unbeknown to the press at the time, just two days earlier, on Oct 26, Mr Knauf had written an email to his immediate boss Simon Case, who succeeded Mr Head as William’s private secretary, saying he had spoken to the head of HR for the palace about “some very serious problems” with Meghan’s behaviour. He wrote: “I am very concerned that the Duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year… The Duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights. She is bullying X and seeking to undermine her confidence.
“We have had report after report from people who have witnessed unacceptable behaviour towards X despite the universal views from her colleagues that she is a leading talent within the household who is delivering first rate work.” He went on to describe the couple’s tour of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Tonga, which was still going on, as “very challenging” and “made worse by the behaviour of the Duchess” and revealed that Samantha Carruthers, then the head of HR, “agreed with me on all counts that the situation was very serious”, adding: “I remain concerned that nothing will be done.”
Although well-meaning, Ms Carruthers had grown close to Meghan. Both shared a love of dogs and it was Ms Carruthers in whom the Duchess later confided when she was suffering mental health problems. Ms Carruthers had also arranged for her own PA, Laura Groutides, to become executive assistant and office manager to the Sussexes’ then private secretary, Samantha Cohen. Meghan used to refer to both women as “The Sams”. (Ms Cohen, a longstanding and highly respected royal aide who only agreed to work for Harry and Meghan because the late Queen had personally requested it, resigned in October 2019 after being “treated harshly” and likening the job to “working with teenagers”, according to Low).
Rightly or wrongly, disgruntled employees therefore questioned Ms Carruthers ability to get to the bottom of the complaints.
The Duchess vehemently denies bullying anyone and on Netflix, the couple claimed to have submitted a 25-page rebuttal to the allegations. The findings of a subsequent independent investigation have never been published by the palace.
When, in early December 2018, news broke that Meghan’s personal assistant Melissa Touabti had also resigned, after just eight months in the role, more reports emerged about “dictatorial” Meghan.
The couple claim her exit acted as a catalyst for the negative publicity – but others point out that Harry and Meghan’s reputation suffered because she was no longer there to smooth things over with the various people they seemed to rub up the wrong way. Her resignation was followed by a female protection officer. Ms Pickerill handed in her notice in March 2019, swiftly followed by Mr Knauf. Both now work on Prince William’s Earthshot Prize.
In Spare, Harry describes the claims as “rumours and lies” from staff whose “Team Cambridge and Team Sussex… rivalry and jealousy… poisoned the atmosphere”.
He also suggests that employees couldn’t take “constructive criticism” saying “all feedback was seen as an affront, an insult”. He claims William’s staff had “a knack for backstabbing, a talent for intrigue and they were constantly setting our two groups of staff against each other”. He insists Meghan “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 apparently came with Meghan’s strict instructions that it should only be enjoyed by the Sussexes’ crew and not the Cambridges, their staff or even their children. After the Duchess left, her staff called the rest of the household insisting they share in the spoils. One former employee explained that Meghan’s generosity made her unpleasant behaviour even harder to manage. “One minute she’d be buying you flowers, the next she’d be blanking you.”
So when William claimed Meghan was “difficult”, “abrasive”, “rude” and “alienating half the staff” during the dog bowl row at Nottingham Cottage in 2019, he wasn’t “parroting” the media, as Harry claims. In fact, he was all too aware of Meghan’s reputation well before the nickname “Duchess Difficult” started appearing in the press.
Justifying his decision to bare his soul to the world, Harry told ITV’s Tom Brady in an interview on Sunday night: “Silence only allows the abuser to abuse. I don’t know how staying silent is ever gonna make things better. That’s genuinely what I believe.” The statement has naturally raised eyebrows among those asked to sign NDAs preventing them from discussing their time working for the Sussexes and other royals. So many confidences now appeared to have been shattered.
Throughout Spare, Harry peddles unsubstantiated theories that the media had an agenda against him and Meghan – and that royal aides colluded in this by leaking and placing negative stories about them. He also accuses both the press and the palace of trying to pit them against other royals in a bid to elevate the public image of those further up the pecking order.
Yet among those who witnessed, first hand, the rise and fall of Harry and Meghan, it is fair to say that another of the late monarch’s monikers applies: “Recollections may vary.”
Erdem and Archewell declined to comment.