I wrote the below post in January 2020. It was part of a longer piece that I ultimately published called “The Queen’s Contract and Why the Sussexes Didn’t Get What They Wanted.” I had started out to write about why Meghan was having such a rocky road through royalty, but the whole post became far too long, and went in a different direction, so I left this in drafts. I planned to but never came back to it. I think I cut and pasted bits and pieces of the below into other posts over the next few months, so if anything sounds familiar, that’s why.
Ok, this is the intro that was cut from “The Queen’s Contract…”
When Meghan and Harry got engaged, I expressed some concern that Meghan would not understand and thrive within the British Royal Family. As the months rolled by and Meghan challenged royal convention, it became clear that Meghan did not recognize a very important principle of the British monarchy: The Palace will ruthlessly protect its central figures. It is a machine that will show no mercy in its quest to ensure the survival of the institution.
It was before the Sussexes even married that I saw this crisis looming. Meghan “hit the ground running,” and came in with the attitude of a CEO hired to save a failing company. She was praised as the breath of fresh air the stodgy monarchy needed. With her Hollywood glamour and her American can-do attitude, she was the darling of the media. Inevitably, the press compared her to Kate, and the narrative formed that Kate was dull next to Meghan’s shining stardom.
To me that spelled trouble, because the Palace reads the papers, too, and Kate is the senior royal. She is the future Queen and therefore a priority for the Palace. But, you can’t blame a girl for being charismatic, and I didn’t feel that Meghan herself was necessarily the source of her own trouble until she appeared with her future in-laws at the Royal Foundation Forum.
At that event, it was clear that the Palace was already sensitized to the headlines comparing the Duchess of Cambridge to the future-Duchess of Sussex, and the event was at pains to put the spotlight on the future queen. Where the Duchess of Cambridge might have once just listened, the pregnant princess instead took the podium to give a brief presentation. William, in his own remarks, made a point of attributing the massively successful “Heads Together” campaign to Kate.
Meghan joined her fiancé and his family at this event—a remarkable tribute to modernization in itself. (The royals welcomed Meghan so robustly that she was initiated into very formal public engagements like this one even before she married.)
As the four sat on stage together, Meghan was asked a question (I think about ways to make a difference, or empowerment) and she answered by very explicitly endorsing the me-too movement, and even suggesting how important it was to show support for the movement publicly.
The context here is everything. This event took place just at the inception and explosion of the me-too movement. In the run-up to the BAFTAs, which took place just the week before the Royal Foundation event, Kate was put under intense media pressure to wear black in support of me-too. Ever diplomatic and faithful to her non-partisan position as a royal, Kate wore green. Of course, she made the right decision to remain neutral on the hot-button issue, but she was excoriated in the press for declining to make a red-carpet statement. That was a very rough week for Kate in the press, and it came on top of already mixed headlines comparing her unfavorably to her shinier sister-in-law to-be.
So Meghan’s immediate and explicit endorsement of me-too, and her call for other women to publicly support it was like a slap in the face to Kate. It was stunning. You could see Kate struggling to maintain composure, and William was stone-faced. I can’t put it more bluntly than to say that Meghan threw Kate under the bus while sitting right next to her.
I don’t know that Meghan realized her blunder. I will say in her defense, although it hardly sounds like a defense, that I think Meghan often doesn’t realize the actual import of her words and actions—she seems so intent on her presentation she doesn’t read the room. She lacks that component of emotional intelligence, which is critical in a leader or public figure. For all her poise, and despite how articulate she is, she has proved time and time again that she doesn’t have a good read on the feelings and likely reactions of others. Given her chosen ambitions, it is her most critical liability.
If Meghan had understood the fundamental principle that the Palace protects the principals, she might still be royal, because she would have known that her game-plan would be a non-starter. We should mention Harry at this juncture, too. It is incredible that he isn’t savvy enough about the workings of his own family that he didn’t realize the two were boxing themselves out.
They’d both do well to learn this important lesson now, because one thing from yesterday is clear and that is that the Sussexes have a type of contract with the monarchy and they probably want to keep it in force, as least for the foreseeable future.
I will note as an addendum now in 2021, that I think Meghan knew she was throwing Kate under the bus… She didn’t understand all the repercussions that would have. It isn’t clear she understands even now.