Kate’s stealthy dig at Meghan
Here's the very curious, slightly perplexing thing about Kate Duchess of Cambridge: She might be one of the most famous women in the world but she rarely makes news.
Don't get me wrong, her every move, outfit, smile, choice of new, sensible wedges and slightest alteration to her signature blow dry is reported on with breathless excitement by the press.
What I mean is that, aside from her marriage, the birth of her three children and that one glorious week she experimented with a fringe of sorts (long live those brief heady days) she doesn't actually do anything in her life that makes real waves.
No toe sucking. No affairs. Heck, the woman barely even wears trousers.
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Which is what makes the great Tatler contretemps of 2020 so fascinating.
Here's a quick recap: In May, British society bible Tatler, which has gleefully reported on the goings on of the titled and the wealthy since 1709, published a cover story about the Duchess entitled 'Catherine the Great'.
While superficially the sort of gushing paean one would expect from the staunchly pro-royalist establishment grandee, the piece was actually quite cutting.
Among other eyebrow-raising revelations, the piece, by established royal biographer Anna Pasternak, reported that 'Kate is furious about the larger workload (caused by Harry and Meghan quitting) … She's working as hard as a top CEO … without the benefits of boundaries and plenty of holidays."
Then there was the allegation: "Prince William is obsessed with Carole (Middleton). She's the mummy he always wanted."
There were also negative comments in the article about Kate's mother, while her sister Pippa is labelled in the piece as "too regal and try-hard".
Kensington Palace quickly took the unusual step of putting out a statement about the article saying that it "contained a swath of inaccuracies and false representations".
Days later, the Times reported that "the royal couple have sent legal letters to the magazine demanding that it remove its profile of the Duchess from the internet".
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Now, four months after the blow-up, the magazine has seemingly capitulated to Kensington Palace's demands, removing vast amounts of the original story from the online version and including an admission the story had been edited.
All of this would be a storm in a Dresden china teacup, a win for Kate after years, nay decades, given her studied silence in the face of an onslaught of criticism thus making her something of an easy target for some sections of the press.
But what is truly fascinating about this Tatler imbroglio is what, even after the palace's intervention, has been left in the piece, specifically a number of passages about Harry and Meghan.
For years now, reports have swirled painting the relationship between the Cambridges and the Sussexes as frosty (and that is being generous).
Harry himself seemingly confirmed the parlous state of princely ties saying the brothers have "good days" and "bad days" last year.
More recently, the fawningly sympathetic Sussex biography Finding Freedom reported the Wales men fell out after William cautioned Harry to "take as much time as you need to get to know this girl" during the early days of his romance. Meghan meanwhile, per Freedom, was left "disappointed" when Kate didn't reach out to show her the palace ropes.
Given just how much palace feud stories have dominated the narrative over the course of the last two years, what is, let's just say, highly curious is that the edited version of the Tatler story still contains a plethora of less-than-flattering claims about Meghan.
Let us review.
To start with, according to the article: "Not everyone is pro-Kate. It's no secret that the royal sisters-in-law never got on. 'I don't think that she ever pulled Meghan under her wing and said, "I'll show you the ropes,"' says a friend. 'Catherine and William were very circumspect from the beginning about Meghan, which hurt and incensed Harry. William rightly cautioned Harry to slow the relationship down. That's why they all fell out."
OK, while this hardly makes Kate out to be a knight-in-shining Emilia Wickstead doing her sisterly best to welcome the (probably) nervous Meghan into the inner royal circle, nor does it cast the Sussexes' relationship in the best light.
Then we come to the piece's assertions about what really happened in the lead-up to Harry and Meghan's wedding. Again, for years now, there has been persistent speculation that Kate and Meghan had some sort of alleged falling out pre-nuptials.
Per Tatler: "Then there was an incident at the wedding rehearsal,' another friend of the Cambridges' claims. "It was a hot day and apparently there was a row over whether the bridesmaids should wear tights or not. Kate, following protocol, felt that they should. Meghan didn't want them to."
The photographs suggest that Meghan won. Kate, who has impeccable manners, sought the opportunity to put Meghan in her place, reprimanding her for speaking imperiously to her Kensington Palace staff.
"In the palace, you hear numerous stories of the staff saying so-and-so is a nightmare and behaves badly but you never hear that about Kate," says a royal insider. Another courtier says: "Kate keeps her staff whereas Meghan doesn't. Doesn't that say everything?"
Boy oh boy there is a lot to unpack here.
Again, this is hardly a definitively pro-Kate scene - the Duchess trying to (allegedly) shoehorn small children into clothing that would make the tots boil, all in the name of regal rigidity. That said, in this telling of the Tightsgate saga, Meghan is presented as being allegedly happy to throw protocol to the wind, casting something of a shadow on her royal suitability.
Next, the Kate vs. Meghan staffing assertions. In short, ouch. Kate might be a tights-wielding stickler but the suggestion that the former Suits star can't 'keep' a loyal retinue of employees is particularly cutting.
Later on in the Tatler piece it talks about "the Sussexes' awful timing" revealing details about their yet-to-be-unveiled charity endeavour Archewell right when the Queen was appearing on British TV screens to give a historic speech about the COVID crisis.
And last, but far from least, the claim about the Sussexes in the magazine story comes from "a friend of the Cambridges" who is quoted saying they "think Meghan and Harry have been so selfish" and that "William and Catherine really want to be hands-on parents and I think that the Sussexes have effectively thrown their three children under a bus. There goes their morning school runs as the responsibilities on them now are enormous."
"Selfish" and "Thrown their three children under a bus."
There is no equivocation there but just cold, hard opprobrium.
And this is where we get to the very sticky, eyebrow-raising point of all of this.
The Mail on Sunday's royal editor Emily Andrews broke the news that Tatler had cut parts of the offending piece four months after it was first published and that the move came "after Kensington Palace instructed its lawyers to demand the 'inaccuracies and false representations' be removed.
"Eventually both sides agreed that chunks would be cut from the online profile, which was done this week."
Andrews reports: "The Mail on Sunday understands it was the criticism of the Middleton family that caused the greatest upset" and that "the magazine has caved in and removed almost a quarter of the piece - in particular 'cruel' and 'snobby' barbs aimed at Kate's mother Carole Middleton and sister Pippa."
Here is where we get to the looming, unanswered question: If Kensington Palace had the legal firepower and/or sway to have the more unflattering accusations about Kate's family excised from the piece, why are the claims about Harry and Meghan still in there? If the "inaccuracies and false representations" have been "removed" what are we to make of the veracity of the various details that have been left in there?
Whatever the reason, this latest episode will only add fuel to the still raging bonfire that is the Cambridge vs. Sussex trans-Atlantic rift soap opera.
Last week, Harry celebrated his 36th birthday with the royal marking his big day with a family Zoom call that was organised by Prince Charles and the Queen. (One is now quite the video chat expert it would seem.) Missing from the call were the Cambridges with the Mirror quoting a source as saying "It was a bit awkward that William and Kate weren't there."
All of which can leave us with only one cold, hard conclusion: Harry and Meghan might have recently signed a rumoured $130 million contract with Netflix but who needs new TV shows when the world has this real-life version of The Crown to binge on?
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.
Originally published as Kate's stealthy dig at Meghan