This week, new bombshell claims have emerged from royal author Andrew Morton about the nature of the relationship between Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, and her sister-in-law Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex.
In the updated chapters of his unauthorised biography, Meghan: A Hollywood Princess, Morton explains how the two women, both thrust into the spotlight, were still getting to know each other when Meghan married Prince Harry.
Here, body language expert Judi James takes a look back over Kate and Meghan’s most photographed moments together to decode exactly when their friendship started to go sour – and unsurprisingly, how the public focused on them rather than the two royal brothers who were actually feuding…
The relationship between these two royal women was built on three huge assumptions: firstly that they were naturally destined to be the closest of chums and allies, like Diana and Fergie were.
Second that Meghan would enter the royal Firm at the same ‘level’ and state as Diana and Kate – i.e young, nervous, lacking in experience and in need of support, protection and hands-on coaching.
And the third and biggest assumption was that William and Harry were the royal version of Jedward; the very tightest of brothers who only needed a second wife to turn their rather lopsided trio into a very idealistic ‘Fab Four’.
Most of these assumptions were sexist. The phrase ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ might have been there waiting to be dusted off for use in some new headlines, but Diana and Fergie were pals before Fergie caught Andrew’s eye.
Tim Graham/Getty Images)
Nobody ever expected Prince Philip and Anthony Armstrong-Jones to start dressing alike and skipping about together, or even Beatrice and Eugenie’s Eddo and Jack. And there was no way on this planet that a super-confident divorced woman close to 40 with a career as a Hollywood actress, who was a very active and passionate speaker and campaigner, was ever going to need much hand-holding for this new role.
If she did she had her husband on hand to fill her in about protocol and traditions.
I believe Kate might even have been daunted by her new sister-in-law’s confidence, energy and professionalism. And of course Kate (and Meghan) were also thrown into service as a smokescreen for a bigger and more unthinkable rift between the royal’s own version of Jedward.
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The not-so Fab Four
The stage appearance to launch the ‘Fab Four’ was gruesome. Kate and Meghan appeared to have been dressed from the same royal dressing-up box and seated in similar poses to make it look like the launch of a new royal doll for the ‘collection’.
Meanwhile, the brothers were clearly already locked into some form of conflict – asked whether there had been disagreements between the couples during the planning of the launch, William’s “Oh, yes” was instantaneous and sounded heartfelt.
Meghan dropped her head and placed a hand up in a cut-off gesture as though to hide her face, and the chuckles from Kate looked like nervous giggles.
Kate was pregnant and sitting back in her chair, so although the idea of not having the ‘energy to bond’ with Meghan sounds like an odd sick note when most pregnant women continue their careers, let alone their social lives, she clearly can be unwell during her pregnancies.
But even so, despite matching frocks there was already a sense from Meghan and Kate’s body language that Meghan’s experience, passion, drive and urgency for her cause was in contrast to Kate’s method of sitting back in her seat and watching the on-stage sibling tussle with a polite smile.
Kate had spent years being marinated in royal rules, procedures and restrictions, so Meghan’s sense of purpose for a cause must have hit like a bath bomb.
The post-wedding tears trip to Wimbledon, July 2018
Following rumours of tears during prep for Harry and Meghan’s wedding, the two women put in a very ‘Diana and Fergie’ body language display at the tennis to signal publicly that all was well and suggest they really were the best of pals.
I wouldn’t be too sure that a bit of ‘thank you’ jewellery sent out in a post run that included bridesmaids in the posh equivalent of a circular e-mail would be too telling, but the body language here did suggest an intention to log friendly rapport from both women, suggesting they were united in their messaging at least.
There was a lot of eye contact and appreciative gestures from Kate here to signal she really was bonding with her sister-in-law, and the mirroring between the women did hint they were enjoying one of the key interests they shared.
There was even some whispering and giggling together behind hands poses to help suggest they now had a more than just polite relationship and were beginning to look like genuine friends.
Wives at war?
The very sexist tone of two women being locked in some ‘cat fight’ continued though, despite the fact that we now know it was the men who had the real problem in their relationship.
Kate and Meghan are two very different personalities, and dressing them the same was a pretty clichéd way of insulting two successful women – but I’m pretty sure they would have happily performed many years of politely smiling PDAs had the brothers not been locked in their rift.
The balcony poses and photos of the two women at more formal events might have looked iconic in terms of defining a rift, but the context is slightly wrong. Perhaps because of William and Harry’s spat the royal pecking order was suddenly more defined at these events, and Harry and Meghan always seemed to be pushed back into the chorus line behind William and Kate.
Where the two women appear to be standing together wearing icy expressions and ignoring each other, they were in fact standing one behind the other, so happy chats would have been difficult.
At this point the tension on Harry’s face and the haunted expression in his eyes told all the story of what was about to come but attention was of course focused on the two women at the time.
Getty Images Europe)
POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Even at the first Commemoration service, it was Kate and Meghan’s body language together that soaked up all the interest. Here they stood together in mirrored poses, wearing polite smiles, but it was their husbands wearing the haunted eye expressions while patently ignoring each other.
The Christmas 2018 walk to church threw up the kind of ‘denial’ body language we normally only see from politicians or Strictly contestants who have cheated on their wives. Kate took up the challenge to signal all was truly happy between herself and Meghan in what was obviously a set piece for the cameras.
While William and Harry walked on the outside, yet again free from all the interest and speculation of a rift, it was up to Kate to step across to Meghan to chat and smile to suggest a relaxed and spontaneous moment of friendship.
Meghan kept her arm linked into Harry’s and her bag as a barrier between herself and Kate. The Duchess of Cambridge was pregnant with Prince Louis at the time but solo, unaided walking was surely still on the menu, although she did turn her head and smile to form an appealing-looking pose for the press.
It was during the very last outing for the now not-so Fab Four that the tension was much more obvious and palpable. A mutual gloom appeared to settle over William and Kate as they arrived to take their seats in the pews in front of Harry and Meghan.
POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Even Kate’s signature smile had vanished on what was Harry and Meghan’s last gig before they fled to the arms of Oprah.
We didn’t get to see if Meghan’s bravely polite smiles of greeting were returned by her sister and brother-in-law, but the way her beaming smile dropped like a brick suggested they were not.