Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are more popular today than they have been for years.
They have not always been without their critics, but the way they and their three charming children have led the Royal Family’s response to the pandemic with such warmth and enthusiasm has made their hold on public affection as secure as it has ever been.
The pictures of George, Charlotte and Louis clapping for the NHS with their parents outside the front door of their Norfolk home will surely remain one of the most engaging memories of the crisis.
Meanwhile, the imaginative way Kate and William have used technology to connect with people all round the country, especially their stint as online bingo callers, has been both touching and impressive.
These, then, should be tranquil days for a couple who have had to juggle lockdown family life and home schooling, alongside an increase in their official workload following the departure from the royal scene of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
But suddenly they are the uneasy focus of a snobbish profile in society magazine Tatler, which touches not only on the sensitive issue of the alleged rift between Kate and sister-in-law Meghan, but also raises some frankly impertinent questions about the Duchess’s apparent ‘thinness’ and her Middleton family background.
Kate and Meghan stand on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during Trooping The Colour on June 9, 2018
It even manages to impugn William’s, until now untouchable, relationship with Princess Diana with a bizarre suggestion that Carole Middleton, who is mocked as a social climber, was ‘the mummy he always wanted’.
Commendably, the royals rarely respond to such stuff, however provocative. There are good reasons for that, not least because if they do it once, they find they have to do it again and again — a lesson William will have learned from Diana, who was constantly firefighting stories about herself.
But yesterday, Kensington Palace took the highly unusual step of publicly and formally distancing itself from claims in the article. In a statement, it said: ‘This story contains a swathe of inaccuracies and false misrepresentations which were not put to Kensington Palace prior to publication.’
Such a strong denunciation was partly to prevent some of the more fanciful allegations being repeated, but it also underlined the Palace’s dismay at what it views as an unfair examination of the couple’s life and their motives.
So what was it about the article that has upset them so much?
Many will doubtless pivot towards ‘tightsgate’ as the reason for the clash between Meghan and Kate. This relates to outfits bridesmaids were to wear at Meghan and Harry’s wedding two years ago.
Many will doubtless pivot towards ‘tightsgate’ as the reason for the clash between Meghan and Kate. This relates to outfits bridesmaids were to wear at Meghan and Harry’s wedding two years ago
The magazine profile, entitled Catherine the Great, quotes an unnamed friend of the Cambridges who claimed Kate wanted to follow ‘protocol’ with the bridesmaids, who included Princess Charlotte, then aged three, wearing tights.
‘There was an incident at the wedding rehearsal,’ the source said. ‘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.’
Photographs from the ceremony at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, suggest Meghan won the argument, because they appear to show the six bridesmaids with bare legs. It is worth noting that pictures from Prince William and Kate’s wedding in 2011 show her bridesmaids wearing tights.
Such petty domestic disputes disrupt many a wedding of course. And as for tights, well that is the royal way. Had Kate intervened as the article suggests, say friends, it would have been not just because she knew that tights look neater but also as a mark of respect to the Queen. Certainly there have been previous reports of disagreements between the two duchesses over wedding day outfits, with one claim that Kate, who had not long given birth to Prince Louis, had been reduced to tears after an encounter with Meghan.
Middleton family friends have always denied the tears story but have also acknowledged that the relationship between the two women has not been easy.
All the same, they do not recognise Tatler’s assertion that the Duchess of Cambridge had ‘sought the opportunity to put Meghan in her place, reprimanding her for speaking imperiously to Kensington Palace staff’.
What is undeniable is that the arrival of Meghan upset the dynamics of the then close relationship that existed between William, Harry and Kate.
Anger: The Tatler article has incensed Kensington Palace. According to insiders the ‘tights episode’ — as reported by Tatler — is ‘not quite right’
Harry, remember, treated Kate like a sister and they seemed to delight in each other’s company. But when the famous threesome became the ‘Fab Four’, suddenly the magic disappeared.
Friends recall when the two couples did their famous sofa interview about their charitable plans, with Kate flinching as Meghan, the former actress, spoke with total confidence.
Many believe this was the moment when a froideur descended between the two women, one determined to do things her way, regardless of the rulebook, the other finding her offer to help and be a guide firmly rejected. At the same time, the Duchess’s circle deny the claim from a friend that Kate ‘never pulled Meghan under her wing and said: “I’ll show you the ropes.” ’
As a close friend of the couple told me: ‘Help can only be provided if it is willingly accepted.’
It should also be pointed out that the couple do not accept, as Tatler claims, that Harry and Meghan’s abrupt departure has prevented them from being hands-on parents and has ‘effectively thrown their three children under a bus’.
A Middleton friend says: ‘The fact is the lockdown means they are spending more time with the children than they ever had.’
But by the time Meghan became pregnant with son Archie, talk of a rift was being openly discussed, not only among the royal couples’ smart set of friends, but also in royal circles.
What was being said was that William had earlier questioned the haste with which his younger brother wanted to marry Meghan. William, of course, dated Kate for eight years before giving her an engagement ring.
Harry, on the other hand, had made up his mind almost immediately after being introduced to the star of the American TV legal drama Suits — a woman three years his senior — at a London dinner party.
To William, advising caution was simply common sense. But Harry, ever sensitive, is understood to have interpreted his brother’s words, as well as those from others in his circle, as an implied criticism of his choice of bride. To some extent, this explains his — and her — touchiness in the run-up to their wedding.
According to insiders the ‘tights episode’ — as reported by Tatler — is ‘not quite right’.
But what has upset the Cambridges, and upset them deeply, is the claim that Kate somehow resents the increase in duties that have come her way.
The article quotes a friend, again unnamed, as saying: ‘Kate is furious about the larger workload. Of course she’s smiling and dressing appropriately, but she doesn’t want this. She feels exhausted and trapped.
‘She’s working as hard as a top CEO, who has to be wheeled out all the time, without the benefits of boundaries and plenty of holidays.’
Kate, Meghan, and Pippa Middleton in the Royal Box on Centre Court Wimbledon Tennis Championships, July 13, 2019
Aides are refusing to be drawn on this, but I understand that this assertion that she is workshy is utterly rejected and that the couple are angered at what they perceive to be a false and misleading picture. One figure says that the Duchess ‘is doing more, because she asked to do more’.
A close friend tells me: ‘Yes, she is juggling a lot with three young children at home while contributing when she can to the national effort, but she is very conscious that there are many, many more people under far more pressure than she is.’
They particularly repudiate the idea that this makes the Duchess out of touch with the hardships so many households are facing.
The Tatler profile was written by Anna Pasternak, the author who made her name in 1994 with the book Princess In Love, a romanticised account of Princess Diana’s affair with cavalry officer James Hewitt.
Particularly wounding to Kate are its snooty references to her own family. It describes her mother Carole’s ‘Hyacinth Bucket aspirations of grandeur, who, rumour has it, puts people’s backs up in a way Kate does not’.
Quoting a craftsman who had worked on Anmer Hall, William and Kate’s country home, it said Mrs Middleton was ‘the most difficult client’ he had ever worked with.’
Harry, Meghan, and their baby son Archie during their royal tour of South Africa in 2019
‘She was exceedingly demanding, fussy and questioned everything,’ reports the magazine.
But that is only the start. Sneering at the polished interior of the Norfolk house on which Carole has put her stamp, the article says: ‘Far from being a typical aristo abode with threadbare rugs and dog hair everywhere, like, say, Windsor and Balmoral, it is, according to a visitor, “like a gleaming five-star hotel with cushions plumped and candles lit”.’ Another is quoted as disdainfully saying: ‘It’s very Buckinghamshire.’
Meanwhile, a friend of the television presenter Donna Air, who once dated Kate’s brother James Middleton, is reported to describe Carole as ‘a terrible snob’.
Even Kate’s sister Pippa doesn’t escape the sniggering observations. She ‘speaks like the Queen’, one of her circle is reported to have said.
The underlying message in all of this is that the Middletons are arrivistes or, as Tatler says about Carole, ‘not quite our class, darling’.
How wounding will Kate find all this? The answer, I suspect , lies in the swift rebuttal by the Palace.
Tatler is read by the Duchess’s friends and lies around in the drawing rooms of the country houses she and William visit.
References to William’s relationship with her family will also hurt. A ‘country grandee’ is quoted as saying: ‘I’ve heard that Prince William is obsessed with Carole. She’s the mummy he always wanted.’
This, say friends, is absurd. And it is not the only reference to the Princess of Wales. The article also says: ‘Outwardly it seems that with years of scrutinising public pressure Kate has become perilously thin, just like — some point out — Princess Diana.’
But the Princess suffered from an eating disorder that for a while was a central and damaging feature in her life.
For Kate, this is perhaps the most uncomfortable barb of all.