The Duchess of Sussex faced criticism on Thursday over her apparent decision to allow her closest friends to defend her in an extraordinary magazine interview.
The feature, in US celebrity magazine People, saw five of ‘those who know Meghan best set the record straight’ over the troubled relationship with her father and criticism of her style as a royal.
But experts and royal insiders said the Duchess had been wrong to sanction the interview. Kensington Palace refused to comment on whether the anonymous sources had co-operated with the magazine at the direct request of the Duchess or, at the very least, with her tacit permission.
It was clear, however, that the palace press office had not been involved. The Mail understands the palace was informed by magazine staff only minutes before publication about the article’s its exceptional detail – including a verbatim account of a letter written by Meghan, 37, to her estranged father.
The Duchess showed no sign of the furore last night as she and Harry arrived, hand in hand, for the Endeavour Fund Awards, which celebrate the achievements of injured service personnel. Meghan, who wore an evening gown by her wedding dress designer Givenchy, and Harry chatted with recipients and their families. At one point the prince pointed to his wife’s bump and joked: ‘There’s a big baby in there.’ Meghan said: ‘He’ll be the best dad.’
However, the suggestion that the Duchess sanctioned her inner circle to speak to the media over the heads of her closest advisers sparked concern both inside and outside the royal households.
Former Buckingham Palace press secretary Dickie Arbiter, who worked as a media manager for both Prince Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, said he feared the decision would only exacerbate issues, not contain them. He said: ‘Assuming – and as these sources are anonymous we don’t know for sure – that this was done with her agreement, it has opened a Pandora’s Box, in my opinion. The issue with her father is an open wound and I’m not entirely sure it is the best idea to aggravate that.
‘It doesn’t entirely surprise me that the press office didn’t know, that said. Nothing changes. The first inkling we had of a story was when you read it in the Sun or the Mail.’
Joe Little, managing director of the pro-monarchy Majesty magazine said he believed the Royal Family’s age-old mantra of ‘never complain, never explain’ was as relevant as ever.
‘These chats were clearly done with the very best of intentions but I’m inclined to think they have achieved nothing,’ he said. ‘It would have been more helpful for her friends to stuck their head above the parapet and allowed their names and identities to be revealed as it would have given credence to the stories.’
Another senior former courtier told the Mail they understood why the pregnant Duchess would want to speak out about recent claims that she was difficult and demanding.
‘But that is why they have a press office … if they feel there is a wrong that they want to be righted, they have paid officials to do that,’ they said. ‘What it isn’t their job to do is to stifle or censor criticism.’
The source said there was a marked difference about the way in which Harry and Meghan had approached their new royal roles compared with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge: ‘Harry and Meghan don’t generally seek advice and don’t really like to be told.’
The magazine quotes Meghan’s five close and long-standing friends, who spoke on condition of anonymity, hitting out at claims that she has been uncaring towards her father Thomas Markle, and describing criticism of her as ‘global bullying’. ‘Meg has silently sat back and endured the lies and untruths,’ one claimed. ‘We worry about what this is doing to her and the baby.’
One gave an account of how Meghan had done her utmost to support her father, despite him betraying her by co-operating with a paparazzi photographer over staged photoshoots.
After the wedding, she reportedly wrote him an emotional letter – which was given almost verbatim to the magazine – asking him to ‘stop victimising me through the media so we can repair our relationship’. He replied, apparently, requesting a photo opportunity.
The article also reveals details of her life at Kensington Palace with Harry, further evidence that the Duchess would know the identities of those speaking out.
These including everything from the interior decor of their home to how she and Harry spend their day to day she can ‘make a five-star meal out of the garbage in your refrigerator’.
It reveals how she not only writes her own speeches but many of her husband’s too. The article also said she treated her staff to an ‘ice cream and sorbet stand’ for their office and buys hand warmers for the police guarding the palace gates.