Elizabeth, Kate & Meghan: Windsor’s formidable women
At the heart of the British royal family are three powerhouse women: a stalwart monarch and two very different duchesses
THERE may be men aplenty in the hallowed halls and pristine parlours of The Firm’s many palaces but there’s no doubt about it: women dominate the House of Windsor. Or rather, three women in particular. In the centre is Queen Elizabeth, tiny in stature and vast of years but as steadfast as the centuries-old bricks shoring up Buckingham Palace.
On one side is the Duchess of Cambridge, demure, dutiful, and uncontroversial – the perfect queen-in-waiting.
On her other side is the Duchess of Sussex, bold and outspoken, independent and, if recent reports are to be believed, difficult enough to raise the ghosts cooling their heels in the corridors of the castles.
As the new year begins in earnest, more drama is inevitable as Meghan prepares to welcome her first baby and Kate gets stuck into more royal roles.
And presiding over them all is a monarch for life who still has the ability to welcome or wither with a single glance of those famous blue eyes.
We take a closer look at these three remarkable women, who couldn’t be more different if they tried but are bound by royal rules.
Throughout her long reign the queen (92) has performed a delicate balancing act between kin and crown – and it can’t have been easy, royal biographer Robert Lacey says.
“Her life has been a constant compromise between keeping her private life private and letting bits out to maintain the popularity of the crown,” Lacey says.
And this was evident once again during her annual Christmas message.
Although she devoted a chunk of the speech to the 100th anniversary of World War 1, she visibly softened when she turned her attention to her family.
“It’s been a busy year, with two wed-
dings and two babies,” she said. She was, of course, referring to the weddings of grandson Harry and Meghan and of granddaughter Princess Eugenie. The babies were William and Kate’s son, Prince Louis, and her granddaughter Zara’s second child, Lena.
“Through the many changes I’ve seen over the years, faith, family and friendship have been not only a constant for me but a source of personal comfort and reassurance,” she added.
“Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards a greater understanding.”
In recent years it’s been clear the queen has not only made an attempt to be softer and more approachable, she’s clearly enjoying it too.
She cherishes family time, royal insiders say, and it’s a far cry from her days as a young mother when she was often criticised for putting crown and country first.
Her relationship with her eldest, Prince Charles, in particular raised many an eyebrow.
“For Charles it was his misfortune to need his mother’s affections at the time where her job was also demanding that she give herself to her people,” Lacey says. “Everybody in those early years
(From previous page) remarked on how stilted and formal the queen was.”
But she’s a great-grandmother now and insiders say she delights in seeing the youngest members of the royal family. She still has a full working day, an aide says, but she has long since proved herself as queen.
Now she gets to enjoy her ever-growing family.
DUCHESS OF DUTY
Despite being the first middle-class woman to marry into the royal family in more than 350 years, Kate (37) is one of the most popular members of the world’s most famous clan.
After meeting Prince William at St Andrews University, she was his dutiful girlfriend for years, earning herself the nickname Waity-Katie as Wills delayed popping the question. But when he did, all those years in the wings had paid off: Kate was a natural in her royal role from the start.
A little spit and polish was still necessary
“Nothing too drastic,” royal writer Geoffrey Levy says. “Just lengthening her hemlines a touch here and there and encouraging her to be a little less showy and not to play to the cameras.
“In short, the queen didn’t want Kate to become another Diana.”
The perfect modern royal And the queen certainly got her way – soft-spoken, bythe-book Kate has rarely put a nude court shoe out of line. She takes her role as the wife of the future king seriously and would never dream of upstaging her husband.
Kate is poised, kind, dutiful – a devoted wife to William and doting mom to George (5), Charlotte (3) and Louis (almost nine months).
Keeping mum The duchess keeps her opinions on current affairs to herself, as befits a senior royal, and sticks to speaking out about causes close to her heart.
She’s an avid campaigner for the Heads Together mental-health drive, even penning a passionate blog post on the matter. “William and I wouldn’t hesitate to seek help for our children if they needed it,” she said in a headline-making article.
Kate the great “Kate isn’t somebody who pushes herself forward, but she’s very confident in her views,” said Lorraine Heggessey, CEO of the Royal Foundation.
“She often spots the nub of the issue or a critical thing that needs dealing with. I’ve found her incredibly wise.”
DUCHESS OF DEFIANCE
She may have joined The Firm less than a year ago but Meghan (37) has already broken plenty of rules – that infamous tuxedo dress, wearing black, speaking out about abortion and shunning frugality in favour of expensive designer duds.
Early on, it seemed Meghan was sticking to the rules. Much was made of her “beige-ification” when she stepped out in numbers decried for being too bland and too boring. It didn’t last long, though.
Back to basics The Duchess of Sussex seems to have given up cramming herself into the royal mould. “I’m not sure if the palace called her and said, ‘Okay, this isn’t working,’ or if they planned for Meghan to wear something more conservative for her first few events,” Amanda Dishaw of the Mirror writes.
“Either way, [her old friend and stylist] Jessica Mulroney is back in the picture.” And what a difference it’s made.
Sleek and chic Meghan gradually abandoned the staid stockings and frumpy
frocks and plenty of her choices – such as the lauded green Brandon Maxwell mididress on her Australian tour and the olive Ralph Lauren frock to Prince Louis’ christening – have garnered applause for her.
But you can’t keep all the people happy all the time.
Courting controversy The sky-high cost of her couture has ruffled more than a few feathers. Fashion blog UFO estimates Meghan spent £406 915 (R7,3 million) on clothes in 2018 – six times more than Kate’s £68 334 (R1,2 million).
Her more daring ensembles have raised eyebrows too. The super-short tuxedo dress by Montreal brand Judith & Charles she wore to a performance of the stage show Hamilton nearly broke the internet. And the trouser suits she’s opted for more than once have had conservative royal watchers in a tizzy.
The Meghan mark Since she’s been ordered to keep her so-called “trendy-lefty” beliefs to herself, she’s had to find other ways to show solidarity with issues she believes in.
“With the pantsuits, Meghan was saying, ‘ Women don’t have to wear ballgowns if we don’t feel like it’,” Dishaw says.
“We don’t often hear Meghan speak at events, but by wearing clothes from a brand that supports women’s rights or believes in sustainability, she’s able to promote the causes she wants to.”
SAME BUT DIFFERENT
Much has been made of the issues between Kate and Meghan but the truth is they’re very different people “and to expect them to become best friends just because their husbands are brothers was unrealistic”, one palace insider says. Meghan has huge ambitions, another source says. “The most difficult job in the royal family is to work with those ambitions and make them realisable. “Everything in the palace is ‘no, no, no’. You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” Meghan has a “commanding style”, another insider told People, which is a reflection of her American roots. “Veteran royal aides may not be used to her ‘say-it-as-you-see-it’ mentality.” Kate, the source adds, has “manoeuvred herself in a different way but she’s still strong and brilliant at her job”. Both are strong, capable women and they’ll do the best they can to foster relationships going forward – for their husbands’ sake as well as their own. One palace insider puts it perfectly: “An ordinary woman was never going to become a duchess.”
LEFT: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Queen Elizabeth and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge. BELOW: The queen at her coronation on 2 June 1953. BOTTOM: The then Princess Elizabeth and two-year-old Prince Charles watch a procession from Clarence House in 1950.
ABOVE: Kate and the queen watch a fashion show at De Montfort University in Leicester in 2012. BELOW: Meghan and the queen visit Cheshire in June 2018. This was the first time the duchess had attended an event with the queen without her husband, Prince Harry.
FAR LEFT: William and Kate at Princess Eugenie’s wedding in October 2018. LEFT: The Cambridges at The Tusk Conservation Awards in November 2018. BELOW: A 22-year-old Kate at the Game Fair at Blenheim Palace in 2004.
William, Kate, Prince George and Princess Charlotte at Prince Louis’ christening in 2018. Meghan and Prince Harry, then newlyweds, follow close behind.
ABOVE: Meghan donned Ralph Lauren for Prince Louis’ christening. BELOW: She caused a stir with her “tuxedo dress” at a performance of the musical Hamilton last year. Meghan is a fan of tailored trouser suits, such as this one she wore to the WellChild Awards in London last year.