Usually it’s not difficult to spot a Royal bride on a visit to an urban community centre. She might not be wearing a tiara, but there could well be a hat and clutch, even gloves, and flunkies whose job it is to make sure only a favoured few get close to the woman who would soon be referred to as Her Royal Highness.
But this wasn’t happening when I arrived at the Al-Manaar mosque in West London one morning in spring 2018. To be sure, there were a couple of dark-suited men with earpieces, suggesting that one of the most talked-about women in the Western world had got there ahead of me. But there was no formality, no protocol, certainly no hierarchy.
In a room of women of all ages and sizes, representing 15 different cultural heritages, speaking a dozen languages, all working to feed the hundreds made homeless after the Grenfell fire, it took me a while to find the Royal bride.
Until, that is, I spotted a woman wearing jeans, her sleeves rolled up, elbow-deep in scrubbing pans at the sink. There was no standing on ceremony and definitely nothing to indicate that in a few days’ time this particular washer-upper would discard her apron and walk down the aisle of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, to marry Prince Harry. There was laughter, jokes and kissing instead of handshakes.
When Meghan visited the kitchen of the Al-Manaar mosque in West London, there was no formality, no protocol, certainly no hierarchy, just a woman in jeans with her sleeves rolled up helping out, Lindsay Nicholson recalls [File photo]
Three years on, as I watch the international furore grow around the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, I can only wonder why no-one seems to see the Meghan that I, and the women of the community kitchen, got to know that day. I wonder where that valuable asset to the Royal family, who seemed to fit in so effortlessly, whose future seemed so bright and assured, has gone. I can’t believe it has come to this . . .
Meghan was still living in Canada in 2017 when the devastating fire ripped through the London Tower block killing 72, making it the worst peacetime disaster in the capital since the World War II.
But as soon as she moved to London to be with Prince Harry, realising Grenfell was on her doorstep at Kensington Palace, she began making secret visits, in particular helping the women of the nearby mosque who had begun cooking meals to feed the displaced. The kitchen was only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays and when she asked why, she discovered that the problem was funding.
It was her idea to raise the money to expand the kitchen by collecting the family recipes of the women into a cookbook, on which I, as former editor of Good Housekeeping, was happy to help out. The food on offer was extraordinary, world-class cuisine from around the world — all coming out of this ramshackle kitchen.
Meghan thought so too and we collaborated on what became Together: Our Community Cookbook published in September of that year. It meant Meghan was popping along to the mosque, in an unmarked car, right up until a couple of days before the wedding and was back again and helping with the book edits not long after.
Even with her new title, a Royal Highness now, there was no difference to the person we had come to know. She even brought with her food she had made in the kitchens at the Palace to share at lunch.
Women were preparing food at the mosque for those left homeless by Grenfell but could only afford to do so twice a week. It was Meghan’s idea to raise the money to expand the kitchen by collecting the family recipes of the women into a cookbook. Pictured: Meghan (centre) at the mosque
Chatting once everyone had been fed, I remember asking Meghan if she and Harry had managed to fit in a honeymoon. She just gave me that cheeky smile that she uses when she doesn’t want to answer, and changed the subject.
It was deftly done, more in common with how an accomplished celebrity handles things. No offence was taken. But if she set boundaries with me — a journalist, after all — there was no hint of frostiness with the women in the kitchen, allowing herself to be the butt of their jokes, having her cooking skills criticised and enjoying their laughter. Above all, though, I think they recognised her as a fellow grafter, someone who did the work behind the scenes, not just when there were cameras around.
If she was privately suffering at this stage, as she has suggested in interview, there was no sign of it. Of course, one never knows what goes on behind a smile, but the person I saw that day was impressive.
The star quality of Diana, but at the same time relatable and accomplished. It’s the Royal family’s loss that she has slipped through its fingers, never to return.
But there are many people in this country who don’t really feel the Royal Family has much to say for itself. Perhaps if things had been handled a little better, Meghan could have been the bridge between the disaffected and the traditionalists.
Who knows? But what is certain is that there is a lot to be admired about a Duchess in jeans doing the washing up. I just wish she’d stayed longer, to do more.