When the Duchess of Sussex complained to Oprah Winfrey about a tearful row with her sister-in-law, she described it as a dramatic ‘turning point’ that would eventually see the Sussexes walking away from their Royal roles altogether.
‘Everything changed,’ she said, claiming it marked the beginning of a ‘character assassination’.
So, what actually happened between the two women that could possibly have sparked what is now being called ‘Crygate’?
In unravelling this question, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the row in the run-up to Meghan’s wedding was just one of a series of flashpoints that doomed the relationship from its earliest days.
Indeed, there are claims that the Cambridges have been at the heart of Meghan’s unease not just with Palace life, but with her and Harry’s place within the Royal Family. And, sadly, there has been a simmering anger between the two brothers.
The Duchess of Sussex complained to Oprah Winfrey about a tearful row with her sister-in-law (pictured together at a Westminster Abbey for a Commonwealth day service) prior to her wedding
First, though, what about the flowergirl row?
At the fitting for Charlotte were Meghan, Kate, designer Clare Waight Keller, two assistants from the Givenchy fashion house and Melissa Toubati – Meghan’s aide, who later quit after just six months in the role.
The dress intended for Charlotte didn’t fit. Fraught conversations ensued about how, with little time left, this could be rectified. Amid the stress, tears were shed. That was unfortunate, but what followed was more damaging – at least for Meghan.
Many months afterwards, it was reported that it was Kate, who’d given birth to her third child just days before the fitting, who had been ‘left in tears’, although details remained vague.
Yet Meghan sees it very differently and claimed last week that ‘the reverse was true’. She suggested there was evidence to support her claim.
Referring to her sister-in-law simply as ‘Kate’, rather than the more formal ‘Catherine’, which the Duchess prefers to be called in public, Meghan continued: ‘She was upset about something, but she owned it, and she apologised, and she brought me flowers and a note, apologising… She did what I would do if I knew that I hurt someone.’
Meghan magnanimously told Oprah Winfrey that she has forgiven Kate. But sources have told this newspaper that the apology was not the end of the matter.
A door was said to have been slammed in Kate’s face and those flowers thrown in Meghan’s bin.
The upset intensified.
Meghan is said to have grown increasingly suspicious that pro-Kate Palace aides had leaked the ‘Kate cried’ version of the story to the Press.
As the source put it: ‘Meghan became obsessed.
‘She couldn’t let it go and would tell anyone who listened. She demanded that staff speak out to correct the story – and became frustrated when they didn’t.’
Clearly this festered. Meghan returned to the subject three times with Oprah.
Princess Charlotte and the Duchess of Cambridge outside St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle
If, on the other hand, the Duchess of Cambridge did not believe she had been in the wrong during the fallout, why would she apologise?
Perhaps she was simply trying to calm the issue. As another Royal observer told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Clearly, Meghan didn’t grasp that very British concept of saying sorry even if you don’t truly believe it was entirely your fault.’
Petty as it may seem, the row over Charlotte’s dress signified a much deeper schism between the brothers, one that had started many months earlier.
But once their wives fell out, there was no going back.
One sore point was the running of Harry and William’s joint philanthropic charity, The Royal Foundation. The brothers differed on how one aspect, wildlife conservation, ought to be carried out.
Harry preferred a ‘hands-on’ approach, whereas William was more interested in empowering local communities to carry out the work themselves.
Then, with William increasingly involved in meetings about matters of state in preparation for being King, Harry realised, as he later said, that they were ‘on different paths’.
This had long been a source of irritation and eventually anger to Harry, ‘the spare’, as Diana had affectionately referred to him.
Harry had more freedom, of course, but it came at a price. A source said: ‘When jobs or causes came up, Harry had the last pick. That must have been an unwelcome reminder that he was less important than William.’
The Duchess of Cambridge and Duchess of Sussex on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during Trooping The Colour 2018
Into this scenario came Meghan.
While she and Harry lived in the smaller Nottingham Cottage within Kensington Palace, the Cambridges had the vastly superior Apartment 1A.
One source said: ‘It was clear Meghan thought Kate could have done more to include her.’
For example, a courtier told of one day when, by coincidence, Meghan and Kate both wanted to go shopping in nearby Kensington High Street. Kate went ahead in her Range Rover on her own, rather than inviting Harry’s then girlfriend along with her.
If such an incident was difficult for Harry and his soon-to-be fiancée, worse was to come – at least in his eyes.
It has been suggested that the ever-cautious William – now assuming an increasingly important role in family affairs – had a frank conversation with Harry, saying he was concerned at the speed of his romance.
For Harry, this was unwelcome and meddling advice.
Meghan is said to have grown increasingly suspicious that pro-Kate Palace aides had leaked the ‘Kate cried’ version of the story to the Press
In February 2018, three months before his wedding to Meghan, the ‘Fab Four’ – as they were then dubbed – gave what was to be their first, and only, group interview.
In a panel discussion about The Royal Foundation, they described the fractures in their working relationship with extraordinary candour.
When asked about any family disagreements, William answered: ‘Oh, yes.’ Harry chimed in: ‘[They are] healthy disagreements.’
Pressed further, Harry said: ‘I can’t remember, they come so thick and fast.’ Had these disagreements been resolved? William replied: ‘We don’t know.’
He added: ‘We’ve got four different personalities and we’ve got the same passions to make a difference, but different opinions. I think those opinions work really well.
‘Working as a family does have its challenges and the fact that everyone is laughing shows they know exactly what it’s like. We’re stuck together for the rest of our lives.’
Or not, as it happens.
It’s easy to have some sympathy for Meghan and Harry, given the circumstances. They had to share office staff with William and Kate, and there was competition over which causes they could champion and which didn’t clash with the interests of more senior Royals.
Courtiers, too, made it clear that there was a finite budget from Duchy of Cornwall coffers and, as lower-ranking Royals, they were entitled to less of it.
One major difference between the brothers was that while William had come to terms with the death of his mother and had accepted the media interest in his life, albeit begrudgingly, Harry never could.
He tended to see everything as a battle with the Press. He often drew parallels between Meghan and his mother.
Then came a pre-wedding row with the Queen’s dresser Angela Kelly over a tiara, which led Harry to infamously declare: ‘What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.’ And, of course, the Charlotte dress incident. But still, family bonds remained firm.
Prince Charles walked Meghan down the aisle. She has said the Queen tenderly let her share her blanket during a joint official engagement a month after her wedding. Yet Meghan told Oprah that once she was married ‘everything started to worsen’.
In a bid to gain independence, the Sussexes established their own court and moved out of Kensington Palace to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor. Yet 20 miles down the M4 wasn’t far enough. Soon, the Sussexes were looking much further afield.
A lengthy stay in Canada prompted discussions that led to their permanent move to the US.
The Mail on Sunday – the first newspaper to reveal the froideur between Meghan and Kate – understands that Harry’s rift with his brother was the driving force behind his decision to quit Britain for a £11 million mansion in California.
Walking away and unable to fulfil as many Royal duties as before ensured the Sussexes slipped further down the pecking order.
This became brutally clear at the Commonwealth Day service in March last year, when the Sussexes, who by now had stepped down from Royal duties, were told they must take their seats at Westminster Abbey.
They were no longer allowed to wait for the Queen’s appearance and walk in together with Her Majesty and other senior Royals.
Graciously, and to appease the clearly discomfited Sussexes, William and Kate took their seats early, too, and diplomatically did not join the procession as planned.
But the awkward body language between the four Royals was plain to see.
Further humiliation came for Harry later that week when a tape recording emerged revealing he had been pranked by a radio DJ pretending to be environmental activist Greta Thunberg and in an unguarded moment he said then President Donald Trump had ‘blood on his hands’ over his involvement in the coal industry.
By now, Harry’s signing up to his wife’s outspoken socially aware agenda was obvious. Indeed, of all the allegations aired to Oprah, by far the most hurtful is the accusation of racism.
This was based on a single anecdote relayed by the Sussexes about an unnamed member of the Royal Family speculating about the skin colour of their as yet unborn son, Archie.
This toxic claim – casting aspersions against all senior Royals – forced the Duke of Cambridge to hit back last week, saying they were ‘very much not a racist family’.
Of course, William is key to mending bridges with his brother.
A source said he will ‘reach out’ to Harry and has been in ‘meaningful conversations’ with the Queen and the Prince of Wales about how to move forward.
The Queen has spoken to Harry in the past week, according to one source, and both Charles and William will do so in the coming weeks.
While most of Harry’s public ire has been directed at his father – ‘I feel let down’, he told Oprah with faltering voice – sources believe that William, who might have persuaded Harry to stay, pushed when he could have pulled.
All the same, one insider remains cautiously hopeful of a reconciliation, saying: ‘The brothers were so close for so long and that must count for something.’
As for Meghan’s claim to Oprah that she was insufficiently supported by Palace staff, courtiers remember a different reality – one in which a group of young, progressive and hard-working aides were drafted in to help the Sussexes as Meghan adjusted to Palace life.
They included the hugely respected Samantha Cohen, an Australian mother-of-three and former aide to the Queen. And Americans Jason Knauf and Sara Latham. Hardly stuffy ‘men in grey suits’.
A test of the success of any reconciliation between the one-time Fab Four will come in July.
On what would have been their mother’s 60th birthday, William and Harry are due to unveil a long-overdue statue in memory of Diana.Each is said to be ‘committed’ to the occasion.
Both princes have many admirable qualities.
Neither, though, is blessed with acting skills.
So if last year’s so obviously uncomfortable performance at the Commonwealth service is anything to go by, the look on the brothers’ faces as they stand next to Diana’s statue will tell the world whether or not they are back on track.