A cashmere Wilfred for Aritzia coat ‘shrobed’ over her shoulders and with hair carefully undone, an unsmiling Meghan Markle slipped without fanfare into a meeting of academics in London on Wednesday.
The media wasn’t invited to the surprise visit, but Kensington Palace released two handpicked photos on Instagram of the Duchess of Sussex holding a pen and appearing engrossed in a round table conversation about how higher education can be used to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery.
If it looks and sounds serious, welcome to Meghan’s new reality as a recent royal. Seven months after she wed Prince Harry, the honeymoon is definitely over.
Over the last weeks – in what should be a joyful time for the mother-to-be – she’s been blitzed with harsh and unsourced rumours.
Former friend Piers Morgan publicly attacked her on December 4 as a fake “acting her way to the top”. Stories claim “Hurricane Meghan” is a workaholic who starts texting at 5am and was so sharp with her PA, Melissa Toubati, that she resigned after six months.
But the main focus of the stories is an alleged growing hostility between Meghan, 37, and her more reserved sister-in-law Kate Middleton, 36.
Despite the women always appearing to get on fine in public, the UK press was keen to pit Middleton and Markle against each other from the start.
“The media is trying to invent a catfight ‘feud’ with her and Kate, they call her ‘bossy’ and ‘difficult’ – words we don’t use for men,” journalist and author Radhika Sanghani tweeted on Tuesday.
“So much of the narrative is trying to force her into the ‘angry black woman’ trope.”
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The Duchess of Sussex yesterday attended a meeting with The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) at King’s College London. Her Royal Highness joined university leaders, academics and international scholarship students as they discussed the role of higher education in addressing issues such as human trafficking, modern slavery, gender equality, peace and reconciliation, and climate change. In a speech during the Royal Visit to Fiji in October, The Duchess announced two ACU Gender Grants for the University of the South Pacific and Fiji National University, to fund new learning initiatives aimed at empowering female university staff and promoting gender equality.
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Reports of a Middleton v Markle feud gained traction when the Sussexes announced they are decamping from London, where they live next door to Kate and Prince William and their three kids, to Frogmore Cottage at Windsor Castle.
Then UK tabloid The Sun reported a specific moment had sparked the falling out: a pre-wedding argument after Meghan was “rude” to a Cambridge staffer, and Kate took her to task.
That claim saw Kensington Palace take the rare step of issuing a denial.
“This never happened,” a spokesperson told UK tabloid The Sun. Other than that, palace courtiers have “no plans to engage in this narrative”, according to one source.
Still, the palace is so concerned about the feud rumours that they’ve started a “mole hunt” to find who is response for the unfavourable leaks, according to The Mail on Sunday.
Kate tried to pour cold water onto things during a visit to Leicester, saying she is very excited about Meghan and Harry’s baby and how much fun the “kiddie” royal cousins will have growing up together.
“Kate and Meghan are very different people and they don’t have a lot in common, but they have made an effort to get along,” a source told Vanity Fair.
Any issues are actually between brothers William, 36, and Harry, 34, according to the magazine.
It quoted a source as saying Harry “wants to be his own person, not in William’s shadow” and is moving to the country because he and Meghan want to raise their son or daughter away from the limelight”.
The claims the duchesses don’t get on is “quite a big leap of speculation”, royals biographer Duncan Larcombe told Yahoo UK.
“There is no particular incident or occasion where they didn’t get on. It is a very broad claim to be making, and is likely just gossip from palace staff.”
But the two women are very different, Mr Larcombe conceded: “They might both be pretty brunettes, but really that’s where the similarity ends.”
How is Meghan dealing with her toughest time yet in the spotlight?
“Meghan is a believer in karma and she doesn’t want to sit there reading negative online stories and comments about herself,” a royals source told Vanity Fair.
“She feels to a degree the British press is out to get her, and while she’s aware of the news and what’s going on, she tries her best not to read all the stories about her.”
As for what’s next, People magazine claims the Sussexes and Cambridges will be one big happy family at Christmas with the Queen at Sandringham.
Last year, they did the same and Meghan and Kate “got on – they are definitely not best friends but it was a really special time for them all”, a source told Vanity Fair.
Looks like, apart from four beautiful royals, there’s nothing to see here.