Walking from Sandringham House to the Church of St Mary Magdalene on Christmas Day, Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton basically ignored their husbands, princes William and Harry, to chat and laugh.
The duchesses – picture perfect with Kate in a cherry red coat dress and Meghan dressing her baby bump in navy Victoria Beckham – repeatedly made eye contact and seemed amused by each other’s small talk.
At one point, Meghan even draped her arm around Kate’s waist to usher her through church gates, a gesture of affection she’s never done before publicly.
Even by Kensington Palace’s high standards, the public relations display of girl power was awesome.
The December 25 church outing was the first time the women have been seen together since the sustained rash of – unfounded – rumours they are at loggerheads over personality clashes and warring egos.
While Meghan, 37, is the trained actress in the duo, public scrutiny is second nature now to Kate, 36, and she held up her end admirably. What feud?
“The public would be foolish to believe every aspect of these rumours because they are precisely that: rumours,” associate professor Giselle Bastin of Flinders University told The New Daily.
“It is in the media’s interest to air this narrative for as long as it can,” Professor Bastin said.
“The royals make a habit of not responding to the rumours, which can either subdue the speculation or lend weight to the idea that the rumours must be true.”
In the end, Kensington Palace responded to the buzz by choreographing Kate and Meghan’s cosy stroll to church – no plaid coats or gumnut hats like last year – then posting an image of the duchesses with their husband to their shared social media accounts.
Since Meghan became a Windsor in May, the synergy developed by William, Harry and Kate since 2011 has been shaken up and energised with the arrival of a mature American career girl.
“Wives do change the dynamic, and they both have very strong wives,” a palace insider told People magazine.
“If you bring two independent-minded women from the real world into the royal world, they are going to want to have an impact.”
Leading up to Christmas Day, it had been reported that Kate, William, 36, and children Prince George, 5, Princess Charlotte, 3, and Prince Louis, eight months, would celebrate with Kate’s parents Carole and Michael Middleton at their Bucklebury, Berkshire, home.
The Cambridges try to take it in turns, spending one Christmas with WIlliam’s family then one with Kate’s.
This year should have seen them at the Middletons’ middle-class manor but they ended up at Sandringham, perhaps at the direction of the palace to douse the reports of bad blood.
After the church service ended, the royals wished fans a Merry Christmas then had a roast turkey and steamed fruit pudding lunch at the Queen’s Sandringham estate.
At 3pm, the whole family sat down to watch the Queen’s annual televised address to the nation, where she gave special mention to her growing family, including Harry and Meghan’s upcoming arrival.
“It’s been a busy year for my family, with two weddings and two babies – and another child expected soon. It helps to keep a grandmother well occupied,” the Queen said.
A year on from her first Christmas with her husband’s family, Meghan showed she had mastered not just the walk and talk but the art of the royal curtsy.
After a wobbly dip to the monarch in 2017, in 2018 she confidently bowed her head, clasped her hands and lowered into a deeper position.
She’s learning fast on the job, according to sources, but still has some culture clashes, a palace insider told People in December.
Veteran royal aides “might not be used to the ‘say-it-as-you-see-it’ American mentality,” the source said.
“The palace is a magical place, and it is also a place where all you hear is ‘no, no, no’,” a second source said.
A third added: “The most difficult job in the royal family is to work with Meghan’s ambitions and make them realisable.”
“She will get frustrated if she is told, ‘You can’t do this or can’t do that’.”
Kate, meanwhile, also did things her own way just before Christmas, rushing around discount store The Range at Kings Lynn, 15 minutes’ drive from her Norfolk country home Anmer Hall.
With George and Charlotte in tow, the duchess loaded up her trolley with cheap gift ideas.
“They looked like any other family, out grabbing last-minute Christmas bargains,” a witness told The Sun.