Daniela Elser: Meghan and Harry v The Firm – Princess Eugenie’s Instagram post points to a new royal war

OPINION:

Ah, hear that? That’s the very rare sound of royal peace and quiet.

The Queen is tucked away at Balmoral for three months of long, drizzly walks in the rain.

William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have been holidaying on the teeny weeny Isles of Scilly off the Cornish coast in what must be a painful reminder of how much they miss Mustique.

Even Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have taken something of a sabbatical from their usual schedule of secessionist palace-baiting.

But, don’t let this moment of tranquillity fool you. That won’t last, and today there are signs pointing to the possibility of a new royal schism emerging – one that’s potentially the handiwork of a very surprising member of the House of Windsor.

Princess Eugenie has never been one to make waves. She has managed to make it to 31 without ever being photographed naked in Las Vegas, appearing in public in an abomination of a hat, or having accidentally scared Ed Sheeran while “knighting” him during an evening which, one would assume, involved a crate of Chateau Lafite. (Cough, looking at you here Princess Beatrice, cough …)

The first, and comparatively benign, hint of a Eugenie-adjacent scandal only came this month when her husband Jack Brooksbank was photographed on a boat off Capri with a couple of women in bikinis (we’re hardly in toe-sucking territory here, are we?).

However, it’s always the quiet ones.

A new report this weekend has raised the prospect that Harry might call on his cousin Eugenie to help his with his upcoming, very likely bombshell, autobiography. The as-yet untitled work is set to be released next year.

According to The Sun, Pulitzer Prize-winner JR Moehringer, who is ghostwriting the book, “is expected to bypass formal channels and contact the duke’s inner circle via Harry”.

An insider told the paper’s royal correspondent Matt Wilkinson: “I could only imagine Eugenie talking or being approached as she is someone Harry is still in regular contact with.”

While the notion that Eugenie, who is popular with the Queen, might so obviously break ranks with The Firm does at first glance seem a tad preposterous, you have to keep in mind the backstory here.

For years now, Eugenie has been the member of the royal family who has been closest to Meghan.

While the various royal houses all shared sterile, official posts last week on social media to mark the duchess’ 40th birthday, it was Eugenie alone who very affectionately threw her weight behind “dear Meghan’s” 40×40 mentorship campaign via Instagram.

“To celebrate the Duchess of Sussex’s 40th birthday, I am devoting 40 minutes of mentorship or service to a cause I care about,” Eugenie wrote on her Instagram Stories. “Please join me in donating your time. Together, we can contribute to a global wave of compassion and positive change.”

A post shared by Archewell by Harry and Meghan (@archewell_hm)

It was the boldest indication yet of where the mother-of-one’s allegiance might lie.

To understand why Eugenie has such a different relationship with the former actress than the rest of her blue-blooded family, you have to go back to 2016. Along with fashion PR Violet Westenholz and designer Misha Nonoo, Eugenie’s name has also regularly cropped up as the mysterious person who originally set the duo up on their now-famous blind date.

Also in 2016, the day after news of Harry and Meghan’s relationship broke, the new couple celebrated Halloween at Soho House in Toronto with, who else, Eugenie and Jack. (The two couples reportedly enjoyed a number of double dates in both Canada and the UK.)

As Meghan told Oprah Winfrey earlier this year: “Eugenie and I had known each other before I had known Harry, so that was comfortable [ …] We’re friends with them as a couple.”

“Eugenie knows them better than any of the royals in a way,” one insider told the Telegraph. “She was there from the beginning.”

For even more proof of the closeness between the Windsor cousins, look no further than the fact that Eugenie and her husband Jack (and baby son August) moved into the Sussexes’ home, Frogmore Cottage, last year. On the two occasions this year that Harry has returned to the UK, it was the first place he headed after landing.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CKXKC8fleaP/

A post shared by Princess Eugenie (@princesseugenie)

What also unites Harry and Eugenie: it can be argued that she too has an axe to grind regarding her treatment by the palace.

Eugenie and her sister Beatrice have paid a steep price for their uncle Prince Charles’ unswerving commitment to a slimmed down royal family.

In 2012, during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the York sisters – along with their uncles, aunts and cousins – were not invited to appear on the Buckingham Palace balcony during the celebrations. Only Charles, his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Harry, William and Kate made the cut.

At the time it was reported that “open hostility” had broken out between Charles and his brother Prince Andrew over the future king’s move to sideline those not in the direct line of succession.

Beatrice, according to a Daily Mail report from 2012, “is known to have passionately wanted to play an official role as well as have a private career”. After reportedly approaching William with her thoughts, only to be rebuffed, Andrew reportedly was left “infuriated”.

Andrew is also widely reported to have fought for them, as the only blood princesses of their generation, to be afforded similar protections and status as their Wales cousins – but to no avail.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CDop6kRlt7_/

A post shared by Princess Eugenie (@princesseugenie)

In 2019, in the wake of Andrew’s absolute and utter Hindenburg of a BBC interview, it was Charles who is alleged to have encouraged the Queen to take a hard-line stance and insist Andrew step down as a working member of the royal family.

All of this might go some way to explaining why, when news of Harry’s memoir was revealed in late July, the Mail on Sunday reported that Beatrice and Eugenie were “far more sympathetic” towards the exiled duke than the rest of the clan.

“They believe Harry’s outspoken remarks may have been triggered because previously his voice and opinions were rarely heard within the royal family,” a friend said.

Per the report, the York sisters viewed the Sussexes’ spate of interviews this year as meaning that Harry feels he “is finally being listened to”.

If Eugenie did decide to help Harry with this memoir, it would be a total and utter game-changer for the Sussexes; for the palace, her apostasy would be nothing short of devastating.

If she plunged into the Megxit fray it would only throw fuel on the fire that has licked the palace’s walls since the Sussexes cast themselves out into the wilderness.

Thus far, the feud has largely been Harry and Meghan versus anyone with their own copy of Debretts and the Sandringham Wi-Fi password. For more than 18 months now, every other member of the House of Windsor has, publicly at least, stayed quiet in a marked display of unity in the face of this never-ending PR crisis.

That calculus would be thrown out the window if even just Eugenie, let alone Beatrice too, switched sides and threw her weight behind the now California-based couple and their litany of royal grievances.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BydUr4zF5by/

A post shared by Princess Eugenie (@princesseugenie)

Eugenie, in this scenario, would be the first one of the Queen’s inner circle to defect and, in doing so, would add serious credence to the Sussexes’ claims. She would be the first HRH – heck, even the first of the dozens and dozens of Windsors who annually litter the Buckingham Palace balcony – to align herself with the breakaway state of Sussex.

If this came to pass, any notion of royal solidarity could go out the window and their other cousins could face increased pressure to take sides.

Today, Harry and Meghan are the sole royal outliers and the dissenters; or to put it another way, it is their word versus the Sphinx-like royal house. If Eugenie were to speak in their favour via the memoir, it would swiftly undermine the palace’s defence strategy of issuing thin-lipped denials and wholesale rebuffing the Sussexes’ allegations.

So, remember that peace and quiet? Those long Scottish walks? All the forced jollity of bike rides in the bracing Cornish wind? Here’s hoping the Queen and her family enjoy it while it lasts.

Because while the royal family has survived one civil war, two world wars, Oliver Cromwell and Sarah, Duchess of York, in the case of Harry, the pen (or at least the Macbook Air) may very well end up being mightier – and far more dangerous – than the sword.

• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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