Newspaper men – and I am afraid they are still almost uniformly men and men of a certain age – can see a very obvious problem with Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton. They both happen to be very attractive women of roughly the same age – 37 and 36, respectively. That can mean only one thing so far as these misogynistic old dinosaurs are concerned: they have to be in competition. How, after all, could two women of comparable beauty possibly ever be put in proximity to each other without feeling the need to scratch each other’s eyes out?
It wouldn’t of course occur to these old hacks that two men would ever feel the need to have to slug it out in this way and on these terms. Did you ever read, for instance, that Timothy Laurence, the husband of the Princess Royal, was trying to wear nattier suits than the Prince of Wales? Even when they were younger? Or, for that matter, that a much older woman would ever have the barefaced cheek to get into a catfight with a more nubile one? I don’t recall ever reading, either, that the late Princess Margaret was seriously trying to take on Diana, Princess of Wales.
Royal reporting has, however, its own outdated view of the sexes and its own rules. I doubt that the fight to the death that we are now supposedly witnessing between Markle and Middleton will ever make for an especially compelling episode of The Crown; but it has clearly taken on a life of its own.
The story so far would appear to suggest the latter is winning: Markle and her husband Harry are said to be about to beat a retreat to Windsor to get away from Middleton and Prince William. There has been a bitchfight over an emerald tiara, where the Queen, no less had to intervene.
But the very latest episode – recounted in the Sun today in the sort of quaint, old-fashioned prose that goes a long way towards explaining why barely 40 per cent of its readers are women – takes the story to new depths of torpor.
Kate, it informs us, has left the “royal newbie” Meghan “in tears” over her demands for Princess Charlotte’s bridesmaid’s dress. Tears over a bridesmaid’s dress? Well, she is a woman, and that’s the sort of thing women cry about so far as The Sun is concerned.
“An insider” – that phrase that has kept royal reporters in business since time immemorial – has said that the row followed a “stressful dress fitting”. For men, the word “stressful” is normally reserved for visits to accident emergency departments, if not war zones; but, for women, Goodness knows, a dress fitting can sometimes get really out of hand.
Sadly, the story – if that is what it can be called – then starts to self-destruct of its own volition. The tear-inducing incident happened “just weeks before Meghan married Prince Harry“, which means the paper has only heard about it a good six months after the alleged event. We are then into the usual qualifying sentences that alert wilier readers to the fact it is almost certainly made up and the time they have expended reading it so far has been wasted. “Royal aides did not deny the incident had taken place”, for example – which means they were simply too weary to even dignify it with a response.
If there is a single line in the otherwise unutterably depressing piece that does ring true – even if it is a statement of the bleeding obvious – it is that “the duchesses are very different people”. And that really is the thing. Two women from different backgrounds who happen to have different lives and interests but both happen to look great and belong to the same extended family can just occasionally just accept they are different. Royal life is not always a vainglorious battle for supremacy.