Normally, the royal family is thoroughly predictable. They do the same things, eat the same things, and turn up at the same places like Swiss-made precision clockwork.
Summers are for long weeks in Scotland, the Queen habitually sets up shop at her Sandringham estate from December until February 6, (the Christmas decorations stay up until then too) and she is reportedly woken up at the same time, 365 days a year. (At 7.30am by her maid bearing Earl Gray tea.) Queens don’t ever get sleep-ins it would seem.
Likewise, royal birthdays. If it’s a big one and involves one of her children de ella, there might be an Admiralty or an extra earldom on offer; in every other instance it’s a peppy social media post involving an emoji (which always looks a tad incongruous) and a £10 WH Smith voucher. (OK, the last one I’m just guessing.)
However last week, with no fanfare and little press coverage, the 96-year-old Queen broke with longstanding tradition for the 41st birthday of her granddaughter-in-law Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
Her Majesty did…nothing.
Even in the treacherous years post Megxit, in 2020 and 2021, we have seen the @royalfamily account share posts marking the birthdays of Meghan, the couple’s son Archie and their daughter Lilibet.
Up until now, the most notable thing you could say about this seemingly set-in-stone practice was that the poor Buckingham Palace communications staffer tasked with the job has only ever had one photo of baby Archie and the Queen to work with to deploy every year.
But, whoa Nellie. Something has clearly changed because here we have the Queen essentially blanking Meghan on her birthday. (Or in the immortal words of Mariah Carey, “I don’t know her.”)
Since Meghan joined the official royal ranks in 2018, this is the first time that the palace has ignored the former Suits star on birthday, a marked departure from previous polite celebratory offerings.
What makes this situation such a puzzler is that up recently, the Queen’s strategy when it came to her bothersome grandson and his wife has been appeasement, with certain signs that Her Majesty was going out of her way to minimize tensions.
When Prince Harry, Meghan, Archie and Lili jetted into the UK for the Jubilee, according to the Sunthe nonagenarian arranged for three of her protection officers to collect the family and for a bulletproof car to take them to their UK home, Frogmore Cottage.
Later in June, it was revealed that the details of the inquiry, conducted by an outside law firm, into allegations that Meghan had bullied royal staffers was going to be “buried”. (The Duchess has always vehemently denied the claims of bullying.)
The reason, in part, for the surprise decision, was “to limit tensions between the Sussexes and the palace,” the Times reported.
Then in July, the Sun reported that Her Majesty has extended an invitation to the family to join her for a spell during her annual holiday. (Though the chances of them taking her up on it would surely have to be up there with Princess Michael of Kent getting on to OnlyFans.)
Leading up until Meghan’s birthday last week, there was no indication that this year’s big day would be different to every other, given that even last year, after the Sussexes’ dynamite Oprah Winfrey interview, she received warm social media wishes.
If popping up on global TV screens to lob accusations of racism, cruelty and of the palace life being abjectly miserable was not enough to mitigate Meghan getting a birthday post last year, what has changed? What gives?
The answer may or may not have something to do with Harry’s memoir, rumored to be hitting shelves in October.
In late July, the Sun reported that the manuscript was complete and publisher Penguin Random House’s lawyers had finished dotting the ‘i’s’ and crossing out the most libelous claims about the corgis (just kidding).
the Telegraph followed that up by reporting that while “the royal family or its lawyers have yet had sight of the completed manuscript” they might soon learn about some of what the 37-year-old has written because, “by convention, those potentially defamed in writing – including the royal family – are usually given a right to reply to accusations ahead of publication”.
While the sovereign herself is unlikely to come in for anything but paragraph after paragraph of obsequious praise, her son Prince Charles, daughter-in-law and next queen Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and grandson Prince William might not be so lucky.
Since the beginning of the year, there has been nearly continuous reporting claiming that Harry may well target his stepmother.
The heir to the throne, it would seem, is already getting his starched and ironed knickers in a twist.
“Prince Charles’ operatives have been scrambling for months to find out what other bombshells await, but to no avail,” royal author Christopher Andersen told TheDailyBeast. “No one expected Harry’s book to be a Valentine to his relatives. But you get the sense in the wake of the Jubilee that now the gloves are truly off.”
The prospect remains that while the Sussexes’ Oprah blitzkrieg was hugely damaging for Buckingham Palace, they still managed to largely withstand the strike. Hundreds of pages of revelations and detailed, lengthy disclosures about royal family life and palace operation could be another kettle of fish entirely.
After all, this is the very first sensational tell-all written by someone who was born into the royal family since fellow exile the Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII) published his tell-all A Royal Life, albeit 15 years after his abdication. (Yes, I know the Duke of Kent published a memoir earlier this year called, err, A Royal Lifebut I’m not sure if anyone aside from the Duchess of Kent has actually read it.)
As Duncan Larcombe, The Sun’s former royal editor, put it when speaking to TheDailyBeast: “The reality is that if, as a senior member of the royal family, you have written a tell-all book, you have broken rule number one of the royal family.”
Richard Palmer, royal correspondent for the Express, has offered up another theory, reporting that the absence of any sort of warm wishes for Meghan was down to a change in palace policy and that the royal family “will only mark the birthdays of non-working members of the family when they end in a zero.” The test of this will come on Monday, UK time, when Princess Beatrice turns 34.
Even if this new birthday arrangement is the case, the fact that Buckingham Palace chose Meghan’s birthday as the time to put the new strategy into effect is seriously eyebrow-raising.
The bottom line is that no matter why @royalfamily decided to give Meghan the brush-off, being the first non-working member of the House of Windsor to come in for a regal blanking on their birthday, has some serious sting in the tail.
After all, if Her Majesty had been concerned that cold-shouldering the LA native might inflame tensions, or wanted to keep the peace with the fractious Sussexes, surely the palace would have waited to roll this new social media approach until after the Duchess’ birthday . No one is going to get up in arms or write news stories if Beatrice’s special day goes unmarked now, are they?
While the Queen is currently at Balmoral, settling into the big house after spending two weeks in Craigowan Cottage elsewhere on the estate, there are some choppy seas ahead for the royal family. Between September and Christmas, there will be the release of Harry’s book, the debut Sussexes’ “at home” docuseries for Netflix, the new season of The Crown focusing on the Diana years in the ’90s, the publication of books by two highly credible royal reporting veterans (Valentine Low, who broke the Meghan bullying story, and Angela Levin), the possibility that Prince Andrew’s accuser Virginia Giuffre could write her own tell -all and the ongoing fallout from Charles’ various questionable financial dealings in regards to his charity, including accepting a $1.7 million donation from a brother of Osama bin Laden.
It’s a list that seems to perpetually grow ever longer and ever more brow-furrowing for the royal house.
In 2016, Princess Eugenie told a documentary of the Queen’s Scottish estate: “I think Granny is the most happy there… You just have room to breathe and run.”
For Her Majesty, some long, deep breaths sound like a tip-top idea right now.
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.