Trouble in paradise: Is the honeymoon over already for Meghan Markle?
As rumours swirl about the new princess's relationship with her in-laws, the backlash has only just begun. Chrissie Russell reports
Her wedding was the stuff of fairytales but Meghan Markle is fast learning that 'happily ever after' only exists for Disney Princesses, not real-life ones. As she glided down the aisle to wed her Prince back in May, the only entity more smitten than Harry was the general public, who collapsed in a general swoon-fest beguiled by her style, modernity and flair.
But as the seasons chilled, so too have attitudes towards the new princess. And while the year may have started with her being applauded for shaking up the establishment, it's ending with accusations of ill-feeling. The honeymoon is over, the backlash has begun.
Particularly, it seems, when it comes to perceived ranklings between Meghan and Princess Kate. This weekend, the papers buzzed with rumours of royal catfighting. According to the murmurs of various unnamed insiders, it's not purely the fact that Harry and Meghan are expecting their first child that has prompted their move from Kensington Palace to Frogmore Cottage, a modest 10-bed home in the grounds of Windsor. No, it's the fact that Harry and Meghan don't want to live in Kensington next to William and Kate.
"Kate and Meghan are very different people," a "close friend of the Cambridges" was quoted telling the Daily Mail. "They don't really get on."
There have even been whisperings of trouble in paradise between the royal couple. Not long ago, a US publication wrote of insiders claiming arguments had spiralled out of control with Meghan "crying about how trapped she feels by royal rules" and Harry "venting about how mortifying it's been for him to deal with her family's constant publicity-grubbing".
It's even recently emerged that the Queen has apparently had a few choice thoughts on her grandson's wife, following a set-to over pre-nuptial tiara choices with her majesty reportedly telling Harry: "Meghan cannot have whatever she wants."
As if raising the Queen's hackles wasn't bad form enough, an even more outrageous claim has surfaced that Meghan dared to snub an even more loved British institution - Marks & Spencer, allegedly preferring to buy her tights elsewhere. This followed outrage about her initially not wearing tights. There was a second wave of indignation when her Remembrance Day tights were branded too shiny and not compatible with her skin tone.
Then there has been the steady drip feed of tales about how the former Suits star has rubbed aides up the wrong way. Eyebrows have been raised over the fact that, since May, three of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's top aides have quit their jobs. A royal official drily told the Express: "To lose one member of the household could happen to anyone. To lose three in a few months is starting to look like a stampede."
Reportedly dubbed 'Hurricane Meghan', she has been accused of getting up early and 'bombarding' aides with up to a whopping seven texts a day. Just recently, one royal aide (presumably one reeling from getting seven texts) was cited as saying: "Meghan can be difficult."
Ah, of course, the curse of the "difficult" woman. Men get to be determined, resolute and ambitious, women get to be headstrong and awkward. It all feels so crushingly familiar. The public finds a female, falls in love, lauds her for her looks and puts her on a pedestal for her personality... only to spend the next half of the year knocking her off the altar of their own making.
Being female, it's Meghan's looks that have come in for the stiffest criticism. One half of the media seems to have firmly placed her in the 'too daring' camp, furious with the 37-year-old for daring to bare an ankle, shoulder or (gasp) wear trousers. Others have turned on her for appearing to tone down her fashion choices since entering the Royal Family.
In July, The Star, Canada's largest online news site, ran an article entitled 'Why did Meghan Markle's style suddenly get so boring?', claiming that "her sartorial independence has, disturbingly, all but disappeared," and that "she has become prim, proper and boring".
In a similar vein, The Guardian declared: "It didn't take long for the Windsors to strip Meghan Markle of her sparkle", laying the blame firmly at the feet of the Royal Family for Meghan's new-found love of beige - "the colour of a quiet, mundane sort of evil".
Are the British royals really to blame for any perceived change in their new princess? Meghan's mother-in-law almost certainly would have had some thoughts on the matter, having infamously branded her in-laws 'The Firm' and a formidable force for an independent woman to reckon with.
But it seems more likely that the problem goes beyond the gates of Buckingham Palace. The backlash has been as exhausting as it has been predictable. We live in a 'build 'em up and knock 'em down' society when it comes to celebrities, particularly when it comes to women in the public eye... and especially when it comes to princesses.
The young Princess Diana was loved for her innocence, but then criticised for her naiveté, Fergie was a breath of fresh air but too boisterous. Kate was lauded for keeping William grounded yet, at the same time, mocked for social climbing. Both Eugenie and Beatrice spoke recently to Grazia about the constant online abuse they face for trying to navigate the role of young working royals. There's an impossibly narrow tightrope walk for women to walk when it comes to being a royal who keeps it real, then gets a bit too real.
It might often be heralded as 'every little girl's dream' to grow up to be a princess but most women know it's a poisoned chalice. And unfortunately, it's unlikely to change any time soon. The only thing Meghan can take pleasure in is the fact that one's subjects tend to be cyclical in their devotions. Mummy Meghan will no doubt rise to wow again... until she fails to lose the baby weight or, worse still, loses it too fast.