If you look back in history, there was ancient Rome’s Year of Four Emperors and then France had the War of the Two Peters. So, I reckon when some royal biographer manages to put down their Waitrose-brand G&T long enough and writes the history of the House of Windsor circa 2023, they should just focus on the Month of The Two Dresses.
Because if you want to understand where things stand right now – the same month that King Charles and Queen Camilla married arcane tradition and 18th century cosplaying for TV cameras – look no further than the tale of two frocks.
One was worn by Kate, the Princess of Wales, who has just played a blinder and had one of her best months yet, and the second was donned by Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex who is coming off one of the rockiest patches since she arrived on the scene.
One month, two royal WAGs; and two very, very different trajectories. Irony, meet the only-maybe-Merry Wives of Windsor.
So let’s tackle things sequentially shall we?
First came the coronation on May 6, an event seven decades and change in the making. Kate turned up looking like she had highlighted and triple-annotated the Buckingham Palace brief before creating a moodboard referenced from the British Museum’s antiquities department.
The end result was an Alexander McQueen gown and headpiece worn under her Royal Victorian Order mantle, all of which made her look like she was channelling Britannia with a bit of Queen Mary’s steel thrown in for formidable measure.
Just in case anyone was in doubt whether a former accessories buyer whose greatest (actually, only) achievement pre-marriage was running a charity roller disco had ‘made it’, here was the unimpeachable proof. Kate looked like ‘princess’ was a role she was born to occupy – more than any actual blue blood with the weak DNA of a bona fide Hanoverian.
However, Kate is not just nailing the dress code but the actual job too.
Not content to apathetically open things and practise the traditional royal art of ribbon cutting (well, at least not any more), in the last couple of years she has pulled off the biggest royal coup since the Stewarts got to have a go on the throne. The Royal Foundation Centre For Early Childhood might sound like some sort of touchy feely kiddie initiative that is high on crayon funding and low on intellectual heft, but its fundamental aim is to tackle homelessness, addiction and mental health in the next generation.
In the last few months alone, Kate has corralled CEOs from nine global companies for a business task force, launched a UK-wide advertising campaign and found the time to pen an op-ed piece for the Financial Times, the go-to newspaper of presidents, plutocrats and powerbrokers from Belgravia to Bangkok.
Someone has really been hiding not only their light but a helluva lot of ambition under her designer bushel.
So, Kate: Strength to strength, nailing it, gold stars all around.
The same cannot quite be said for her sister-in-law Meghan whose biggest achievement in the last month has been inadvertently providing Hertz with a tsunami of global exposure.
Last week, Meghan, her husband Prince Harry and mother Doria Ragland turned up at an awards night in New York to collect her gong for being a top feminist, arriving through some sort of side entrance via the rental car outpost.
And her dress? Perfection.
Wearing a strapless gold Johanna Ortiz frock, the 41-year-old looked like she and Ava Gardner were meeting for cocktails later at The Palm. It was old Hollywood glamour meets 21st century power player by way of a bit of Sex And The City. (Hold the Cosmos.)
If Kate had been trying to dial up her Queenly cred with her outfit and doing her bit for the knock-off royal souvenir industry (nothing like a new princess oven mitt to ramp up sales) then Meghan’s was all about framing herself as someone fully in control of her own narrative.
All of which went swimmingly until about two hours later when the Sussex party left the Ziegfeld Ballroom and managed to subsequently be subsumed by a fresh storm of headline-making drama.
According to their spokesperson, what followed was a “near-catastrophic car chase,” an interpretation of events that was not exactly shared by the New York Police Department. In the week and a bit since then, more diagrams and maps have come out in the UK press detailing the contentious Manhattan journey than 16 months of war in Ukraine combined.
More broadly, it’s hard to see by any measure that things are going well inside the Sussex camp these days. Their Netflix show might have made a splash and Harry’s book might have sold like the clappers, but six months on, the Duke and Duchess are starting to look like a stale proposition.
The great unanswered question that swirls around them is, what else do they have to offer to audiences, streaming companies and publishers now that they have dredged up all of their palace-related pain? Will anyone care about what they have to say if they are not pointing fingers at the royal family or recounting the deep spiritual hurts of that time the Prince and Princess of Wales didn’t invite them to go halves on a Thai takeaway?
Currently, the Duchess has no new projects for Netflix or Spotify and there has not been any sort of resounding clamour for her to pen another children’s book.
This month, she signed with Hollywood mega agency WME but quite what direction they might take their only titled client’s career remains to be seen.
What is crystal clear is that based on US polling, Meghan is hardly making friends or influencing people, only just making it back into net positive territory after disappearing into the nether reaches of negative numbers for much of the year.
Just over five years since she and Harry tied the knot, Meghan, despite having the work ethic of Princess Anne on Red Bull, seems to be a Duchess without a portfolio. Today, she is a politically divisive figure better known for her starring role in the biggest royal bust up since Edward VIII dumped the Duke of York in it and bolted for France than for her humanitarian work or creative output.
Of the King’s two daughters-in-law, who would have predicted that in 2023 it would be Kate, former princess of the nude hose, who would be the one hitting her stride and doing exciting, ambitious things? And that it would be Meghan whose career would seem to be floundering?
The greatest tragedy in all of this? That we, the public, were denied the chance to see what incredible couture confection, worth about the same value as a mid-size family car, Meghan would have worn to the coronation. Now that, I’d wager, would have been the Dress to End All Dresses – and knowing what now know about Bridesmaid-dress-gate and the tears, it just might have led to the Great War of The Two Royal Wives. Pradas at dawn anyone?
Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
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