Kate and William’s little Louis stole the show during the Jubilee but there’s a huge double standard behind his antics.
It is a little known fact that the Queen loves it when things go pear-shaped. We’re not talking about Harry-And-Meghan-Buggering-Off levels of calamity or, say, the sort of disaster it would be if it turned out that Prince Andrew had been using all his free time to really get into QAnon. No, what Her Majesty (and Prince Philip too back in the day) really gets a kick out of is when courtiers’ best laid plans go to hell.
Prince William himself has said of his grandparents’ unusual fancy: “They absolutely adore it because obviously everything always has to be right, but when things go wrong around them, they’re the first people to laugh.”
Which is handy because Her Majesty’s appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony after Trooping the Color last week was entirely upstaged by her great-grandson Prince Louis’ theatrical, instantly meme-worthy antics. If aides had hoped for an August moment then the four-year-old’s monkeying about firmly put paid to that.
The British papers and the public though had a field day at the juxtaposition of the often sourpuss-looking Queen and the tiny naughty HRH.
Then on Sunday afternoon, the extended royal family gathered to watch the Platinum Pageant, a 5000-participant-strong extravaganza of taxpayer money and national spirit. All three of William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s children were there including Louis’ older siblings Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
Again, it was Louis’ hijinx which unequivocally stole the show.
He stuck his tongue out, had what looked like something of a tantrum, at one point put his hand over his mother’s mouth when it looked like she was telling him to behave, yawned dramatically, looked like a tiny thundercloud and sat on his Grandpa Charles ‘lap.
Most commentators in the British press and on social media applauded Kate’s calm approach to her rambunctious son who, I think we can safely say, looks like a bit of a handful. Parenthood, even for future kings and queens, is an eternally trying business.
But just what sort of reaction might we have seen if we were talking about Meghan, Duchess of Sussex here and her son Archie?
Last week, Louis’ cousin Archie Mountbatten-Windsor arrived back in the UK for the first time since 2019, along with his parents, Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and his baby sister Lilibet.
For the Sussexes, their British sortie was a frosty and demeaning affair.
Their status as personae-not-particularly-grata was confirmed when the Daily Mail’s Rebecca English reported that they were “not invited” to the private Buckingham Palace lunch hosted by the Queen after Trooping the Colour.
Then came the service of thanksgiving for Her Majesty at St Paul’s. While the last time Harry and Meghan had attended a royal church service, namely for Commonwealth Day in March 2020, they entered with the Cambridges and occupied prime seats.
This time around they were very publicly relegated to B-list status, wedged in the middle of the large clutch of lowlier Windsors who make up the Queen’s extended family and then forced to wait 20 minutes for the headline HRHs to arrive. (The Sussexes were also reportedly booed by the crowd outside.)
So let’s do a bit of experiment here. Consider one of the Louis tantrum photos and replace him with Archie and Kate with Meghan. Imagine that it was the Californian tot who was pulling faces at the former Suits star who seemed wholly relaxed by his cheeky (and age-appropriate) tomfoolery.
You hardly need to be a committed royal watcher to know that the reaction would have been a world apart.
Meghan would have been crucified for her lax parenting with reams of shrill copy spewing forth calling out her touchy-feely Californian style of parenting. Where’s the discipline? Where’s the respect for the Crown? Can’t she control her own child?! Oh the shame of it all!
That Kate is given an affectionate pass at certain moments when Meghan never, ever would be hardly new.
In fact, there is a minor internet cottage industry in tallying up all the instances when Kate has done or said something which is viewed through a beatific lens and then when Meghan has said/eaten/worn/touched/or done exactly the same thing, she has been endlessly berated.
While Meghan did face instances of racist coverage early on, I think the answer to why can be found elsewhere.
It pains me to my feminist core but I think that to understand this double standard you have to understand that Kate has somehow survived nearly two decades of an excoriating trial-by-media.
For year upon year she was a grasping arrival with a social climbing mother or a lazy party girl with less substance than the canapes left-uneaten at a Chelsea cocktail do. When William dumped her briefly in 2007, it was because she was supposedly too possessive, with one gimlet eye already redecorating Kensington Palace.
Then, there were the work-shy years when she was routinely cast as lacking in anything so troubling as ambition as she patiently waited for her royal boyfriend to pull his finger out and get on with proposing.
Even when she finally got Diana, Princess of Wales’ stonking sapphire and diamond engagement ring on her left hand, things didn’t get any kinder because suddenly she was much too thin, a storyline that clearly sold papers.
Joining the official ranks of royaldom hardly tamped down the carping chorus, because next came the years of Fleet Street columnists going to town when it came to how many holidays she and William took and their continued reluctance to submit themselves to royal duties. (It was only in 2017 they became full-time working HRHs.)
Somehow, Kate took it all, the occasional good and lots and lots of the bad and came out the other side of all of this having with stood the constant slings and arrows, proof she must have the psychological hide of a rhino or a bloody good therapist or a weekly Waitrose gin delivery. (Or all three.)
Like some sort of mythical hero, the Duchess of Cambridge completed the herculean labors of endurance set down for her and emerged as a sacred cow in the British public consciousness and media.
And Meghan? Well, she refused to even really take to the field to play this particular game.
All the women who have married into the House of Windsor over the last 40 years-plus have been mauled by the press, interspersed with occasional fallow periods of adoration, a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde one-two punch.
For whatever reason, royal women are expected to withstand this lengthy test of their mettle, commitment and masochism for years on end until they arrive in some sort of promised land where they are routinely held up as one step short of sainthood.
It’s a brutal initiation and there is not a frontline person who has married a member of the Queen’s family who has been spared this hazing.
I really do think that if Harry and Meghan had stayed put and ridden out the waves of criticism they attracted in 2019 (for the private jet flights, the $4 million Frogmore Cottage renovation and her Kardashian-worthy New York baby shower among other controversies) things would have followed exactly the same trajectory.
I think we would have, with time, seen her go from being Meghan The 5am-Email-Sending-Interloper to Meghan the Saviour. Her work ethic, pep and out-of-the-box approach would have gone from being held as being so gauchely American to being framed as just what the antediluvian Palace needed!
I do not for a second agree with any of this or think it would have been anything less than a grueling, horrendous experience to put one’s self through.
But none of this was a secret or tightly held private knowledge that Meghan could not have learned when she started dating a dishy British boy back in 2016.
When the Sussexes sat down with Oprah Winfrey for their infamously corrosive interview last year, she admitted she had done no research into what marrying into the royal family would mean.
Even Oprah, whose questions were so softball they were the journalistic equivalent of cotton wool, seemed to get stuck on this point, asking the Los Angeles-native three times about the fact she went in having done zero preparation. Is it any wonder then that Meghan then admitted, “I didn’t fully understand what the job was.”?
If only she had talked to Kate or Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall or Sophie, Countess of Wessex or even gotten Sarah, Duchess of Ferguson, briefly off Instagram for a second to prepare her for the fact that her treatment at the hands of some elements of the press was not going to be kind or fair.
To explain to her that the standard she was going to be held to was going to be one totally different to that which Kate would be held to, simply by dint of the fact that her sister-in-law had years of royal tenure under her belt and Meghan did not.
The day after the Jubilee finished, the Cambridges’ official Instagram account posted a series of behind-the-scenes photos of the family, ending the caption with “We all had an incredible time, especially Louis” which was all very cute.
Thanks to the decisions their respective parents have made, Louis has a lifetime of Palace balcony appearances ahead of him and Archie may never. I’m really not sure which little boy got the better deal.
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.