Today’s big question
Duchess of Sussex hits back at accusations of bullying from Kensington Palace staff
Joining the world’s most famous family is no easy task, but Meghan Markle, a former Hollywood actress, seemed more suited to a high-profile role as a senior member of the Royal Family than most.
But a year after Prince Harry and Markle suddenly stepped down from frontline royal duties, an explosive series of briefings against the Duchess of Sussex in The Times have seen her accused of bullying during her time in Kensington Palace.
Coming just days before the pair sit down for an exclusive interview with TV chat-show host Oprah Winfrey, the allegations have prompted some pundits to suggest that the royals are worried about what the pair may have disclosed. Here is what we know.
‘Not my job to coddle’?
Aides “approached The Times because they felt that only a partial version had emerged of Meghan’s two years as a working member of the royal family and they wished to tell their side”, the paper says.
They claim that Markle “drove two personal assistants out of the household and was undermining the confidence of a third staff member”, The Times continues. The “turmoil within the royal household” led to a complaint being made in October 2018 to the couple’s communications secretary Jason Knauf, the paper adds.
In the complaint, which was sent to Simon Case, then the Duke of Cambridge’s private secretary, and Samantha Carruthers, the head of HR, Knauf wrote: “I am very concerned that the Duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year.”
He added that the treatment of another member of staff was “totally unacceptable” and that “the Duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights. “She is bullying Y [name withheld] and seeking to undermine her confidence. We have had report after report from people who have witnessed unacceptable behaviour towards Y.”
Knauf said Carruthers “agreed with me on all counts that the situation was very serious”, adding that he was concerned that nothing would be done.
Rumblings of discord between the Duchess of Sussex and Kensington Palace courtiers had sprung up since the early days of her engagement to Harry in 2017, when a senior aide informed the couple that their treatment of staff was causing upset.
A senior staff member told The Times that the couple were told at the time that “people needed to be treated well and with some understanding, even when they were not performing to their standards”, to which Meghan allegedly replied: “It’s not my job to coddle people.”
The allegations against Markle come just days before their tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey is due to air. CBS has billed the interview as covering “everything from stepping into life as a royal, marriage, motherhood, philanthropic work to how she is handling life under intense public pressure”.
According to the Daily Mail, Markle has been planning the “bombshell” interview for “almost two years”, having originally “tried to arrange a televised talk with friend and CBS anchor Gayle King after her son Archie’s birth in May 2019”. However, that interview was “overruled by the Royal Family’s public relations machine”, sources told the paper.
The timing of the negative briefings against Markle has raised some eyebrows, after CBS released the first trailers of the interview earlier this week. In one clip, Oprah Winfrey asks the pregnant Duchess of Sussex: “Were you silent? Or were you silenced?”. Prince Harry is also seen stating that his “biggest concern was history repeating itself”, in a reference to his mother, Princess Diana.
True or untrue
The Sussexes’ spokesperson has denied the allegations of bullying, calling them a “calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful information”.
In a legal letter to the paper, they continued that the Duchess was “saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma”.
The spokesperson also suggested that the timing of the claims against Markle is deliberate, saying that it is “no coincidence that distorted several-year-old accusations aimed at undermining the Duchess are being briefed to the British media shortly before she and the Duke are due to speak openly and honestly about their experience of recent years.”
Others, meanwhile, have also put the allegations of bullying down to cultural differences, explaining that it is a result of a more direct style of management and communication employed by Americans.
Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, who wrote the book Finding Freedom about the couple stepping down from royal duties, told The Times: “Americans can be much more direct, and that often doesn’t sit well in the much more refined institution of the monarchy.”