Meghan Markle bullying row - how it started, Kate clash, staffs' 'tearful' resignations
The investigation into claims that Meghan Markle "bullied" aides is heating up with the Duchess of Sussex and Buckingham Palace heading for a "brutal showdown".
The Mirror revealed the royal will issue a complete rebuttal of the allegations by demanding the palace hands over a “point by point” breakdown of the accusations.
It is understood that “at least 10” former staffers are now “queuing up” to assist an independent inquiry set up in the wake of the claims.
The “review” of working practices inside the palace by an independent law firm was launched in March and its findings were due to be released on Wednesday.
However, the probe is now set to rumble on and could even stretch into next year, as a source close to the inquiry said: "The feeling is this is heading for a brutal showdown between the Duchess of Sussex who is understood to be disputing all allegations labelled against her."
But what are the allegations and when did they first surface? From the famous clash between Meghan and Kate Middleton before the royal wedding to William's "horrified" reaction to staffers' concerns, here is how the simmering crisis has unfolded.
'What Meghan wants, she gets'
Meghan's relationship with the palace is said to have soured as early as 2017, in the build up to her engagement with Prince Harry.
The Mirror reported that sources claimed Meghan had been dictatorial, often emailing staff requests at 5am.
According to The Times, a senior aide approached the duke and duchess during this period over difficulties caused by their treatment of staff.
Meghan is said to have replied: “It’s not my job to coddle people."
Royal biographer Robert Jobson claimed Meghan’s wedding preparations were so stressful Harry got "petulant" with staff.
In his book Charles at 70, he wrote: “Raising his voice on occasion, Harry would insist: ‘What Meghan wants, she gets.’”
However, a royal source leapt to Meghan’s defence, telling The Mirror: “She is simply not afraid to express her opinion.
“While many find her a little pushy there are many in the royal household who have quickly taken to her.”
Tearful clash with Kate over wedding plans
Ahead of the wedding in May 2018, it was reported that Meghan had reduced soon-to-be sister-in-law Kate to tears over her dress demands.
Princess Charlotte was one of the flower girls alongside Meghan's goddaughters Rylan and Remi Litt, best friend Jessica Mulroney's daughter Ivy and Prince Harry's goddaughters Zalie Warren and Florence van Cutsem.
Insiders claimed a "stressful" dress fitting took place in the run up to the big day - with the pressure of Meghan's "demands" said to be too much for Kate.
It was initially claimed that Kate was "left sobbing" amid the tense argument as demands were made over the flower girl dresses.
However, during her interview with Oprah Winfrey earlier this year, Meghan said "the reverse happened" and she was left crying.
Claiming it would not be fair on Kate to go into details on what happened, Meghan simply stated there "wasn't a confrontation" and an apology was made.
William 'horrified' by bullying claims
In 2018, Jason Knauf, the joint communications secretary for Kensington Palace, sent an email to Simon Case, William's private secretary, outlining concerns that two staff had left the palace after conflicts with Meghan.
“I’m very concerned that the duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year," he wrote in a document drafted that October, The Times reports.
Knauf said her treatment of one aide had been "totally unacceptable", claiming he had received "report after report" about the duchess.
Robert Lacey, the author of Battle of Brothers, claimed this week that William was "horrified" about the accusations and confronted his brother in a "fierce and bitter meeting".
"The moment the prince heard the bullying allegations, he related to this friend, he got straight on the phone to talk to Harry — and when Harry flared up in furious defence of his wife, the elder brother persisted," he wrote in an extract from the book, published in The Times.
"Harry shut off his phone angrily, so William went to speak to him personally. The prince was horrified by what he had just been told about Meghan’s alleged behaviour, and he wanted to hear what Harry had to say."
The Sussexes have denied all allegations of bullying as inaccurate and insisted it was the product of a “smear campaign”. In a statement issued to the newspaper, they said the claims were “defamatory” and “based on misleading and harmful information”.
'Tensions' see Sussexes break away from Cambridges
A month after Knauf's report, the Sussexes announced they were moving out of Kensington Palace, the royal residence they shared with the Cambridges.
Meghan and Harry said they would be leaving their central London home and relocating to Frogmore House in the grounds of Windsor Castle - ahead of the birth of baby Archie.
A royal statement said: "The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will move to Frogmore Cottage on the Windsor Estate early next year as they prepare for the arrival of their first child.
"The couple have lived at Nottingham Cottage since their engagement last year.
"Windsor is a very special place for Their Royal Highnesses and they are grateful that their official residence will be on the estate.
"The Duke and Duchess’s office will continue to be based at Kensington Palace."
However, a royal source told The Sun: "The initial plan was for Harry and Meghan to move out of their cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace and into one of the main apartments.
"But there has been a bit of tension between the brothers.
"Now Harry and Meghan don’t want to live next to William and Kate and want to strike out on their own.
"They need more room and hope Frogmore Cottage will be ready in time for when they have the baby."
Meghan's PA quits after being 'reduced to tears'
Since the end of 2018, a stream of high-profile staff has stepped down from serving the Sussexes.
Katrina McKeever, senior communications secretary at Kensington Palace, was the first to go that September.
Next was Melissa Touabti, Meghan's personal assistant, who quit amid claims she had been reduced to tears by the royal’s demands.
A source told The Mirror: “Her job was highly pressurised and in the end it became too much. She put up with quite a lot. Meghan put a lot of demands on her and it ended up with her in tears.
“She is hugely talented and played a pivotal role in the success of the royal wedding. She’ll be missed by everyone in the household.
"Melissa is a total professional and fantastic at her job, but things came to a head and it was easier for them both to go their separate ways.”
The palace declined to comment on the claims.
Over the following year, the Sussexes also lost Knauf, a royal protection officer, two nannies, a private secretary and assistant private secretary.
This January, it emerged that Catherine St-Laurent, the couple's chief-of-staff, was also stepping down after 12 months.
Meghan's Hollywood colleagues have previously denied claims she was difficult to work with, however.
Actress Janina Gavankar said she found the duchess to be "kind, strong, open", while Suits director Silver Tree said she was a friend who put his needs "Always before hers".
Royal expert Omid Scobie also shared a sweet story from her time on Suits on Vice's documentary Meghan Markle - Escaping The Crown.
When she was on set filming as Rachel Zane, Meghan noticed that lots of the food prepared for the cast and crew was going to waste at the end of the day - she decided to do something about it.
"Low and behold the foods suddenly starts being loaded into vans at the end of the day and being taken to nearby homeless shelters," Omid explained.
Meghan 'told by palace' she couldn't get mental health support
The Sussexes arrived at Frogmore Cottage in April 2019 and further cut their their ties with the Cambridges two months later after splitting from their Royal Foundation charity.
The house move, though, was short-lived. On January 8, 2020, Harry and Meghan announced they were quitting their royal roles and relocating to Canada to seek privacy.
In the days that followed, the Queen and her heirs, Princes Charles and William, ordered a series of crisis talks to deal with the wantaway couple, forcing Harry to a Sandringham Summit at the royals’ Norfolk estate.
The emergency meeting ended with the Queen reluctantly granting her grandson and his wife permission to step down as senior royals.
In their bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey in March this year, the couple said they felt compelled to step away from the royal family after Meghan suffered mental health problems and had suicidal thoughts.
She told Oprah she "didn't want to be alive anymore" and when asked directly if she was thinking of self-harm and having suicidal thoughts at some stage, Meghan replied "yes".
She said Harry "cradled her" when she told him, and he later admitted it send him to a "dark place".
Meghan claimed she asked the palace to seek professional help, and said she no longer had access to personal effects such as her passport after joining the family.
However, she said she was told she couldn't get help.
Harry also claimed that the family have cut him off financially and said his and Meghan's new life is only possible because of his inheritance from Princess Diana.
Palace investigates 'bullying' claims
Days before the Oprah interview, The Times revealed Meghan had been accused of "bullying" palace staff, laying out the claims detailed in Knauf's email.
Specifically, sources told the publication that Meghan's behaviour had resulted in two personal assistants leaving the palace, and "undermined the confidence" of a third staffer.
A spokesperson for the Sussexes responded: "The duchess is 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 statement ended: "She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world and will keep striving to set an example for doing what is right and doing what is good."
Buckingham Palace then revealed they would be conducting an investigation into the accusations.
It said: "We are clearly very concerned about allegations in The Times following claims made by former staff of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex."
"Accordingly our HR team will look into the circumstances outlined in the article. Members of staff involved at the time, including those who have left the Household, will be invited to participate to see if lessons can be learned."
Meghan's closest friends and former acting colleagues have since denied the claims and said they couldn't be more different to the "kind" person they know and love.
A 39-year-old friend told Bazaar.com that the duchess was distressed at the accusations, adding: "I hate to say it, but find me a woman of colour in a senior position who has not been accused of being too angry, too scary... in the work place.
Best pal Jessica Mulroney also applauded Meghan for being "kind, empathetic and loving".
Jessica, 41, wrote: "I don’t know that anyone has ever had to deal with the pressure, the politics and the press like this woman.
"In the face of it all, I have never seen her waver from kindness, empathy and love."
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