Since the moment there were whispers about a possible relationship between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, they have been constantly compared to Prince William and Kate Middleton. On one hand, you’ve got the veritable wild child of the upper echelons of royal life. Harry is a man who’s brushed through far more royal scandals than his older brother, emerging relatively unscathed in the court of public opinion thanks to his certain brand of wit and charm. Meghan is an American woman of color, activist, and Hollywood actor who’s been married once before. In the press, that’s a scandal in and of itself, but the pair represent what a modern, progressive royal family could look like, eschewing the traditional image.
On the other hand, there’s Prince William and Kate Middleton, the heir to the throne and his college sweetheart. These two represent the royal family as it’s been for centuries and live their public life with a reserved nature that barely allows for hand-holding. They pose for perfectly manicured photos and don’t generally speak out of turn, particularly regarding tabloid gossip.
It’s not hard to picture the two couples at odds, one fighting for tradition and one battling against it. That is, perhaps, what’s fueled the consistent media reports of in-fighting between the so-called Royal Fab Four. According to one royal expert who spoke to the Daily Mail in 2021, the Sussexes and the Cambridges are in a “petty transatlantic popularity contest,” but it’s like comparing apples to oranges. These royal couples are wildly different, and here’s how.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle met on a blind date
The first difference that sticks out with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is the fact that the pair met on a blind date. Yes, apparently, blind dates really do work. For a while, Meghan was living proof that fairy tales can actually happen. You can randomly meet prince charming and pretty much become an IRL Disney princess overnight — at least if you’re famous enough to have friends with connections to royalty. In this case, that friend happened to be Violet von Westenholz, who’s known Harry since childhood and met Meghan through her work with Ralph Lauren, according to E!.
In a BBC News interview, Meghan admitted, “I didn’t know much about him, and so the only thing that I had asked her when she said she wanted to set us up was, I had one question: ‘Was he nice?’ ‘Cause if he wasn’t kind, it just didn’t seem like it would make sense.”
According to the royal biography, “Finding Freedom” (via Harper’s Bazaar), the pair were pretty much “obsessed with each other” after their intimate blind date at Soho House’s Dean Street Townhouse in the summer of 2016. Meghan, fresh out of two-year relationship, and Harry, who sipped on beer during their first meeting, were reportedly “in their own little world,” and there was a “palpable attraction.” They waited less than 24 hours to see each other again, and the rest is royal tabloid history.
Prince William and Kate Middleton were friends (and housemates) first
While Meghan Markle and Prince Harry were one of the few blind date success stories, Prince William and Kate Middleton are a testament to how friends sometimes make the best lovers. The pair first met while they were freshman at the University of St. Andrews. According to Town & Country, Kate was an art history major and William “studied geography.” Though a former classmate claimed to People that the pair “definitely had chemistry” from the start, Wills told ITV News that they were actually “friends for over a year” before they started dating and even became housemates. “We moved in together as friends … we lived with a couple of others as well, and it just sort of blossomed from there, really,” he added.
According to ABC News, the turning point was a student fashion show where Kate wore her now-infamous sheer dress, to which William reportedly remarked, “Wow. Kate’s hot.” At the time, she was dating a senior named Rupert Finch (it’s safe to say that didn’t work out), and Wills reportedly tried to kiss her at a party later that night. Though she pulled away, it would seem that she eventually warmed up to the idea of dating a royal.
They started dating officially in 2003, and today it’s very clear that their partnership was built on a solid foundation of enduring friendship.
Harry and Meghan had a whirlwind romance
From the moment the pair first locked eyes, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were swept away in a whirlwind romance. Who else takes a casual (read: super romantic) vacation to Botswana mere weeks after meeting only to have it immortalized in a literal Lifetime movie? In an interview with James Corden, Harry explained that by their second date, he was already thinking that Meghan might be the one.
“It wasn’t so much where we went, it was just … the way that we hit it off with each other, and were just so comfortable in each other’s company,” he said. “… Everything was done back to front with us, so actually, we got to spend an enormous amount of time just the two of us, rather than going to friends’ houses or out for dinner, where there were other distractions.” Harry added, “We went from zero to 60 like in the first two months.”
Their relationship moved so fast that, according to “Finding Freedom” (via Vanity Fair), Prince William urged his younger brother not to rush things, which reportedly triggered the alleged long-standing rift between the pair. Meghan and Harry announced their engagement in 2017, about a year and half after their first date.
Kate's rude 'Waity Katie' nickname didn't come from nowhere
Unlike Meghan Markle, Kate Middleton waited a decade to become royalty, and it wasn’t all smooth sailing. In fact, it took Prince William so long to propose that the press dubbed the future duchess “Waity Katie.” The pair’s relationship was — like most young romances — filled with twists, turns, and turmoil. In a not-so-distant universe, they might not have actually ended up together at all.
An excerpt of “William and Harry: Behind the Palace Walls” published by Vanity Fair alleges that the royal couple had a secret trial separation in the summer of 2004 before graduating from university. William, who was 22 years old at the time, reportedly felt “claustrophobic.” Kate supposedly only mentioned the breakup to her friends when she had a little liquid courage (white wine tends to do that).
These two ultimately got back together, just to break up again in 2007. This is the split that played out in the tabloids — the one where Kate was reportedly dumped over the phone while she was at work (per “William and Kate: A Royal Love Story”), and she had the apparent audacity to wear Playboy bunny ears to a nightclub (as one does after a breakup). Of course, as we know, they eventually reconciled, and the Cambridges tied the knot in 2011, a full decade after they met freshman year. Waity Katie was waiting no more.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex had a secret backyard wedding ceremony
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had a televised wedding like most royals towards the top of the line of succession, but they actually had already tied the knot — sort of. In the Sussexes’ bombshell Oprah Winfrey Interview, Meghan revealed that the pair had a secret backyard wedding ahead of the $50 million affair held at Windsor Castle’s St. George’s Chapel that the rest of us watched on TV.
“You know, three days before our wedding, we got married. No one knows that. The vows that we have framed in our room are just the two of us in our backyard with the Archbishop of Canterbury,” Meghan explained (via People).
As it turns out, this claim wasn’t entirely accurate. According to The Daily Beast, there was no witness present, so it wasn’t actually a legal marriage ceremony, but it was a ceremony nonetheless — and one that proved the couple would always prioritize their personal commitment to each other over royal fanfare. As for the actual event, Meghan ditched tradition and walked herself partially down the aisle, establishing her independence from the royal family from the very start.
The Cambridges tied the knot in front of nearly 50 million people in the U.S. and U.K.
Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding was a decade in the making, and as such, it was a massive televised affair. According to The Telegraph, 18.7 million viewers tuned into BBC One to watch the ceremony — but that was just one channel and a mere 67.2% of the audience share. By the end of the event, more than 24 million Britons had tuned in, which roughly equated to more than a third of the U.K.’s total population at that time.
In the United States, the ceremony was equally as popular, garnering more viewers than Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s 1981 nuptials. According to Deadline, it attracted nearly 23 million viewers stateside, and even Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding couldn’t compete. In comparison, the Sussexes’ nuptials had six million fewer UK viewers and only generated £1 billion for the British economy. According to The Guardian, the Cambridges’ wedding was estimated to pull in twice that (about £2 billion) over the course of several years.
To be fair, Prince William’s wedding is expected be more popular. He’s the future monarch. Kate Middleton will one day sit next to the king, and she’s the one who’s giving birth to future heirs. Prince Harry doesn’t have the same kind of royal clout (though almost as many people watched his Oprah interview as watched his wedding).
No postpartum photos for Meghan Markle
The world of a royal is sometimes unforgiving, especially when you’re expected to don heels and pose for the press a few short hours after giving birth. Nonetheless, postpartum photos on the hospital steps are a royal right of passage. Princess Diana did it with her sons, and Kate Middleton followed suit after the births of Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis. According to Town & Country, she even gave a nod to the People’s Princess after the birth of her third child by wearing a similar red dress to the one Diana wore when she first posed with Harry.
“For us to be able to share that joy and appreciation with the public, I felt was really important,” Kate told the “Happy Mum, Happy Baby” podcast (via BuzzFeed), though she did note that it was “slightly terrifying.”
Meghan Markle doesn’t share her sister-in-law’s sentiment. She kept son Archie’s birth private and only posed for a photo two days afterward in the very controlled environment of Windsor Castle. It was not an open press call and security concerns played a role. “I was very scared of having to offer up our baby knowing that they weren’t going to be kept safe,” she told Oprah Winfrey (via Cosmopolitan). According to Page Six, Meghan “felt sorry” that Kate had to pose wearing “a dress, heels, and impeccable hair and makeup” so quickly after birth. Presumably, it might take even longer for the Sussexes to share photos of baby No. 2, after welcoming daughter Lili in June 2021.
Prince William and Kate Middleton work with the tabloids, not against them
If you’re a royal, the tabloids are a necessary evil. As Prince Harry explained to Oprah Winfrey in his bombshell interview, the royal family has an “invisible contract” with Britain’s most powerful gossip rags. “If you as a family member are willing to wine, dine, and give full access to these reporters, then you will get better press,” he revealed (via CBS News).
It’s not exactly a secret that the palace has what’s known as the “royal rota” system. According to Insider, it was established 40 years ago to give approved newspapers (like the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, and The Sun) exclusive access to royal engagements. In turn, these reporters end up building relationships with the royals. For example, there are photos of Prince Harry third-wheeling with Prince William and Kate Middleton at The Sun’s Military Awards.
Wills and Kate seem to consistently honor their so-called contract with the press. As reported by Insider, Kate provides tabloids with “official photos of her children on their birthdays each year” (a strategy first adopted by Princess Diana), and they generally leave her alone as a result. She’s also given newspapers permission to print photos from her Instagram account. Overall, she works with the tabloids, rather than against them. That’s not to say she’s never taken the press to court (like when paparazzi snapped topless photos of her sunbathing without her consent), but as BuzzFeed noted, the media backed off once Meghan Markle was in the picture.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle cut off the tabloids
Meghan Markle has had a particularly tough run with the tabloids, enough so that Stylist was able to compile an expansive list of racist, sexist, and just plain hurtful stories that were actually published. She couldn’t even eat avocado toast without being accosted, and it took a toll on her mental health. In her Oprah Winfrey interview, the former actor admitted that the constant media scrutiny made her feel suicidal, but the palace allegedly refused to help in fear of “the tabloids turning on them.” This fueled the couple’s move to the United States.
“The clicking of cameras and the flashes of the cameras makes my blood boil. It makes me angry and takes me back to what happened to my mom and what I experienced as a kid,” Prince Harry said during an episode of “The Me You Can’t See” (via Harper’s Bazaar). “But it went to a whole new depth with not just traditional media, but also social media platforms as well.”
In April 2020, the Sussexes announced that they were cutting off contact with four of the UK’s largest tabloids: The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, and the Daily Express. In a scathing letter (via Insider), the pair revealed they would no longer “offer themselves up as currency for an economy of clickbait and distortion.” Meghan later won a lawsuit against the Mail on Sunday, which published a letter she wrote to her father without her consent.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
The Sussexes shunned royalty
In January 2020, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made the shocking announcement that they were stepping down as senior members of the royal family and giving up their HRH titles. As we learned in their Oprah Winfrey interview, the move — dubbed “Megxit” in the tabloids — was partially fueled by the pair’s seemingly unending negative media coverage, the toll it took on Meghan’s mental health, and the fact that “the Firm,” as they put it, did not offer their family any help or protection. The pair, who also accused unnamed members of the royal family of racism due to comments made about baby Archie’s skin color, ended up feeling like prisoners in the palace, a realization Harry credits to Meghan.
“I was trapped but I didn’t know I was trapped,” Harry admitted (via the Independent). “Like the rest of my family are, my father and my brother, they are trapped. They don’t get to leave.”
Following the announcement, the couple moved to Canada, but faced concerns over “security threats after their home’s location was revealed,” according to CNN. Tyler Perry ended up stepping in and offering them his home in Southern California with full security. The Sussexes are now just about as far away from the royal family as a person could get in the continental United States.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are embracing their royal roles
As the eventual heir to the throne, Prince William has every right to feel “trapped” in the royal family. After all, his role was decided before he was even born. Nonetheless, it doesn’t seem like Wills was all that thrilled about his brother’s comments during the Oprah Winfrey interview. It was salacious enough that it elicited a rare public statement, where William claimed the royals were “very much not a racist family.”
According to a March 2021 report from The Sunday Times (via People), the Duke of Cambridge was “reeling” from Prince Harry’s tell-all (which is entirely understandable, if the entire world is suddenly accusing you of racism because of comments made by an anonymous member of your family). He also apparently did not feel trapped. Instead, a source claimed the future monarch is “completely accepting of his role,” adding, “He is very much his grandmother’s grandson in that respect.”
This echoes the same sentiment shared by royal author Penny Juror, who spoke to The Sun. Juror claimed that it was unlikely that William felt trapped because he’s “embracing” his role as the heir. “Harry is absolutely wrong. I don’t think William feels trapped at all. I think he absolutely gets what his destiny is,” she said (via Express).
Harry and Meghan are playing up their celebrity
Meghan Markle is already well-versed at the art of being a celebrity. The former actor grew up in Los Angeles and has a close circle of friends in Hollywood — not to mention her work on her long-running series, “Suits.” The Oprah Winfrey interview made it clear that she knows how to speak in public with the type of clarity and poise only attainable after years in front of a camera, and she’s not afraid to do so. Though she fled the U.K. with her husband, the pair haven’t shied away from the public eye. They actually appear to be embarking on a new life as American celebrities.
According to Duncan Larcombe, author of “Prince Harry: The Inside Story” (via the Daily Mail), the Sussexes are “playing into the cult of celebrity,” which is particularly evident when looking at their various new projects. According to BBC News, they inked deals with Netflix and Spotify that were reportedly “worth millions.” Prince Harry was even a guest on “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” and Meghan Markle is releasing a children’s book using her royal title, The Duchess of Sussex.
Even before leaving the palace, Meghan wasn’t afraid of using her voice and living a public life that felt authentically her own. She guest-edited an issue of Vogue, which isn’t abnormal for a royal, but it was controversial because she delved into political issues (a big royal no-no).
The Cambridges are more reserved
Prince William and Kate Middleton are far more traditional and reserved when it comes to their public image. The pair generally follow the palace’s policy to not comment on untrue news stories, which is reportedly something Meghan Markle disagreed with, according to People. When salacious tabloid gossip floated around about a possible affair between William and Kate’s friend, Rose Hanbury, the couple never made a public statement and, instead, turned to their lawyers (per The Daily Beast).
The Cambridges don’t just refrain from public displays of affection and engaging bad press; they also don’t get political. As Vanity Fair points out, the royal family is required to stay politically neutral, whereas Meghan was rumored to be launching a political career (which would make Prince Harry a first gentleman if she won and, more importantly, if the Daily Mail’s report was actually true).
This isn’t to say that William and Kate are stuck in the stone age. The pair have been making themselves a bit more accessible in recent years. Per the Daily Mail, they launched a YouTube channel and regularly share snaps on their re-branded Instagram account with the more personal username “Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.” Nonetheless, William must maintain a sense of control (or, at least that’s what “The Crown” has taught us). This came into play in April 2020 when he hid his coronavirus diagnosis so as to not “worry anyone,” according to The Sun.
Unlike Harry and Meghan, William and Kate must adhere to royal protocol
The biggest difference between the Cambridges and the Sussexes is, perhaps, expectations. Today, Prince Harry is royal only by blood. The royal family is still his family, but he’s living his life with Meghan Markle away from the crown. Even before his so-called “Megxit,” he was only sixth in line to the throne, and his place would presumably be bumped down two generations from now if Prince William’s children decide to have children.
In other words: Harry and Meghan don’t have to follow any royal protocols. They can live by their own rules, and that was actually a double-edged sword during their time in the palace. Harry’s place in the line of succession was why the pair didn’t get security and why their son didn’t (yet) get his royal title.
The same thing can’t be said for Prince William and Kate Middleton. As the future monarch, the duke must adhere to most royal protocols, and Kate must follow his lead, though they do occasionally make exceptions. According to Express, the couple aren’t even allowed to travel together with their children in the event that a tragic accident wipes out the second, third, fourth, and fifth heirs to the throne. Since travelling with babies is difficult, Queen Elizabeth II has let this rule slide, but it’s expected to be enforced when their eldest child, Prince George, turns 12.
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