COMMENT: By Daniela Elser
Jewellery has an unfortunate habit of creating strife in the royal family. In 1981, the then-Lady Diana Spencer raised the Queen's eyebrows when she chose the largest and most expensive engagement ring – a whopping sapphire surrounded by diamonds – when presented with a selection from royal jeweller Garrads.
Then, in the run up to the big day, Diana found a gold bracelet engraved with GF, which was a gift for his former paramour Camilla Parker-Bowles, deeply upsetting the bride-to-be. (There are two schools of thought about what the GF stood for – "Gladys and Fred" which is what Charles and Camilla reportedly called themselves when they were involved or "Girl Friday".)
This week it was revealed that the royal family's most recent, and perhaps briefest serving recruit, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, had also suffered a similar bling-related contretemps.
Over the last week, new details about the Duchess' time in the tweedy bosom of the royal family have been coming to light with a series of extracts from Finding Freedom, the new biography about the Sussexes, running in UK newspaper The Times. On Thursday, it was the United States' turn, with People magazine getting their turn to share a selection of juicy tidbits with readers ahead of the book's August 11 release.
One of the more headline-grabbing morsels was a story about how the woman then known as Meghan Markle found herself in the crosshairs of Kensington Palace apparatchiks after deigning to step out of the house wearing a particularly telling necklace.
Rewind to 2016 and Prince Harry and the Suits star had been dating for a handful of months, their trans-Atlantic romance seeing the duo dash back and forth from Toronto to London to be with one another. Jet lag and carbon emissions be damned!
On October 31 that year, journalist Camilla Tominey broke the news that the world's most beloved third wheel had finally found love in the form of a successful American divorcee.
As soon as they found out about Meghan and Harry, the British media machine went into overdrive, with photographers bombarding not only Meghan but her mother Doria Ragland in Los Angeles. It did not take long for some of the coverage to veer into the racist and sexist territory.
An outraged Harry then used the royal family's rapier of choice – the strongly worded statement – to try and fend off the onslaught his girlfriend was facing.
On November 8, Harry, via his then press secretary Jason Knauf, released a blistering salvo saying that Meghan had been subjected to "a wave of abuse and harassment" and warning, "This is not a game".
What set Harry's broadside apart was the tone and the palpable anger at the situation Meghan was facing.
And then we come to a month later, December 7, 2016 and Meghan stepped out in Toronto to buy flowers and run the press gauntlet wearing not only the sort of relaxed but chic ensemble that made style mavens quiver with jealousy but a delicate gold necklace featuring an H and an M.
Now, according to Finding Freedom's authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, Meghan's decision to wear that piece of jewellery saw her land in hot water with royal courtiers.
"She was advised that wearing such a necklace only served to encourage the photographers to keep pursuing such images – and new headlines," Scobie and Durand wrote.
Per Finding Freedom, during a call with a royal aide, Meghan "said little … choosing instead to simply listen to the counsel. But after hanging up, she felt frustrated and emotional. While she knew the aide had good intentions, the surreal experience of having someone from her boyfriend's office tell her what kind of jewellery to wear or not to smile at a photographer was too much."
Later, a "distraught" Meghan spoke to a friend saying, "I can't win. They make out like I'm to blame for these pictures, that it looks like I'm encouraging them, that me even acknowledging the cameras may not be sending the right message.
"I don't know what to say. It was only yesterday that people online were saying I look miserable in pictures, because I was trying to just ignore the (photographer)."
That conversation between Meghan and the unknown Kensington Palace staffer came 11 months before she and Harry announced their engagement in November 2017. Unwittingly, when she told that friend "I can't win", little did she know she had inadvertently hit the nail on the regal head: Royal women bear the brunt of a lot of **** they can't do anything about.
Marrying into the royal family might come with the chance to don the occasional borrowed tiara and get to play Christmas charades with a reigning monarch, but by and large it is a thankless job. To be a Windsor wife is not-so-very-merry.
There is the constant, carping scrutiny of the press and online commentators; the crushing expectations about deportment and the inescapable knowledge that your every word, outfit, look, gesture and choice will be scrutinised to the extreme.
In that moment, as Meghan opined that she could not win way back in 2016, the stark reality of royal life was being revealed to her, which was that no matter how well she tried to learn the ropes and assiduously learn her new royal lines, someone somewhere would perpetually find fault with her performance.
Yes, this might be something of a bleak assessment but consider also Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, two women who prior to their royal marriages were subjected to years upon years of abuse, all of which they tolerated, by and large in stoic, masochistic silence.
If there is one thing that the experiences of Meghan, Kate and Camilla have taught us is that to be a royal girlfriend or a new female member of the royal family is to make yourself a permanent, moving target and no matter the slings and arrows, the expectation is that your perfect, beatific smile never cracks.
In short: You have to suck it up.
In the decades to come, when the next generation of HRHs is trying to find a partner, I wonder how many people will be willing to subject themselves to such a bruising, arduous apprenticeship?
When Meghan hung up from that phone call in 2016, what she might not have realised at the time is this was but a horrible amuse-bouche of what she faced: incessant, unrelenting judgment.
Three and a half years on from then, Meghan is a global lightning rod, her very name a byword for conversations about race, sexism and class and I'm still not sure quite who is "winning" these days.
Not the royal family who lost their two brightest stars and perhaps not Harry and Meghan who, cast your mind back to the model they originally mooted, still wanted some sort of a royal role.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway here is that when it comes to the house of Windsor, if you want to even try and play the game of royalty, you better be ready for things to get rough.