News that the Duchess of Sussex plans to hire an American nanny - an "Ameri-Poppins", if you will; maybe even a "manny" (male nanny), at that - sends a very strong message to her in-laws and even the British public. I imagine the Queen might need to go to bed for the week.
Traditionally, the British Royal family hire Norland nannies - trained up not only in all aspects of childcare (with a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development and Learning degree, alongside the prestigious Norland Diploma) but also in upper-class etiquette.
Most Norlanders expect to be employed by either professional or royal/celebrity parents who leave them in sole charge, working alongside other members of "staff", wearing uniforms and adhering to a rigid routine. They are expected to know how to drive, use a computer and negotiate any airport from Heathrow to Hong Kong. They certainly do not consider themselves to be a member of the family.
By saying she wants to hire an American nanny - it was rumoured that US star Nanny Connie had been in the frame for the task - the Duchess is dispensing with all those rules and traditions in one go.
You see, Americans have a strange relationship with staff. Our Protestant heritage makes us believe that we should not pay others to do what we can do ourselves.
I have many friends back home in the States with high-paid jobs whose "babysitters" (this is what Americans call nannies) only work when they themselves are working. These men and women are often Ivy League graduates working on PhDs, trying to earn extra money. They bring many good things to the table: intelligence, enthusiasm, cookie-baking, but they are not, in any way shape or form, staff. They are "colleagues"; even "friends".
I once employed a 23-year-old American theatre student as a nanny for the summer. She was bright, capable, hard-working and funny (the boys loved her), but she behaved as though she were my younger sister. She wrote plays with the boys and took them on endless adventures. She turned on the television when she walked into the kitchen, helped herself to whatever was in the fridge, sat with us at the table and helped me clean up after dinner - just as a houseguest would. She would text me shopping lists. She told me her problems. She clocked on when I clocked off, say, to go out for dinner. If I came out to the pool area when the boys were playing, this was a signal that she was free to go.
This is how American nannies think: in their minds, the mother is in full charge and they are simply a helpful extra set of hands. They address their bosses by their first names and happily drink wine and watch Netflix with them in the evening. It's all about being "buddies". They often come from the same background and education as their employers. This also means that they say "no problem" when asked to work longer hours or to babysit on a Saturday night.
British nannies - and I have had my fair share - are the exact opposite. In my experience, they frown upon your very existence (I have never had a nanny who said she would hire a nanny when she became a mother). They often think we're lazy, spoilt and unfit to be mothers. Many believe that they are far more qualified to do the job (because they have training). They negotiate contracts and bonuses like a Goldman Sachs partner. They read you the riot act before they begin. They will not unload a dishwasher or clean or make you supper, even though they cook for the children. They leave on the dot of six even if the house is on fire. They NEVER babysit at weekends.
Mine made all sorts of demands. They needed a new bed; their own car; a couple hours of "me time" a day; a gym membership to deal with all the stress. After a few rigid "British" nannies, I moved to hiring flexible New Zealanders (who are more like Americans).
Norland Nannies are often paid to work 24/7, for which they earn far more than most professionals today (employers pay tax, NI and a pension on top, making them mostly unaffordable to average mortals), while the "staff" generally cook and clean for them, too.
Maria Borrallo, the Spanish Norland nanny employed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, has her own private residence with the family in Kensington Palace. Norland nannies sign NDAs as part of their contract. I assume that is also why Kate and William (and other members of the Royal family) employ them.
Meghan Markle, however, seems to want to raise her child as a professional would in the US.
I recently returned from New York, where a recognisable thirty-something American actress/model was travelling with her two-year-old. The child demanded at once to be consoled and entertained. She screamed, even threw up at one point, but even then, Mum didn't bring out the old iPad. The British equivalent would have sat in Business and put the nanny, baby and iPad in Economy.
Raising a family in America has become a competitive, child-centric sport. But the first rule of the game is: "Do not outsource to someone inferior to you." That disadvantages you.
My friends who are doctors and lawyers still rush home to do homework with their children. They never take holidays without their children. Children eat all the meals with their parents. Bedtime tends to be a negotiation rather than an order. They delegate less important domestic chores to "services". (Even cleaners in the US often come as teams with their own T-shirts, cars and websites.)
I sort of admire Meghan's desire to raise a child with an equal, but I also can't see her loading the washing machine at night or rushing off to Waitrose when they run out of almond milk. There will be other, "invisible" staff to do that.
Meghan is seeking the approval of her own American peer group most of whom would frown at the idea of a Norlander. Ultimately, she will face the same conundrum all working mothers do, which is how to be hands-on while being hands-off at the same time. Unlike the rest of us, though, I suspect that there will be a second or third nanny in the wings waiting to take over when no one is watching.