The proposition is deliciously intriguing. Two brothers torn apart by a divorced American interloper… two sisters-in-law, one dutiful, one showy, whose ill-concealed hostility helps to prise apart the siblings once thought tied together for life by their accident of birth.
It’s as if the painful history of George VI and his brother, Edward VIII – who abdicated for the love of his brash US bride, Wallis Simpson, to the disgust of his sister-in-law, later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother – is being played out all over again.
Now, piling irony on top of irony,
There is no doubt, according to multiple sources I have spoken to, that Harry’s marriage to Meghan has hastened the brothers’ decision to go their separate ways in terms of living arrangements.
Meghan and Kate are simply very different people, although sources insist there has been no dramatic falling out. Pictured from left, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess and Duke of Sussex
Later down the line, their courts will naturally diverge, too, as William steps up to become the Prince of Wales.
Equally, the former actress’s arrival has indeed rather ‘shaken’ things up a little, both in terms of what one source described to me as her ‘opinionated personality’ and Harry’s determination that his new bride should get her own way (‘what Meghan wants, Meghan gets’, Harry has said).
And there is no doubt that the new Duchess of Sussex hasn’t forged a particularly close relationship with her brother-in-law’s wife.
She and Kate are simply very different people, although sources insist there has been no dramatic falling out.
But it would be simply wrong to lay this parting of the ways at Meghan’s feet.
As many people with long years of royal service behind them have been at pains to point out to me in recent weeks, Harry, 34, is a grown man now and as strong-willed as his new wife.
‘Rather dictatorial,’ is how one source, who actually very much likes him, describes the prince. And while he loves his brother and his little niece and nephews, Harry is equally keen to move out.
Prince Harry is leaving Kensington Palace – home of his brother Prince William – to start his married life at Frogmore House (pictured)
Not to appease his wife, but because he wants to escape the goldfish bowl of royal life for the sake of his marriage and his unborn child.
It is a move that the sixth in line to the throne believes is for the best of reasons.
And yet his decision to take on secluded Frogmore Cottage, in the grounds of Windsor Estate, close to his adored grandmother, has raised eyebrows.
Not least because, as has been reported many times over, the couple had eyed up the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester’s home, Apartment 1, at Kensington Palace, right next to the Cambridges’ 22-room home.
Contrary to speculation, the Queen’s cousin Richard and his wife, Birgitte, were happy to move out for Harry and his new bride. Indeed, I can reveal that the Gloucesters, whose children have long left home, are moving out in the new year to live in the vastly smaller Stables Cottage in the palace grounds.
So if the very place Harry and Meghan have so long been linked with is now up for grabs, why wouldn’t they seize the opportunity to move in? Could it be because of tensions between the brothers and their wives?
One source has told me that until very recently there were ‘multiple’ options on the table for the couple, including moving into somewhere bigger at Kensington Palace.
It was only decided after they returned from their recent tour to Australia and the South Pacific that Frogmore was the preferred option and plans were quickly lodged with the council to bring it up to scratch. One reason given to me is the cost of the work that would be needed to bring Apartment 1 up to scratch.
Others admit that Meghan (right) has been ‘an acquired taste’ and one that, perhaps, isn’t to the Duchess of Cambridge’s (left) liking
Renovating anywhere in a historic royal palace is not cheap – William and Kate’s apartment cost taxpayers more than £4.5million.
The other reason is that Harry simply doesn’t want to bring his family up in such a visible manner as his brother.
While many would be delighted at the idea of living in a palace, large swathes of it are actually open to the public all year round.
And although the Cambridges do have a charming garden in which their three children can play, spaces for youngsters to run wild are severely limited.
George and Charlotte are regularly photographed by paparazzi on the school run.
Any trip into neighbouring Kensington Gardens attracts attention, whether from well-meaning members of the public or the occasional photographer. And while attempts have been made to shield a large grassy area to the left of the palace from prying eyes, with a new line of evergreen trees, they have been slower-growing than hoped.
It means that anyone using the area for play or recreation can be seen from the nearby private road, often used as a thoroughfare by people walking to Kensington High Street or the gardens themselves.
As second in line to the throne, William has no choice but to put up with the arrangement as he must have a permanent base in the capital – and Kensington Palace is probably the best option.
But Harry is no longer a direct heir to the throne and can be freer with his choices.
From left, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Westminster Abbey on November 11
‘The Cambridges have their garden in the back, which is nice, but there is no real other space for children to play in,’ says one who knows the set-up well. ‘Frogmore, which is inside the Windsor security zone [where the main house is only open to the public for a couple of days a year] is secluded, peaceful, tranquil and, most importantly, private. No one will see them coming or going.’
There will, of course, be a trade-off. Harry and Meghan had to weigh up the 25-mile commute they will now face coming into London for official engagements.
But sources say they believe this is manageable and Harry will continue to be a very hands-on presence in his offices there. One friend went further, insisting last night that the brothers hadn’t fallen out – and neither had their wives.
‘The idea of the two of them as ‘the boys’, the brothers doing everything together and living in each other’s pockets, has been pushed with good intentions, but hasn’t really existed for some time,’ they said. ‘The truth is that they have both just grown up.
‘They are rare in that they live together and work together, but there has been a stepping back.
‘They are still incredibly close, closer than most siblings, but now Harry has married and is about to become a father, so it’s a good time for him to be planning his own future. There is no acrimony.’
Still, others admit that new duchess, has been ‘an acquired taste’ and one that, perhaps, isn’t to the Duchess of Cambridge’s liking.
Indeed, a second, very well-placed source, remarked tellingly that ‘the royal lifestyle and constraints are taking a time for Meghan to get used to’.
They revealed: ‘She’s woman who has lived life into her 30s in her way, she’s been a relatively successful actress, has her own humanitarian interests and her own circle of friends. She is very self-sufficient. Understanding the Palace way, the deference, the politics and the fact that there’s a pecking order, is taking a while for Meghan to get her head around.’
‘She is quite opinionated and Harry has got very dictatorial of late, which hasn’t made things easy at times.
‘But while there are some tensions behind the scenes, Kate is pretty unflappable and nothing has become bad enough to make Harry and Meghan want to move out. People are genuinely pleased to see them so happy.
‘The truth is that there simply isn’t enough room at Kensington Palace for them and I know they have been looking at Windsor as a possibility since before the wedding.’ Work, it can be revealed, has already started on the ‘cottage’, turning it from five separate staff flats into a five (not ten, as previously reported) bedroom home for Harry, Meghan, their two dogs and, eventually, their new baby.
The cost of transforming it from somewhat run-down employee quarters into a cosy family home with space for Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, to visit from the US (another factor in their decision to move) as well as a nanny and police protection officer, will be met by taxpayers via the Sovereign Grant – money given by the Government to the Queen to run her household and fund her work.
Any fixtures and fittings and decorating over and above essential work will be met by the couple themselves, although there is sure to be debate as to why Harry and Meghan don’t fund the entire project themselves.
After all, it is because of their decision to live there that the work has to be done in the first place.
It is anticipated, sources told me yesterday, that they will be able to bring their baby home there when he or she is born in the spring.
‘Frogmore is just lovely and will be a beautiful place for the Sussexes to bring up their child. It’s not that far from London. He or she will still see plenty of their cousins. Harry and Meghan are incredibly happy and deservedly so.’