TALK about the season of goodwill. As soon as you have children, a British Christmas takes more sharing out than a bumper tin of Quality Street. And causes almost as many arguments, sulking and simmering hostility.
Perhaps someone should have warned the Duchess of Sussex about this before she signed up to the Royal family. Yet, when your best mates are international human rights activist Amal Clooney and tennis superstar Serena Williams, they’re hardly going to get it if you ring them to have a good old moan about your regal grandmother-in-law when baby Archie has been put to bed.
This big debate about where Meghan and her husband, Prince Harry, should spend Christmas with their first-born son pales into insignificance when we consider that it is raging against a backdrop of a general election campaign and half the country under water. Do we really care that they appear to have vetoed Sandringham with the Queen, prompting accusations (again) of entitlement and arrogance?
Yet it holds a horrible fascination for us because we can’t help ‘normalising’ the Royal family. Despite their immense wealth, privilege and a significant number of fully-staffed castles in which to while away the festivities, they’re just like us – to a point.
Every family has its stalwart members who do their duty without question, day in, day out. And its sibling rivalries, its fiercely individualistic one-offs who refuse to toe the line and in-laws who do things differently.
Thanksgiving for instance. Most Americans of my acquaintance accord this end of November celebration, which kicks off the official start of ‘the holidays’, with more significance than Christmas Day itself.
We’re told that, quite understandably, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with Doria, Meghan’s mother. Why then, goes the reasoning, do they really need to do Christmas with her as well?
Stop me now. I’m not going to waste words reducing the monarchy to the level of his parents versus her parents and where baby Archie should open his presents (which at seven months’ old, he won’t appreciate anyway).
There are some important things to take on board here. I’ve done my share of Meghan-bashing this year, but I’ve come to realise something lately. For all her Hollywood polish and fancy friends, I think she’s scared. Hence the avoidance techniques,
Nothing in the world of Suits (the TV drama in which she made her name, playing paralegal Rachel Zane) prepared Meghan for the ongoing variety show that is the Royal family. She pulled off an enormous feat of stage-management for her Windsor wedding, but now she’s a married mother, it is a script she has no power over.
It is difficult to express vulnerability when the weight of expectation lies so heavily all around. Her anxiety slipped out when she admitted to ITV’s Tom Brady, who interviewed the Royal couple for the documentary An African Journey, that “not many people have asked if I’m okay”.
However, very importantly, the rest of us don’t have much of our privilege funded by the taxpayer. Please don’t write in to remind me that Harry and Meghan have substantial private wealth, which presumably, pays for those angst-causing Christmas presents.
It’s not a straightforward quid pro quo; so many taxpayer pounds doesn’t necessarily equate to our right to count off every Royal strolling to Sandringham church on Christmas morning. Also, I daresay that a substantial percentage of the general public wouldn’t give a stuffing ball about the cost of Meghan’s boots or whether Harry was walking beside William.
It’s bigger than that; as prominent members of the Royal family, the couple are an important part of British public life. And therefore, they should be prepared to respect its traditions.
At significant occasions such as Christmas, it is the British way for all to shove aside their differences for just one day and put the common good before personal belief systems. I know this because, like Meghan, I struggle slightly with the concept of enforced communal activity.
The idea of a solitary walk in the woods, a new book and cheese and biscuits in front of the Queen’s speech certainly holds some appeal, but I have elderly parents and teenagers. Neither demographic will be around forever, so I appreciate what I’ve been blessed with and knuckle down. Never mind excuses and escaping to more favourable climes; the gift of compromise is the best present at Christmas.