Balmoral, the royal family’s Scottish holiday home, is the Queen’s favourite place. It’s where she’s unburdened by official duties for two months every summer, and where she walks on the moors with her dogs, rides on the 50,000 acre estate and drives around in her beloved Land Rover. For the other guests, there are picnics, home cinema evenings, games and bracing walks. It is a place to relax, recharge the batteries and reflect.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that, amid the unending stream of headlines driven by Meghan’s father Thomas, Prince Harry is said to be taking his new wife there this month for a break. Last week, Thomas gave yet another unprecedented interview, in which he spoke of hanging up on Harry during a row over his cooperation with the paparazzi and being ignored by Meghan. It led many to wonder if this is the biggest crisis to hit the royal family since Diana.
Many also wondered why Meghan and Harry are refusing to speak to Thomas to control it. The reason? ‘Both want to avoid direct contact with Thomas as they don’t trust him,’ said a royal courtier. ‘Harry and Meghan are leading the strategy, and the other royals are bowing to them at the moment as they don’t want to muddle the thinking. Royal lawyers, who they have consulted about the best way to approach this, have advised caution. The couple are hoping that if they don’t say anything to him, there will be less for him to tell the press. They’re praying the situation exhausts itself.’
The subject will no doubt be in the air at Balmoral, where Meghan will come face to face with the Queen and other members of the family (every morning, the family sit together for breakfast, where pressing family matters are often discussed). But there will no hard feelings towards the new Duchess. Charles, in particular, has gone out of his way to embrace his daughter-in-law and make her feel welcome. The Queen will, of course, have sympathy for her grandson’s wife. After all, Meghan can hardly be held responsible for her father and half-sibling’s indiscretions. Nobody in the family blames her.
‘Meghan has played by the rules at every turn, and has kept a close, very private circle since she met Harry,’ said a source. ‘Despite her father talking about her, her private life is watertight: she has given very little away about who she is and keeps herself very much to herself. Her intention is to stick firmly to that strategy, and the other royals respect her for it.’
Many may wonder what the Queen will say to Meghan. Privately, she and Prince Charles are understood to be irritated by the ‘wishy-washy’ way aides paid to advise Harry and his wife have performed so far. But Her Majesty has never been one to interfere directly in private grief. She believes time is a great healer. The Prince of Wales, too, will always wait to offer advice until asked directly, particularly when it comes to his sons and their personal lives. If Harry or Meghan choose to ‘consult up’ and take the counsel of either the monarch or Charles, it will be for them to arrange.
Besides, Balmoral is no stranger to royal crises. It was over breakfast, after all, that in 1992, when Sarah Ferguson’s marriage to Prince Andrew was faltering, surreptitiously taken photographs were published of John Bryan, an American financial manager – apparently sucking on the toes of a topless Sarah in Southern France. (The Queen was not amused, and her private secretary told the Duchess that she might feel better if she left immediately for London.) Balmoral was also the backdrop for the royals as the tragedy of Diana, Princess of Wales’ death played out.
So for a few fleeting moments, when dancing the Eightsome Reel at the annual Ghillies Ball, Meghan may well forget her family squabbles. But many observers feel that, if she doesn’t want the now toxic relationship with her father to define her early royal career, she must take steps of a different kind to resolve it. And fast.
Click through to see a timeline of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's relationship...
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle met in London in July 2016.
They were introduced by mutual friend Markus Anderson, who is the director of Soho House.
In October 2016, the Express became the first newspaper to publish news that Prince Harry had a new girlfriend.
On November 8th 2016, Kensington Palace released an unprecedented statement which referring to Markle as Harry's girlfriend for the first time.
In the statement, Prince Harry condemned the 'wave of abuse and harrassment' faced by Markle, saying that he was 'worried about Ms. Markle's safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her.'
'It is not right that a few months into a relationship with him that Ms. Markle should be subjected to such a storm,' the statement continued.
The couple were papped together for the first time in December 2016, shopping for a Christmas tree in London at the Pines and Needles store.
Later that week, they were seen on London's West End, catching a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
In February, Prince Harry wore a his 'n' hers bracelet on the cover of Town & Country magazine, just weeks after Markle was pictured wearing the same one on Instagram.
In March 2017, Meghan joined Prince Harry in the Caribbean for the wedding of his friend's Tom 'Skippy' Inskip and Lara Hughes-Young.
It was the first time that Markle accompanied Harry to a wedding, marking another milestone occasion for the couple.
The first public event attended by the couple was the polo at Coworth Park in May 2017.
Later in May, Markle attended the party portion of Pippa Middleton's wedding to James Middelton.
Prince Harry was seen driving her to the event after the church ceremony.
The couple made their first official public appearance in September, when Markle attended the opening of Prince Harry's Invictus Games.
Meghan wore a maroon midi dress with a pleated chiffon skirt by one of her favourite Canadian brands Aritzia.
She teamed it with a matching burgundy biker jacket by Mackage.
Although Prince Harry was sat next to First Lady Melania Trump at the event, rather than his girlfriend, she was only seated a few rows behind him.
The couple were photographed together the following day at the wheelchair tennis.
Much was made of Markle's choice of outfit: ripped jeans and a white blouse called 'The Husband'.
The couple 'broke with royal protocol' by holding hands and appearing affectionate while at the Invictus Games.
Prince Harry reportedly spent time with Meghan's mother Doria while at the Games too.
The couple indulged in some PDA at the closing ceremony.
Prince Harry was photographed kissing Meghan.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Meghan referred to Harry as her boyfriend numerous times, saying: 'We're a couple. We're in love. I'm sure there will be a time when we will have to come forward and present ourselves and have stories to tell, but I hope what people understand is that this is our time.'
In late September 2017, it was reported that Meghan had met the Queen, prompting speculation that the relationship was getting serious.
In early November 2017, it was reported that Meghan Markle was leaving Suits after seven series.
In mid-November 2017, bookies suspending betting on an impending royal engagement, as speculation grew that an announcement was about to be made.
On November 27th 2017, Prince Charles announced the engagement of his younger son Prince Harry and Meghan Markle after 15 months of dating.
The couple later appeared at a photocall, with Markle wearing a white dress coat by Canadian brand Line The Label. The website has subsequently crashed.
The engagement ring, by Cleave and Company, was reportedly designed by Prince Harry himself, using two stones that belonged to Princess Diana.
When asked by waiting photographers if the proposal was romantic, Harry joked 'of course!'