It’s the week before Christmas and people around Britain are wondering warily whether any family grievances will play out at the dinner table. Add to this a global media spotlight, a gripping Netflix documentary and the future of the British monarchy and the result is explosive to say the least.
Relations between the two royal brothers have now broken down to the point where there is no question of Harry and Meghan celebrating Christmas anywhere within the same time zone of Sandringham. But spare a thought for Princess Eugenie – who has found herself caught out as what was once a reasonable middle ground transforms into no man’s land.
Prince Harry and Princess Eugenie are cousins who have always been an ally to one other. “Out of all the Queen’s grandchildren, Harry and Eugenie have one of the most natural connections,” Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand wrote in the Sussex biography Finding Freedom.
Yes, there is a six-year age gap but there is also a natural kinship there: both have diligent older siblings, both are the product of divorce and were regulars on the London party scene in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Their subsequent relationships drew them closer together. Eugenie was friends with Harry’s first love, Chelsy Davy, and allegedly introduced him to another ex-girlfriend Cressida Bonas; Eugenie’s now-husband Jack Brooksbank was close to Harry and his job in alcohol promotion meant he could sneak the royals through the back doors of London clubs such as Mahiki and Boujis.
This group friendship extended to Meghan Markle. Eugenie was one of the first members of the family to spend time with her, and in the Netflix documentary, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex speak about the party they attended the night before their relationship went public; the accompanying images show them with Eugenie and Jack in fancy dress.
Meghan said, “Well, if it’s going to come out tomorrow, let’s go and have fun tonight!”, adding: “His cousin Eugenie and her boyfriend of the time Jack and my friend Marcus were there too. It was so great. Just silly fun.”
This bond must have felt entirely natural until Harry and Meghan decided to split with the institution. At first, the world assumed that close family relations could continue even after the couple had stepped back from active service. However, their explosive Oprah interview in March 2021 quickly put paid to that and it was at this point that most members of the family were probably rethinking their relationship with the once popular prince.
Eugenie remained an exception. In an Instagram story last August, she wished Meghan a happy birthday and committed to 40 minutes of community service for Meghan’s 40×40 mentoring project; earlier this year the princess was pictured at the Super Bowl with Harry, and in the Harry & Meghan docuseries she is shown playing on the beach with Archie.
Many women will recognise the role of peacekeeper that Eugenie has taken on, but her loyalty to the couple also leaves her in an undeniably difficult situation now the dust has well and truly settled. One might imagine that family members encouraged her to keep lines of communication open with the California-based prince, but surely the accusations the couple level in their Netflix documentary and Harry’s memoir publishing on January 10 means there is now no path to reconciliation for the foreseeable.
As a result, a go-between is also not much use, and Eugenie’s role as peacekeeper may appear to some as betrayal. Ultimately when a battle is this fraught, you have to choose which side to stand on – and hovering in the middle rarely wins you many friends. Perhaps it is no coincidence that at Thursday’s Christmas carol concert at Westminster Abbey organised by the Princess of Wales, Eugenie was one of few royals not wearing a burgundy-hued coat – a colour some have speculated was chosen as a sign of unity.
For now, Eugenie appears to be spending Christmas at Sandringham, with Jack and August, their baby son, as the family comes together for their first festive holiday without the late Queen Elizabeth II. For the sake of everyone’s yuletide cheer, Eugenie should probably ensure any communication with her cousin is made from the privacy of her bedroom.