Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex has denied claims reported in the Times of London on Monday that she bullied two staff members out of Kensington Palace The Duchess released a statement Monday night saying she is a victim of a “calculated smear campaign.“
The Times reported that a bullying complaint was lodged against the Duchess by a senior member of Kensington Palace staff. The claim was made in October 2018, five months after her wedding to Prince Harry, by Jason Knauf, who worked as communications secretary to Harry and Meghan. He is said to have claimed the duchess “drove two personal assistants out of the household and was undermining the confidence of a third staff member.”
According to the Times Knauff, who now heads up the Cambridges’ charitable foundation, sent an email to Prince William’s then-private secretary Simon Case, in a move designed to get Buckingham Palace to protect staff Knauff claimed “were coming under unbearable pressure from Meghan.” The article further claims Harry “pleaded” with him not to pursue the allegations during a meeting, which the Sussexes’ lawyer claims never happened.
The duchess denies bullying, and Meghan’s lawyers stated that one individual left after findings of misconduct. A statement issued by the Sussexes spokesperson read, “Let’s just call this what it is — a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation. We are disappointed to see this defamatory portrayal of the Duchess of Sussex given credibility by a media outlet. It’s no coincidence that distorted several-year-old accusations aimed at undermining the duchess are being briefed to the British media shortly before she and the duke are due to speak openly and honestly about their experience of recent years.”
The Times report comes days before Harry and Meghan are set to sit down for a revealing interview with Oprah Winfrey, their friend and neighbor in Santa Barbara. In an early clip released from the interview Harry describes the “unbelievably tough” experience he and Meghan endured together as royals, and references his mother Princess Diana, who had her own well-documented difficulties with the media.
Sources close to Meghan, who is pregnant with the couple’s second child, say she is ‘incredibly upset” over the allegations that she bullied former staff members.
The Times said it was contacted by sources who felt a “partial version” had emerged of Meghan’s two years as a working royal, which is similar to how sources have discussed Harry and Meghan’s decision to do the Oprah interview. On Tuesday a friend of the Duchess’s told Vanity Fair, “What I read in the Times is not the person I know. I think it reinforces why they chose to sit down with Oprah. They feel they’ve not had the opportunity to tell their side of the story.”
The Times quotes from Knauf’s alleged email: “I am very concerned the duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year. The treatment of X was totally unacceptable. The duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights. She is bullying Y and seeking to undermine her confidence. We have had report after report from people who have witnessed unacceptable behaviour towards Y.”
The e-mail from Knauf was sent after Harry and Meghan’s wedding in May 2018, a period when one aide says there was a “general paranoia” at the palace. It was around six months after the wedding that the positive narrative in the press around Meghan and the couple began to change. Reports emerged about Meghan’s alleged diva-like behavior behind palace walls, and that she was nicknamed “Duchess Difficult” by some courtiers. One of the stories circulating at the time was how Meghan had upset palace staff by sending 5 a.m. emails. There was also a report in The Sun newspaper that Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge had reprimanded Meghan over how she spoke to Kensington Palace staff. That was followed by the departure of several aides, including Melissa Toubati, who was apparently reduced to tears by the Duchess and a senior security officer.
There is concern at the highest level at the palace about what the couple plan to say about the establishment in their Oprah interview, and in particular concern over any potential suggestion that Meghan was not made to feel welcome in the royal family. Senior courtiers have told Vanity Fair in the past that family members and household staff went out of their way to make Meghan feel part of the family.