Will Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton be besties or rivals? Let the speculation begin

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Over the past few days, social media gossip has been led entirely by royal-watchers speculating not over what bride-to-be Meghan Markle will wear on her big day, or whether the baby countdown will soon begin, but over a far bigger issue: that of her new sister-in-law by marriage.

One camp is determined that she and Kate Middleton will become best of friends, sharing fashion tips and girls’ nights in, while the other half are whipping up rivalry before the engagement outfit has even been returned to the wardrobe. (Meghan’s was much more chic than Kate’s blue Issa wraparound, is the general consensus.)

But it’s not surprising we’re fascinated. As sisters-in-law, wives to perhaps the most famous – and famously close – brothers in the world, it’s inevitable that the two women will be seeing a lot of one another. And unlike a friendship, a familial relationship with an equally high-profile woman of almost the same age (Meghan is 36, to Kate’s 35) is a fait accompli. They’ll have to get along – or at least they’ll have make it look as though they do.

To date, there has been nothing beyond careful praise on both sides. As Harry explained, “William was longing to meet (Meghan) and so was Catherine.”

“She’s been wonderful,” Meghan insisted.

Meanwhile, the Duchess of Cambridge was accosted on her way to an engagement and asked for her views on Meghan. “William and I are absolutely thrilled. It’s such exciting news,” she offered, rather formally, before adding: “It’s a really happy time for any couple and we wish them all the best.”

Of course, despite her words sounding somewhat starched, there’s every chance she means it. Kate has been intrinsic to the Windsors for several years, and William will one day be King. Her life as a young and prominent royal, who grew up a commoner, must at times have been lonely, but Meghan looks likely to bring a glamorous sprinkle of Hollywood fairy-dust to the monarchy. They may be laying foundations for a lifelong friendship, forged from their shared situation. But it’s equally possible that the adjustment may be rather difficult at first – or even falter later; Diana and Fergie’s relationship famously turned from friendship to rivalry, as both competed for royal and public favour.

Kate has risen to the challenge of her position with a learned formality, never putting a foot wrong, dressed appropriately in every situation from state visits to gym workouts, and is now pregnant with the fifth in line to the throne. She waited seven long years from first date to proposal, and has now settled into royal life as a mother. With her smart Kate Spade dresses and bouncy shoulder-length hairdo, she looks aeons away from dazzlingly relaxed actress Meghan, who joked with Harry in front of the cameras as if they were on a casual date at Pizza Express.

The populace has already taken to the new broom – a YouGov poll found 49 per cent have a positive view of Meghan, and there’s no sense that she and Harry are anything but equals, due to her successful career.

It’s easy to imagine that, with less royal pressure on her (after Kate gives birth, Harry will become sixth in line and very unlikely ever to rule), Meghan will be free to wear more daringly fashionable outfits, have more fun, and enjoy marriage to the seemingly more relaxed, younger brother, while William and Kate deal with the traditional stuff.

Now Kate’s own sister Pippa is married and busy, the Duchess may come to see having Meghan on hand at Kensington Palace, where they will both be living, as a well-located confidante.

But when it comes to managing expectations, says psychotherapist and relationship expert Hilda Burke, there is no “normal” in sister-in-law-style relationships.

“I’ve seen plenty of cases where the sisters-in-law act as catalysts to improve a relationship between siblings,” she explains. “In most of the couples I work with, it’s still the woman who oversees their social life. The sisters-in-law become the instigator for increased communication between the siblings.” Though in Harry and William’s case, this will unlikely be an issue. “Of course, this can work the other way, with one wife failing to prioritise the other when it comes to choosing who they spend time with,” adds Burke.

And that’s where rivalry and resentment can creep in – even more so when there are children involved. We’re yet to find out whether Prince Harry and Meghan will have any Royal babies of their own, but for many in-laws, a growing family is merely a means of competition – what happens when their children achieve things yours don’t, or vice versa? Catty comments over the Christmas dinner table are unwelcome at the best of times, let alone when their little one got the sought-after school place you hoped yours would.

The “enforced friendship” aspect of sister-in-lawdom can be difficult, agrees teacher Riya, 37. “When my husband’s brother married Karen, I thought she was a bit needy but they seemed happy. But as time’s gone on, I’ve realised she’s very manipulative. I really dislike her, but I don’t have a family, so my husband’s has become mine. We see them often, and everyone assumes Karen and I are the best of friends. I have to be polite, but I’m constantly making excuses to avoid them. I can’t say anything or there’d be a huge family rift,” she says. “I feel I’m stuck with her for life.”

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