Are King Charles and Kate Middleton Really at War—Over a Flower Show?


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One of the most dangerous and destructive emotions that members of a royal clan can experience is jealousy.

Unfortunately, it seems to have bene endemic within the Windsor family through the ages. Some insiders are expressing concern that the green-eyed monster may currently be paying a call on King Charles, after he was upstaged by Kate Middleton when both chose the same day to attend the Chelsea Flower Show this week.

“Charles is unlikely to be amused,” a friend of the king’s told The Daily Beast. “Gardens are very much his thing, and given that it was always his mother’s big pre-Trooping the Colour day out, I think he has a right to be annoyed.”

However a friend of Kate’s disagreed with that characterization. Referring to a report in the Daily Mail which quoted a Palace source as saying it was “a shame” that Charles and Camilla’s visit “received less coverage than might have been expected” and suggested they might be “disappointed,” the friend told The Daily Beast: “It’s pathetic. It’s the media whipping up another feud. Kate has been going to Chelsea Flower show with her family since before she was a royal, and she often used to go as well as the Queen [Elizabeth] in recent years. It wasn’t a secret that she was going.”

Asked if that meant the visits would have been actively co-ordinated between their offices, the friend said not, but added: “William and Kate are now very senior figures as the coronation made clear. Charles wouldn’t have needed the queen’s permission to attend the Chelsea Flower Show and Kate doesn’t need Charles’ permission to go to the Chelsea Flower Show. It’s a massive storm in a teacup. Charles couldn’t care less.”

This was supposed to be my tour!

Then-Prince Charles in ‘The Crown’

The trouble is that the mere mention of the word “overshadowing” will stir memories of Charles’ well-documented and much-reported jealous streak.

Princess Diana attributed some of the early difficulties in their marriage to his irritation that the media was always far more interested in talking about—and picturing—Diana than him. On a 1983 visit to Australia, for example, as described by Andrew Morton in his book Diana: Her True Story, which was written in collaboration with Diana: “The crowds complained when Prince Charles went over to their side of the street during a walkabout… In public, Charles accepted the revised status quo with good grace; in private he blamed Diana.”

His irritation in Australia was dramatized in series four of The Crown, where Josh O’Connor’s Charles bawls at Emma Corrin’s Diana: “This was supposed to be my tour!”

Prince Harry also made a similar point, repeatedly, in his memoir Spare. In one section, memorable for the light it shone on the petty nature of some royal squabbles, Harry wrote, “Pa and Camilla didn’t like Willy and Kate drawing attention away from them or their causes. They’d openly scolded Willy about it many times.”

Harry cited one incident where Kate was at an event at Wimbledon’s All England Club on the same day that Charles and Camilla had an engagement. Harry wrote: “Told that it was too late to cancel the visit, Pa’s press officer warned: ‘Just make sure the Duchess doesn’t hold a tennis racquet in any of the photos.’”

Catherine, Princess Of Wales attends the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show at Royal Hospital Chelsea on May 22, 2023 in London, England.

Karwai Tang / Getty

Kate’s camp have been keen to stress that the unannounced Chelsea visit was made in a private capacity, but this has cut little ice with the media as she attended on the official press day.

One photographer, Richard Pohle, who wrote an entertaining account of the chaos and panic that attended Kate’s last-minute trip to the show in The Times, addressed this when he said that a rumor photographers would be prevented from photographing Kate had irked them. He wrote: “This was press day, our day. We had been invited to photograph everything that happens. Now a royal was arriving and we were supposed to ignore it? Thankfully this rumor was quickly crushed.”

The “this is a nothingburger” narrative of the affair was the overriding theme of a piece by Robert Jobson, a biographer of the king who is known to have excellent contacts within the Palace machine. Writing in the Daily Mail, Jobson said, “Speculation that Charles is concerned that his son and daughter-in-law are stealing his thunder is wide of the mark,” adding that the king was, by contrast, relying on the media-friendly Cambridges to help him sustain the actual, you know, monarchy.

Intriguingly, however, Jobson did appear to suggest, at the same time as smoothing ruffled feathers, that the Chelsea double-booking was a situation that would not ideally be repeated, writing: “The Palace is conscious that with less so-called ‘working royals’ the grid system of engagements must complement each other.”

This is the real point here, and it is an eloquent example of the lack of communication between the different individuals’ offices.

Harry has plenty to say about this sense of each office operating in its own silo, working against each other if that was what it takes to promote their “principal”, in his book. He memorably accused Camilla of “sacrificing” him on “her PR altar.” He also gave a strong sense of this competitive separation of courts in recent court papers filed as part of his legal action against News Group Newspapers, the publisher of the Sun, which he accused of publishing stories based on hacked voicemails.

In his witness statement, Harry said that “my brother appeared to know an awful lot more than I did on the subject of phone hacking although he did not tell me if that was the case.” In another section he said that because he was perceived as a “hothead” he “wasn’t consulted” and was “kept out of the loop.”

Britain’s Queen Camilla views floral displays at Chelsea Flower Show in London, Britain, May 22, 2023.

Toby Melville/Reuters

The lack of communication between Charles and Kate’s people, another friend of the king and queen told The Daily Beast, is probably the most irritating thing about the events of this week for Charles.

“It just looks ridiculous if they both turn up separately to the same event, and Charles understands that. It gives the media the chance to stir things up. But after everything he has been through with Harry over the past few years, Charles has an enormous appreciation for William and Catherine and the work they do. No-one thinks this is the beginning of a new war between their courts.”

Maybe not, but it would be unwise to allow the existential silliness of a story about rivalry at a flower show to occlude the simple truth that Charles would have rather Kate had not been at Chelsea on the same day as he was.

The fact she was there, even if not in defiance of any diktat, shows that there are, indubitably, two distinct power centers at the heart of the royal establishment.

Team Cambridge versus Team Sussex. Rivalry, jealousy, competing agendas—it all poisoned the atmosphere.

Prince Harry in ‘Spare’

Their courts are distinct; Charles’ operation is more wily, grand and formal, while William and Kate run a leaner, call-me-by-my-first-name operation, and one that is, as the recent post-coronation Instagram video showed, significantly more clued-up when it comes to online. Their staff are youthful, with a smattering of digital natives who would find using the very term “court” to describe themselves almost hilarious.

It would be odd if the fustier-looking Buckingham Palace court didn’t occasionally feel threatened (especially as no sooner was Charles crowned than speculation about when he might abdicate (and all those courtiers might face losing their jobs) started to circulate.)

The question the events of this week pose is, where will this road end? There is a cautionary tale here because, for a long time, the hope was that the rivalry between Harry and William would remain a civil and friendly one, spurring them both onto greater things.

That, of course, is not how it turned out; as Harry wrote in his book it became a case of, “Team Cambridge versus Team Sussex. Rivalry, jealousy, competing agendas—it all poisoned the atmosphere.”

The challenge for all sides over the next decade is to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

Neither the offices of the king and queen or William and Kate responded to requests for comment.

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