Meghan Markle photo we never got to see

Somehow, like Alice in Wonderland, we have fallen through the looking glass. (And not even a thin sliver of ‘Eat Me’ torte to sweeten the deal.)

Things in the royal world have only gotten curious and curiouser.

Take this situation. On Tuesday at Buckingham Palace, a group of young campaigners from the charity SafeLives were meeting with Queen Camilla, a woman who went to finishing school aged 16-years-old with the aim of nabbing a decent husband and who has never had a job in her life.

And 8500km away, Meghan the Duchess of Sussex, the member of the royal family with a degree from a top ten US university and who gave a speech at a UN Women’s conference long before she got a title was soft-launching a jam brand.

What in the name of the Mad Hatter is going on?

After that SafeLives event, the palace released a series of official images from the meeting, showing Her Majesty posing with four of the organisations’ young Changemakers and looking at it, the very first thing I thought was, this should be Meghan.

It should be the Duchess of Sussex this week posing with a group of impressive young women and this mise-en-scene – a member of the royal family welcoming young women fighting to tackle violence against women into the palace and advocating for their work – is exactly what any right thinking scribe would have predicted for the duchess circa April 2018.

When the former Suits star arrived in London to set up home with Prince Harry, it was with a fully-formed set of staunchly feminist ideals carefully stowed away in her Rimowa cases. With their engagement, her official entree into the royal ranks promised the advent of gender equality joining the ranks of major royal causes. Hip, hip Mary Wollstencraft!

And for 20 months, the Duchess of Sussex fought the good, hard fight including launching a fundraising capsule collection for the SmartWorks charity, highlighting 15 “Forces for Change” when she guest edited British Vogue and hosting a roundtable on gender equality.

But then came the great conscious uncoupling that was Megxit and Meghan and Harry skipped town for the embrace of the West Coast where they could feel their feelings unfettered and would no longer be relegated to royal runner-up status.

And then everything went hurly-burly, higgledy-piggledy, and upside down.

Since then, Camilla having long worked in the area of violence against women, has only ramped this up including a becoming the patron of SafeLives in 2020; marking the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women the same year and giving a keynote address at the Women of the World Festival called Domestic Abuse: Everyone’s Problem; becoming the patron of Nigeria’s first rape crisis centre in 2021; giving a speech about the stigma of domestic violence at the 2021 Shameless! Festival Reception in London; and in 2022 hosting a Reception at Clarence House to mark the 50th anniversary of the charity Refuge.

Also that year, the Queen hosted a reception at the palace to highlight the U.N.’s annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, inviting Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Queen Rania of Jordan, Queen Mary of Denmark, Sierra Leone’s First Lady Fatima Maada Bio, and Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska along for good measure.

You get the picture – the Queen is the unsung feminist hero we never knew we needed or actually, you know, had. I know, it’s hard to quite wrap your head around. A septuagenarian most famous for her martial carryings-on with a future King and who has never earned independently earned a pay cheque in her life has become a loud, proud voice for women and girls.

It’s an evolution that might have seemed unlikely and yet here we are with a Queen who has put ending domestic abuse at the very centre of her agenda.

And Meghan? So much promise, so much good intent, so much sound and fury which has so far not exactly signified all that much.

Today, the Sussexes’ Archewell Foundation identifies “supporting mothers – and women preparing for motherhood”, while it also continues to back the Welcome Project, an initiative that supports women refugees.

I don’t mean to diminish this all as it is valuable, good work but it’s a question of scale, convening power and follow-through.

The duchess’ 2021 40×40 mentoring initiative largely disappeared without a trace and despite giving an in interview to Vogue along with Gloria Steinem after the 2022 overturning of Roe vs. Wade has not publicly spoken out or done anything much on the issue.

While still on the royal books, Meghan undertook events supporting women and girls during tours of Morocco and South Africa. Since Megixt and post-pandemic, the duchess is yet make any specific overseas trip to specifically highlight these sorts of causes. (In 2020, while staying on Vancouver Island, Meghan visited a women’s shelter in Vancouver and while in Dusseldorf for the Invictus Games last year she did visit TrébeCafé, a drop-in centre for homeless women.)

Somehow in the last four years some great switcheroo has happened. The Queen has become a leading voice and campaigner on domestic violence and the Duchess of Sussex has done everything from writing a childrens’ book to making a six-part Netflix series about how rotten being a member of the royal family was to spending a year setting up a nascent lifestyle brand which will sell nut butters and napkins which feels all very 50s housewife.

What looking at the Tuesday photo of Camilla and the four SafeLives Changemakers truly drives home, for me, is the lost potential of Meghan for not only Crown Inc but for feminist causes as a whole.

Imagine what the duchess could and should have achieved with a palace platform.

The Queen’s Reading Room, which Her Majesty founded during the Covid lockdowns, has now grown into a festival held at Hampton Court Palace every summer. I can picture a scenario where Camila and Meghan could have teamed up, two royal wives committed to making tangible, significant differences to women and girls, to put on some sort of ambitious, international event.

An email signature with a royal cipher or a Kensington Palace phone number can clearly open doors and move mountains when it comes to do-goodery. Prince William has gotten Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Cate Blanchett and Sir David Attenborough involved in his Earthshot Prize, and in some cases, donating large chunks of lovely cash.

Last year Kate the Princess of Wales and her Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood hosted The Shaping Us National Symposium, managing to get former staunch rivals Sir Tony Blair and Lord William Hague to share a stage.

This is the level that the Duchess of Sussex would have been working at if things had not gone so deplorably pear-shaped and things had been allowed to reach a breaking point in 2019.

Really what this is about is all the potential and possibility that fizzled when the Sussexes immigrated to the land of venti caramel lattes to have a go at making tele and now, in Meghan’s case, hawking condiments to help with mortgage repayments.

This whole situation, in Montecito and London, is so topsy-turvy, so strange, and so far, far away from where the tectonic plates sat pre-Megxit that even Lewis Carroll would have shaken his head, thrown down his pen and thought, too far, too outlandish, too much.

Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.