Meet Meghan's palace whisperers - the four women who will help her adjust to royal life

Eleanor Steafel
The Duchess of Sussex shares a joke with the Duchess of Cornwall at a Buckingham Palace garden party - Getty Images Europe

It has been less than a week since her wedding, but the new Duchess of Sussex already seems at ease as a member of the Royal Family. We saw her looking very much the part (some said too much the part with her choice of demure white tights) on Tuesday, as she attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace with Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry, her new husband. A strong start - especially given that - with 6,000 guests in the palace gardens - the event was almost as big as her own wedding. But it was also just the first in a very long road of royal engagements, tours, and state ceremonies to come. 

These early days of royal life are sure to be a bit of a baptism of fire for the Californian former actress. Kate Middleton’s initiation into the Firm was, at least, a rather more intimate affair, though probably no less daunting - for their first royal appearance post-wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (tanned from their honeymoon in the Seychelles) greeted the Obamas, who were on a state visit. 

Kate, at least, had eight years to get used to the idea of all the scrutiny and responsibilities that come with being royal. For Meghan, who has only been living in the UK for six months, the transition may be harder to navigate (though who could fail to notice on Saturday how calm she seemed next to a visibly anxious Harry?). 

But behind every great royal woman, there is a bevy of assistants, private secretaries, advisers and dressers, to ensure she is well prepared for any public engagement and knows the protocol inside-out. Meghan has already hired a personal assistant, and a special adviser, and is understood to be embarking on “six months of listening” with Samantha Cohen, the Queen’s assistant private secretary who has been tasked with guiding Meghan through her first year. 

Samantha Cohen attends the royal wedding Credit: Mark Stewart 

With her own mother, Doria Ragland, and most trusted friends all overseas, who will make up Meghan’s team of “palace whisperers” and confidantes on British soil?

The private secretary - Samantha “The Panther” Cohen

Nicknamed “Samantha the Panther” for her no-nonsense approach to advising the Queen (something which is said to have delighted the straight talking 49-year-old Australian), Ms Cohen - a mother-of-three - worked for the civil service and in PR before joining the Buckingham Palace team in 2001. Described as being “deeply committed-to serving the Monarchy”, she was in the first wave of women to take control in a palace media office once dominated by men. 

She became deputy press secretary in 2003, before getting the top job in 2007. In 2010, she was promoted to the Queen’s office and became assistant to her private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt. It has been reported that she tried to resign last year when her former boss left amid a row, but was persuaded to stay and was spotted at the royal wedding on Saturday. She has apparently agreed to remain as interim private secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at Kensington Palace until next Spring.

Ms Cohen, who after 17 years working for the household knows the ins and outs of royal life better than most, is surely exactly the kind of woman the new duchess needs alongside her, as she embarks on life inside Kensington Palace. 

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“It will be six months of listening,” a source revealed. “[The duchess] is seeking out advice from a range of people. She is going to proceed with humility. It is not going to be quiet, though. It is going to be a very busy office. She has worked every day of her life. She is used to a demanding schedule.” 

Surely, if anyone can help Meghan strike a balance between forging her own path, and abiding by protocol, it’s ‘the Panther’.

The guiding hand - the Duchess of Cornwall

Royal watchers were beside themselves on Tuesday afternoon when pictures from the Buckingham Palace garden party appeared to reveal the Duchesses of Cornwall and Sussex holding hands. “Ok, they’re best friends now,” one wrote on Twitter. “I never knew I needed this moment between Meghan and Camilla,” wrote another.

The Duchess of Cornwall clasps Meghan's hand a garden party at Buckingham Palace Credit: ROTA

The Duchess of Cornwall appears to already have become something of a confidante to the newest member of the royal family. In the 13 years since her marriage to Prince Charles, she has undoubtedly developed her own ideas about what it’s like to be the new girl, and will be able to help reassure Meghan. It was abundantly clear last Saturday that both she and Prince Charles are very fond of Prince Harry’s new wife - one source close to the couple said that Charles thinks they are matched perfectly. On a visit to the Channel 5 newsroom this week, Camilla told staff: “It was such a lovely day. Just everything went right. Everything was just perfect, including the weather, which couldn’t have been better.”

While assistants and advisers tend to be invisible on public engagements, preferring to get out of the way of photographers and not appear to be hovering, it will be helpful to Meghan to have a member of the family by her side to guide her on the spot. 

The sisterly confidante - the Duchess of Cambridge

If there is anyone who can help Meghan on how to navigate royal life, it’s the Duchess of Cambridge. Since Meghan moved to the UK in November, Kate has been there to support her on everything from how to behave on a walkabout to appropriate Christmas presents for the Queen (Kate gave Her Majesty a jar of her grandmother’s chutney the first time she stayed at Sandringham - Meghan reportedly went for a singing hamster) and the complicated business of how to retain some control.

The Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex at the Royal Foundation Forum Credit: Reuters

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have paved the way for Harry and Meghan, having endeavoured to maintain a private life and ensure Prince George, Princess Charlotte and now little Prince Louis have as normal a childhood as possible, out of the spotlight.  

The two duchesses share a love of fashion and exercise, with Meghan reportedly convincing Prince Harry to practise morning yoga sessions at Nottingham Cottage. Surely it’s only a matter of time before the two sister-in-laws arw running a weekly class. Living just a few strides away from the Cambridges, in Nottingham Cottage (Prince William has joked in the past about how often his brother comes round to raid their fridge), it will be easy for Meghan to pop over to Apartment 1A.

The right-hand woman - Amy Pickerill

Amy Pickerill was appointed as the duchess’s assistant private secretary in February, having moved across from the press office. The 32-year-old worked at the Royal Bank of Scotland before joining the palace in September 2016 as a communications officer for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

The Duchess of Sussex with her assistant private secretary, Amy Pickerill Credit: Mark Cuthbert 

Now, she will become Meghan’s right hand woman, day-to-day; handling her busy schedule, taking care of her correspondence, and collecting flowers and gifts from the crowds at royal engagements. She was tasked with looking after Doria, when she came to the UK for the wedding - on hand to make sure everything ran smoothly from the moment she arrived at Heathrow, where a car picked her up on the runway. She is said to have stayed close to Doria throughout the wedding weekend, making sure she had everything she needed.

Ms Pickerill previously lived in the US (working for Ogilvy PR in Manhattan), and will likely have more of a grasp of life outside the royal circle than most - the perfect balance for Meghan as she continues to adjust to her new life.