Who would have guessed at the end of last year when The Queen spoke about 2019 being a bit ‘bumpy’ that 2020 would prove to be just as turbulent before the third week in January?
Just as his uncle Andrew has had to withdraw from public life due to the fall-out from that spectacular car-crash interview with the BBC, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, have decided to resign as senior royals, to ‘step back’ from royal public life – but not celebrity it seems – they want to use their fame and position in life to work for themselves (to be self-sufficient like an ordinary couple), but using their Duke and Duchess of Sussex titles to promote themselves and their charitable foundation. To me, it all seems a little oxymoronic.
The interest in them won’t ever fully go away. And have they trade-marked SussexRoyal to protect their brand or to sell multiple items? There are so many questions, no wonder this story has continued to deliver several articles daily for each news site.
The details are still being worked out – there is a crisis summit at Sandringham tomorrow with Prince Harry facing the Queen, his father Prince Charles and his brother Prince William. A conclusion is not expected to be reached but certainly, a way forward and the next step should be much clearer. The Queen, at least, wants things done ‘at pace’.
I don’t often cover current affairs – but how could I avoid the seismic shock the Windsors received when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex published their statement on Wednesday night? However, I’ve waited several days to digest the news and observe the reactions of the public, the media and the royals.
There’s lots of conjecture right now about what did and did not happen.
Harry and Meghan failed to inform the Queen.
Harry and Meghan have been plotting this during their six-week family break in Canada.
Harry and Meghan only informed senior royals ten minutes before they went public.
What’s the truth?
That’s a little bit harder to discern. There was absolute outrage (according to the media) come Thursday morning when it was reported that The Queen was in the dark right up until the announcement. To not inform his grandmother of his break with The Firm was a step too far, according to some, and whilst not exactly shouting ‘Off with their heads’ the reactions have ranged from ‘Strip them of their titles’ to ‘Who cares? We want to be a republic, anyway?’ Apparently, Prince Philip was ‘spitting blood’! (That’s a worrying symptom for a 98-year-old!)
It seems though, that Prince Charles was aware of the rumblings of the Sussexes. He had asked them to deliver a workable solution, particularly sticky was the financial aspect, how will they make money without bringing the monarchy into disrepute?
This has still not been resolved. The Sussexes hold a personal fortune estimated at around £30million. They receive 5% of their income from the royal sovereign grant for their public work and 95% from the Duchy of Cornwall. Essentially, Prince Charles, BUT that will change when Charles is king as William will hold the Duchy’s purse strings.
Is that why they are making a break for financial freedom? It’s bad enough holding a hand out to daddy but big brother too? The royal family’s finances are complex. Harry would know this. Those that have speculated this are probably creating click-bate on the internet.
And who knows? The Sussex plan may work. Just because it’s never been done before, doesn’t mean it will fail.
And then it was revealed that the couple defied The Queen (just as outrageous) as she had asked them not to go public until discussions were finalised.
The couple had been worried about Buckingham Palace leaks, and then a story appeared in a tabloid hinting at what was to come, that was it! It was the Sussex way only, after that. Buckingham Palace tersely responded to the Sussex statement: ‘Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.’
“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family, and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment. We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages. This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity. We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge, and all relevant parties. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.”
However, was Harry really deceitful? Newer sources state that the family knew before Christmas that Harry and Meghan had had enough. Enough of the misogynist headlines that Meghan has had to endure; of the sometimes implied racism and sometimes overt, such as when DJ Danny Baker was fired for tweeting an offensive picture and the relentless headlines that criticised everything related to the couple. Was it a fair press? Mostly, no. It was often gendered, as are the comments now – ‘Meghan came between Harry and David Beckham in a row over leaked stories’, ‘Meghan always runs away when there are problems’ and ‘Megxit’.
It is well known that the British press has always liked to place people on pedestals and then knock them down.
Should they have carried on with the famous British ‘stiff upper lip’?
The thing is, I’m inclined to say yes. I would hope it would all die down; head down, keep working, don’t complain, follow what William and Kate have done, they have ridden out the criticism they faced. ‘Waity Katie’ was once a frequent tabloid label of the Duchess of Cambridge. And in the readers’ comments, you would find more personal attacks; ‘lazy mare’ being one of the kinder comments. But I’m not sure how long they should have to put up with it. Maybe a break during which you say ‘this is the life’ was enough to make them push forward with arrangements because they really shouldn’t have to put up with press and public vitriol for just living their best life.
And the criticism that the Duchess of Cornwall has faced and ridden out . . . that’s another article altogether.
The Queen – at 93, and with a husband only eighteen months from his centenary and who is in poor health, one suspects she could do without this. But as the matriarch of the Windsors and the person who signs off pretty much everything, her approval to any plan is absolute. She is the reigning monarch and if there is any precedent to be set she will oversee it. That said, she has the support of her two heirs, Charles and William, whose perspectives she relies upon and respects as they step up in performing royal duties she has delegated and offer much-needed moral support.
The Prince of Wales – the heir to the throne, the Queen has been delegating a lot to Prince Charles over the last few years, which demonstrates a smooth transition is sought when the time comes for King Charles III (or whatever regnal name he chooses . . . ). He, of course, is invested in this, not only as the Queen’s son and heir, but also as Harry’s father and the grandfather of Archie, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s eight-month-old son.
Prince William – William is often included in royal affairs as second-in-line to the throne he is being schooled in the ways of the monarch. He will also become Prince of Wales when his father is King. William can only rise up the line of succession whilst Harry can only go lower. There has been much talk of the brothers’ fall-out and of their ‘now being on different paths’, however, it was always thus. William knew he was to be king from a young age, it may seem harsh but Harry was always ‘the spare’. And he knew this. The two used to be each other’s biggest supporter, but their relationship soured after Meghan came on the scene.
Prince Harry – Harry wants his independence, he wants a life without tabloid journalists hounding his wife and son. How much freedom from royal duty? He stated he wanted to continue to ‘honour his duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth and their patronages’ – but some of that might be tricky when doing it remotely. His mental health is constantly examined since he shared that he had suffered over the years. He admitted that he relives the desperation he felt when he lost his mother, as the banks of photographers clicking away, pursue him and now his family, continually, with no end to the relentless chase.
The Duchess of Sussex – the much-vilified and maligned, it seems every headline reads that it’s the woman’s fault for turning him away from his family, the narrative remains highly gendered. The world is a smaller place these days, people do travel long-haul for work and that is modern life. Who can blame Meghan for wanting to return to her happy place when she can’t even have a baby in peace? ‘She holds her tummy the wrong way/all the time’, ‘Meghan auditions nannies and humiliates them’. The Duchess is possibly going to dial in to the Sandringham meeting so that she can state her thoughts and make her feelings known. She has stated in an interview that it’s not enough to survive, you have to thrive. She was warned by her friends that the tabloids would eat her up and chew her out, this family drama has given them more fuel.
Personally, I think it’s all terribly sad. Less than two years ago, we were espousing a modernising couple in the royal family – some people have taken ‘modernisation’ to allude to Meghan’s biracial status, although others just to them being young, popular and can speak to a generation of people that may not have previously entertained the idea of a royal family.
We have to remember that these are real people and in this modern age the duty that Her Majesty has been the epitome of her entire life, may not be as relevant to younger generations.
I’m the first to admit as an historian I have called out the sons of George III for not doing their duty and indeed, King Edward VIII failed in his when he renounced the throne in order to marry his American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. But in modern times, do we force people to do things they don’t want to do? As long as it’s legal, it’s good. We are more aware of people’s well-being and sensitive to their aspirations.
Harry is in a difficult place, always going to be a bit-part actor in the story of Prince Charles – would he struggle like Prince Andrew to forge a path after a military career? He appeared to be doing so well, founding the Invictus Games and working on Heads Together, but with family responsibility at the top of his agenda right now he feels it is right to take a step back and be a husband and father. And in non-royal circles no-one would fault him for this.
BUT, the royals are slightly different. Harry and Meghan have a grace and favour home (free) that’s just had a £2.4 million refurbishment courtesy of the taxpayers. So people feel that they have a right to comment.
The Queen, who in her 93 years has been the soul of discretion and does not share her feelings much will have to come to terms with what appears to be a rejection of her philosophy and her Windsor family, at least in the short term as Harry juggles his wish to live on two different continents with his young family. His sixth in line to the throne status will not alter until William has more children, if he does, and then when William’s children become parents.
Harry will always be the grandson of a queen and is expected to be the son and the brother of a king. Being a non-senior royal, like his cousins Peter Philips and Zara Tindall, maybe something he aspires to, but he was born third in line to the throne and the son of the Prince of Wales; he was born famous. He may find out that to use his name for good means to remain under public scrutiny, however distasteful.