The sad saga of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is in the news again. But the plethora of global reports have, by their all-encompassing nature, tended to obscure what has actually happened to bring them to the world’s attention once again. Simply put, in response to Prince Harry’s recent confirmation – following a year of reflection – that he and his wife will not be returning to royal duties, The Queen has stripped them of their honorary military and other appointments and their royal patronages. So the extended process of their withdrawal as working members of the Royal Family has come to an end. Their demise as official royals is complete.
In January 2020, Harry announced that he and his wife were standing down as full-time senior royals. He declared that, while continuing to support The Queen, they wanted to balance their time between Britain and North America, to become financially independent and to take on a new “progressive role” as well as launching a charitable entity in their own name. In response, The Queen issued a statement saying she was deeply disappointed that Harry and Meghan wished to step back from royal duties and there should be a transition period of one year for reconsideration. So the door was left ajar in case of a change of heart.
In reaction to Harry’s confirmation a year later of his and his wife’s departure from royal life, it seems Buckingham Palace were left with no option but to issue another statement last week – this time saying that, while The Queen and members of the Royal Family were saddened by this decision and that Harry and Meghan remained much loved family members, being non-working members of the family meant that they could not continue with certain duties. Thus, it seems The Queen has stood firm in making clear they could not pursue their fortunes in the US and be ‘quasi-working royals’ while also using their royal titles for commercial gain since business careers were incompatible with the impartiality required of those in public service.
It was also made clear that by stepping away from royal work it was not possible to continue with any of the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service – and, equally importantly – by being ‘half in and half out’ the couple could not function properly on a day-to-day basis since it would be impracticable to give the level of commitment required when living in faraway California.
These responsibilities and duties include the honorary military appointments and royal patronages held by the Duke and Duchess; for example – to name just a few among many – Captain General of the Royal Marines and Patron of the Rugby Football Union and both their roles with The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust. All of these will now be redistributed among the working royals. But the couple are set to retain their official titles of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
They reacted to this by issuing their own statement declaring a commitment to their duty and service to the UK and around the world and offering their continued support to the organisations they have represented regardless of their official role – ending the statement with the words “We can all live a life of service. Service is universal”.
This has been seen as a graceless and unseemly response, with many commentators regarding the sting in the tail about service being universal as the couple thumbing their noses at the Palace in a petulant manner.
Not only is this disrespectful, but it is absurd and almost laughable to seek to draw parallels between the couple’s limited charity work and the enormously effective and varied public service in so many different forms – together with the wide-ranging, hands-on support given to thousands of charities – that The Queen and other members of the Royal Family have carried out over so many years.
Some say Harry will have been extremely upset at being forced to relinquish honorary titles; in particular, given his own army service that included a tour of duty in Afghanistan, his official involvement in military associations and patronages, though his involvement in the Invictus Games – a version of the Paralympics for injured military personnel which he helped to set up – will not be affected. But others say: well, what did he expect? It was his own choice to step down, go in to a form of exile in California and to give up his former life in the process.
His actions remain puzzling to many people in Britain. They say he owes everything to his family – his identity, status and wealth – but any sense of duty or obligation arising from his privileged birth seems to have gone out of the window. He has shown contempt for the rules and regulations that have shaped his life and for a grandmother who, it is said, showed him notable affection and indulgence and who has now acted with considerable restraint and kindness, particularly by not removing the Duke and Duchess of Sussex titles.
It is surely the case that the couple’s international appeal and success in America will continue to depend on their royal status and connections. Despite claiming to seek privacy, they are living their lives in a blaze of self-induced publicity and seem to want to enjoy the prestige deriving from being royals together with the privilege and money that goes with this and brings celebrity status.
Although there are obvious differences, some now see an eerie similarity between all this and the life and times of Edward VIII who abdicated in 1936 to marry an American divorcee. He was, of course, Governor of The Bahamas during the Second World War. But later, as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, they resided mainly in France and for the remainder of their lives were at odds with the rest of the Royal Family.
Back to the present. In addition to the end of the one-year review period, the final straw that appears to have brought matters to a head, is the Duke and Duchess’ ‘tell all’ interview with Oprah Winfrey due to be shown on US TV on March 7. This has contributed to the rift with the family which has intensified at an emotional time with the hospitalisation of the 99-year-old Prince Philip. But it is interesting to read in the UK press that The Queen will deliver a televised “Celebration for Commonwealth Day” message just 24 hours before the Oprah interview is aired.
An appearance with such a famous television host is likely to bring back memories of the famously critical interview given by Princess Diana to BBC TV in 1995 that became a serious embarrassment to the Royal Family. Those who continue to revere The Queen for selflessly dedicating her long life to duty and public service can only hope that next month’s interview will not turn out as badly.