We pick up from the end of part 2; the period after Harry and Meghan’s Southern African documentary, and the announcement that the Sussex family will not be spending Christmas 2019 in Sandringham.
After completing a series of low-key royal engagements, Harry and Meghan quietly took their break from royal duties. There was no mention of when the break started or where they would be spending their downtime. According to the Royal Rota finally this was a chance for William and Kate to get the spotlight. But things didn’t get up to a great start. Prince Andrew had been forced to step back from royal duties following his disastrous interview with BBC Newsnight, in which he attempted to set the record straight about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and clear himself of any wrong doing.
The British Royal family, The Media and ‘SussExit’- Part 1
For the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge it was the bread and butter royal engagements; a royal visit for Statesman William to Kuwait, a visit to a hospice for Catherine followed by a joint appearance at the annual Royal Variety show. Kate would however pull out of the Tusk awards at the last minute citing “childcare challenges”, which were resolved fast enough for her to visit one of her patronages the next week. Their most publicised engagement happened in the week leading up to Christmas, when William and Kate appeared alongside Mary Berry on a Christmas Special. This was of course followed by glowing coverage by the UK media, although they did not address the part where Catherine, for reasons known only to her, shrugged off William’s touch in an almost reflexive move, much to the amusement of social media. This prompted a number of questions about the chemistry or lack thereof in the Cambridge union. In response, we were told that according to Mary Berry, who could attest to the deep love the couple had for each other, they were like pigeons who mate for life. So that was settled.
After attending a media briefing at the palace, the Royal Rota informed the public of important news and some “ stunning images” to be released in due course. What followed was a series of still and video images depicting the monarch and her 3 heirs, and referencing the plan for a slimmed down monarchy going forward. That along with the notable absence of the Sussexes from the pictures curated for the Queen’s desk during her Christmas address more than hinted that Harry and Meghan were not included in the plans going forward. On 21 December 2019 about 4 days after the palace briefing Rebecca English, who always seems to have the scoop on all things Cambridge-related, published a story revealing where Harry and Meghan were spending their break in Canada. The revelations forced Harry and Meghan to release a statement via their press team confirming their location, graciously followed by a welcome note from the Prime Minister of Canada.
If you were guessing that to deflect attention from the “pigeon issue”, once again the palace was leaking information Harry and Meghan had intended to remain private, you wouldn’t be the only one. The timing was interesting, to say the least. With the media’s tireless efforts to train the spotlight on the Cambridges yielding a lackluster response, it was time to bring out the children – because who does not love to see the royal kiddies? On Christmas morning Prince George and Princess Charlotte would join the royal family procession as they walked to and from Christmas service, much to the delight of traditional royal watchers and the media as they had pictures to splash across their pages.
Early January 2020, Harry and Meghan returned to the UK and their first order of business was to visit Canada House to thank Canadians for their wonderful hospitality during their stay. The engagement was unusual but for Harry and Meghan supporters this was the calm before the storm as it was clear from this engagement that something was brewing. The visit to Canada House was followed by an exclusive report from Dan Wootton at the Sun revealing Harry and Meghan were considering relocating to Canada, something that went on to become a hot topic of discussion on UK TV and radio stations. One notable discussion was between Tom Bradby and Piers Morgan on ITV’s GMB show, amidst a weak attempt by the palace to dismiss the rumours as speculative. In his discussions on GMB, Tom indicated that discussions had been taking place within the palace regarding Harry and Meghan’s future role but revealed he knew very little of their plans as they have kept these discussions close to their chest.
As speculation mounted and the story was gaining international attention, a statement announcing the couple’s decision to step down a Senior Royals was posted on their Instagram account. The palace responded with their own statement stating the discussions were still in early stages and these were very complicated matters. Meanwhile Dan Wootton would go on to brag about getting the exclusive. It soon came to light that Harry and Meghan had been forced to prematurely reveal their plans because of the leaked information to the Sun. Dan and the rest of the UK media, shifted the narrative and accused the couple of not consulting the Queen or any other officials prior to releasing their statement, purposely neglecting to provide the context in which the events unfolded. The aim was to cast Harry and Meghan as ungrateful people who had scorned the monarch.
Basking in the glory of his exclusive, Dan revealed he had obtained this information through a palace insider. In the days that followed, the world media speculated on the reasons behind this decision or how this unprecedented decision would play out. We were inundated with all manner of speculation with all royal reporters and experts firmly planted in the defend William at all cost corner. Even Camilla Tominey took the time to spare a thought for Carole Middleton. The only person who could speak with any authority on Harry and Meghan’s perspective was Tom Bradby, who made a series of revelations.
First of all he acknowledged that Harry and Meghan had no intentions to release their unprecedented statement but once the story appeared in the Sun they were left with no choice but to take control of the narrative. Discussions of the couple’s future had been a matter of palace discussion for a some time including during the time while they were on a break from royal duties. Palace courtiers had requested Harry to put his plans in writing and he initially objected because he was afraid of leaks but eventually he compromised, put his request in writing and as predicted the information leaked.
Prior to releasing the statement, Harry requested a private meeting with the Queen – grandson to grandmother, to explain his plans (and not to negotiate the terms of his exit) however on arrival in the UK, he was blocked from meeting the Queen by palace courtiers, while the media created a public narrative around his planned exit. With the couple’s plans now public, the palace courtiers were forced to address the issue and Harry was able to get his meeting with the Queen in what was called the Sandringham summit. But given the delays in the days leading up to the summit, Meghan returned to Canada and did not participate in any subsequent negotiations with the palace.
The question on everyone’s mind was how did it come to this? Tom Bradby provided what insight he had, sharing that since the wedding, there had been a total breakdown in relationships behind the scenes and according to him “terrible things were said and done” in the build up to the weding. Whereas some in the palace felt the couple were difficult, Harry and Meghan felt most of the family with the exception of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were jealous and most of the time unfriendly. Even the Times, a paper that favours the royal family in tone of coverage touched on the animosity behind the scenes with stories on how William bullied Harry (one that was swiftly denied), the power struggles between the different households and how information constantly leaked.
As the media continued to prosecute this issue, they made sure to find commentators who could say the most negative stuff about Meghan. Of course we could count on the trusty dead-beat father Thomas, to make yet another GMB appearance. Thomas Markle went on to appear in a channel 5 documentary; Thomas Markle: My Story in which he accused Harry and Meghan of cheapening the Royal Family, threatened to continue doing paid interviews and claimed “The Royals owe me”. For what? Your guess is as good as mine. At a time when the British media was confronted by the racist coverage they had subjected Meghan to, her own father a willing participant in the media abuse, unsurprisingly said “the negative coverage of his daughter Meghan is not racism”.
Amidst all the hyperbolic coverage and ridiculous accusations of Harry betraying his army friends and colleagues, on 18 January 2020, the Queen via Buckingham palace released a statement that read in part “together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family”. In her first public acknowledgement of Meghan’s role in the royal family she recognised the ‘challenges” the couple had experienced and thanked them for all their dedicated work across the country – “am particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become a part of the family”, she added. For whatever reason, the family rejected the part-time model that the Sussexes proposed in favor of a clean break, stripping Harry of his military honours in what was seen as a vindictive move. It seems however, that the silver lining is becoming evident.
Harry and Meghan returned to the UK to complete their royal engagements on what was called the ‘farewell tour’. It was hard to imagine that just two years ago, Harry had traveled across the UK introducing Meghan to what was supposed to be her new country. The farewell tour was a success and the pictures were beamed across the world. For the couple there were moments of sadness that it had come to this, but as Harry had earlier said in first speech following discussions with the Queen, their departure was the only option.
Shortly after returning to Canada, and as the world was responding to the Corona virus pandemic, the couple would quietly relocate to Meghan’s hometown of Los Angeles to begin their new life as non-working royals, still committed to service. Since then, the couple notified the editors of UK tabloids of their no corroboration/zero engagement policy, except when necessary through the couple’s lawyers. Security is being privately funded by the couple. Also, the couple are now paying rent for their Frogmore residence and even offered to refund the cost of renovation. In spite of all the severed financial ties, the media is yet to find a way to stop investigating and reporting about the Sussexes. It has always been about economics, rather than principle, and their product was hate.
The big question for many is what next? All we know so far is the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are taking their time shaping the work they intend to carry out under their charitable vehicle, Archwell. They continue to support their existing patronages from across the pond while seeing the ongoing legal proceedings through. At a time when charities supported by royals are struggling with some downsizing or reducing the scope of their programs, we witnessed organisations close to Harry and Meghan’s heart come together to lend their support to communities in need. At the time of writing this, they have backed the #StopHate4Profit campaign, a group of six organisations including the Anti-Defamation League, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Sleeping Giants and Color of Change which are calling on Facebook advertisers to halt their spending on the social media platform to protest the platform’s irresponsible propagation of hate speech, racism and misleading voter information, a move that the President and CEO of NAACP, Derrick Johnson described as “Leadership that meets the moment”.
Though the British media want everyone to believe Harry and Meghan are no longer relevant, they continue to dedicate space to discussing them. As for the House of Windsor they are unashamedly trying to fill the gap left by Harry and Meghan – from declaring Sophie as the next Meghan, Camilla now doing voice overs and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge imitating everything Harry and Meghan did, things that were considered “not royal” or the famous “breach of protocol” including hiring their former staff. Suddenly what was not the done thing, is now the bread and butter. Whether it is the lack self-awareness or shameless imitation, some of these Windsors look quite pathetic. It makes you wonder what they had their knickers in a knot for, if they were just going to copy the innovators who have now exited the building?
Now, we have repeated stories of “Harry is welcome back”, “The monarchy can only survive under Charles’ reign with both his sons”. Talk about a pyrrhic victory. They have earned it and deserve it.