Opinion: Harry and Meghan are out. Why couldn’t the palace make this work?
The message from Buckingham Palace to Queen Elizabeth’s grandson, Prince Harry, and his wife, Meghan Markle, was clear: You’re in or you’re out. There is no part-time work for royals. Harry and Meghan chose out.
That’s kind of sad. And surprising. What — they couldn’t all work this out?
I get it that, barely two years into a marriage that was supposed to signal a breathtaking infusion of modernity into the British royal family, the couple was sick of the tabloid coverage. But not all the news coverage of them has been bad. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be the international celebrities that they are.
I would have advised Meghan to return to England after her and Harry’s extravagantly long Christmas break in Vancouver and give it another go, for a year. Then reassess. Instead, they came back, dropped the bombshell that they wanted to work part time as royals and spend half the year outside Britain. And Meghan immediately returned to Canada — which she obviously knew she was going to do, because she left their baby, Archie, there (with a nanny and a close friend).
But once they did announce they wanted to be royals on their own schedule (what my colleague, Patt Morrison, called having their “royal gateau” and eating it, too), why couldn’t the palace figure out a way to do that? It can’t be that they just don’t want someone doing the job of opening hospitals and visiting community centers part time. It’s not like the palace is going to hire someone else to replace them.
The queen’s statement was like a heartbreaking farewell:
“Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family,” she said. She concluded, “It is my whole family’s hope that today’s agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life.”
However, the palace has made it clear that they can’t represent the queen and keep their status and titles while they promote or advocate for whatever they choose.
So they are giving up the use of their titles as royal highnesses (something they, reportedly, did want to keep), but they still get to call themselves the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. And Harry will give up his honorary military appointments. His work in the military and on behalf of the military has meant a lot to him, so that’s got to feel like a big loss. They will no longer be supported by public funds. That makes sense. And the couple is paying back the $3 million in public funds they spent to refurbish Frogmore Cottage, the house on the grounds of Windsor Castle that the queen gave them. They get to keep the crib, by the way.
So how will they make a living? That’s been the multimillion-dollar question from the start of all this. They will continue to be supported by Harry’s father, Prince Charles, possibly through his Duchy of Cornwall hereditary estate. Considering however many millions they have on their own (from Meghan’s career or, perhaps, from whatever inheritance Harry got from his late mother, Diana) and the millions that Charles has given them, these kids are not going to live paycheck to paycheck. But if they do want to make money on their own — as they have said they do — they are going to have to find something more profitable than licensing their pictures on mugs (although I would certainly buy a bunch) or something classier than sitting on the board of some controversial drug company. Where on that spectrum Meghan returning to acting or doing voice-over work fits remains to be seen. According to a statement from Buckingham Palace, the Sussexes “have made clear that everything they do will continue to uphold the values of Her Majesty.”
They will still advocate for the charities and the nonprofit groups they have been involved in.
Believe it or not, all this would be easier if Harry and Meghan truly renounced all the privileges and royal connections and said to his folks, “We want to work for nonprofits in Canada and Africa and live in a townhouse in Toronto, and we’ll see you at Christmas.” But that’s not what they seem to want. Ideally, they want to leverage the royal family brand and prestige for only the causes they choose on their own schedule — and live really well while they’re doing it. Who could blame them? That sounds good to me too.
But doing that is inextricably tied to being a working member of a publicly financed high-profile organization that owes the public something in return — high-visibility public appearances, in particular.
It will be fascinating to see how Harry and Meghan chart this new course. And here is one thing that neither the royal family nor the couple can escape: Harry is still a member of the royal family, sixth in line to the throne. He’s not disowning his family.
No matter what they do, we are all still interested in them. My guess is they’re counting on that.
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