Right on, Harry! And, thank you, Meghan! Those are my own, personal responses to the royal couple’s statement on their website last week that they were willing to forfeit their cherished “Sussex Royal” project—despite the tens of thousands of dollars and hours of effort they had lavished upon the brand. They have agreed to come up with an alternative, non-royal label.
“Sour,” “bitter,” and “peevish” were just a few of the descriptions with which British newspapers greeted this reluctant retraction of former intent. (Even the esteemed Beast weighed in with “bizarre, foolish and damaging.”) I myself would argue that those epithets better apply to some of their critics than to the no-longer-so-royal couple.
Yes, their caveat sounded immature. Yes, indeed, they should have abandoned negotiating mode when making their concession. Yet surely the important thing is that, however frustrated they might have been, the two most popular royal figures in the world have not flown off wildly into orbit. They have changed direction and knuckled down to acknowledge the source of their charisma—Harry’s grandmother, the Queen, in Buckingham Palace.
Just imagine the turmoil if they hadn’t…
There is nothing wrong with Harry and Meghan pointing out that “royal” and other royal-connected terms are much-used and much-abused by all and sundry—from your local King’s Arms or Madras Palace to the Kansas City Royals.
The rest of the world is at liberty to bandy the word around as much as they like. It is, ironically, only royal folk themselves who do not enjoy that freedom, and, though the couple’s move to America is all about freedom, they have agreed that this is one restriction they will accept.
So the principle is established—and it would seem that the first stage of the House of Windsor’s latest adaptation has now been successfully accomplished.
News reports often present these royal spats as life-or-death crises, headlined as threatening the very existence of the monarchy, when in fact they actually illustrate the durability and bewildering adaptability of Britain’s folk-idol crown. From 1992’s “annus horribilis” back to the abdication of 1936, apparently intractable royal problems have actually turned out to be stages of necessary readjustment.
Following that precedent, the new path that Harry and Meghan are now seeking to blaze for themselves seems destined to work out for the better in the long-run, since their “independent” North Atlantic direction could internationalize or even democratize the latest meaning of popular monarchy.
They wish to harness their celebrity to their especially cherished causes, and they will be announcing their new, non-Sussex Royal strategy for accomplishing that in the spring.
We may get more idea about that future after the couple hit London this Friday when, amongst other engagements, Harry will visit the famous Abbey Road Studios to meet Jon Bon Jovi and members of the Invictus Games Choir, who are recording a special single in aid of his Invictus Games Foundation.
In the longer term, the pair have made clear they will not be creating a Clinton- or Obama-style foundation but plan, rather, to create a “non-profit entity’ that will enable them “to effect change” and “complement the efforts made by so many excellent foundations globally.” They have met with professors from Stanford University to discuss the possibilities.
What are their big goals? Harry’s “priorities remain supporting the welfare of servicemen and women,” declared a spokesperson for the couple earlier this month, along with “conservation, sport for social development, HIV and “Travalyst’”—an ambitious new initiative which seeks to cut ecological waste and damage in the tourist and travel industries (which Harry just landed in the U.K. to launch). For Meghan, “her focus remains women’s empowerment, gender equality and education.”
At 93, Queen Elizabeth II has played an active and decisive role in this new royal way forward. This week, a source told Vanity Fair that the Queen “generally doesn’t want to talk about it. The Queen has been keen to get this resolved because she sees it is damaging to the monarchy and on a personal level I think this has been rather hurtful for her. She has got to the point where she doesn’t want to think about it anymore, she just wants it over and done with.”
But the Queen is known to retain her special soft spot for Harry, and this would seem to extend to his wife as well. In both her personal statements to date on the changes, Her Majesty singled out Meghan for particular attention—two warm and special mentions that she has never made before.
Harry and Meghan’s ambition to avoid dependence on taxpayers’ money or handouts from Dad is admirable, though their ambitions will founder if this prompts contrary dependence on over-wealthy banks, or dubious patrons in the hypercapitalist Epstein mode that has discredited Uncle Andrew.
But the couple seem to be aware of this, and the massive popular appeal they enjoy in Canada and the U.S. could prove quite transformative. One day William’s younger children, Charlotte and Louis, may have reason to thank their uncle and aunt for pioneering a brighter, freer and more creative international destiny for royal “spares” than a carriage-borne wedding and seats on the board of a dozen predictable British charities.
Domestic traditionalists jibe and sneer at it all, and it is a tragedy that much of the British press has joined in the refusal to allow this unconventional pair to be themselves. Poor Harry—he has never fitted in. He has always been a rebel and now he has found his soulmate.
That’s the trouble, of course. The current controversy is all about Meghan. In Britain the newcomer who could once do no wrong is now being cast as the villain of the piece, and it is true that Harry’s exodus would not be happening if it were not for his wife. But nor would the prince be heading for the new world if his partner did not embody the remedy he has been seeking after years of unhappiness and maladjustment in the old.
Meghan is certainly flawed, as Harry is flawed; she’s a film star who’s learned to like herself a lot. But her power of outreach is undeniable, as we saw in the summer of June 2017, shortly after she had moved in with Harry to Kensington Palace. A tragic fire in West London’s Grenfell Tower block left 72 dead, and after the official royal visits had been made, it was Meghan who went in to comfort the survivors on a private and unpublicized basis.
Dressed in jeans and T-shirt, she put her arms around the grieving mothers and embraced the children—many of them people of color like herself—then applied her dynamism to the creation of a community cooking space, for which she quietly raised all the funds. She would drop in frequently and informally on her “Hubb” Community Kitchen (a play on the Arabic word for “love”), rolling up her sleeves and learning how to cook curries and chapatis.
This is the woman who has captured the heart of Harry and, in doing so, she seems to have alienated a good half of Britain. It is just as well, as an African-American woman, that she is an inheritor of the resilience voiced by Maya Angelou in her famous poem Still I Rise: “You may shoot me with your words,/You may cut me with your eyes,/You may kill me with your hatefulness,/But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
Good riddance to “Sussex Royal” must be the way ahead for this exciting couple. The world does not love them because of their regressive and rather snobbish ancient titles—it doesn’t matter at all that they are called the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. They stand for what they are, the charismatic and yes, possibly haughty and certainly naughty Harry and Meghan. That is the identity they should now be pursuing to shape their future.
Robert Lacey is the author of two biographies of the Queen—Majesty and Monarch. He has also written on the history and politics of Saudi Arabia and lived in Detroit in the 1980s to write a biography of Henry Ford.