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Buckingham Palace’s favorite method of communication sometimes seems to be semaphore. Over the course of the Jubilee celebrations so far, the palace couldn’t have made it clearer via several mime shows that it has little interest in trying to flatter the egos of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle—nor any inclination to use the political capital of the queen’s last hurrah to sell a narrative of reconciliation between Harry and his brother Prince William, or their wives.
Instead, Harry and Meghan have been firmly treated as rather unimportant, second-class guests. Having apparently been strongly urged to do nothing to steal Her Majesty’s limelight they have had little choice other than to like it or lump it, as the old British saying goes.
The fact that they are so desperately unpopular in Britain that their ratings are in the toilet and on Friday they were subjected to audible boos amongst the more usual cheers when they arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral is likely to have made this ruthless strategic decision by the palace somewhat easier.
At the church service, the couple were seated across the aisle from Charles (representing the queen, who was too unwell to attend) and William, a long, long way, physically and spiritually, from the new nexus of royal power. Their seat mates were not future kings and queens of the United Kingdom but a collection of second division players; Beatrice, Eugenie, Prince Edward et al.
As Tina Brown, founding editor of The Daily Beast and author of the new book The Palace Papers, told The Daily Beast: “The seating definitely declared they have slipped to supporting players, buried in the royal B-list.”
After Friday’s service, and some careful choreography that avoided even the merest possibility of Sussex and Cambridge entering each other’s personal space or even making eye contact, the great and the good were whisked off to London’s Guildhall to hobnob and backslap, with the notable exception of Harry and Meghan, who, were back at their house in Windsor, Frogmore Cottage, before the last stragglers had left the shindig.
It was the latest in a series of meaningful unspoken slights. On Thursday they were excluded from any visual presentations around the Trooping the Color celebration (although a few grainy long-lens photos trickled out eventually), explicitly not invited to the Buckingham Palace balcony appearance with the queen and were not present at any of the beacon lighting ceremonies around the country.
The messaging clearly suggested that while it was jolly nice to have them there, these Californians were highly expendable in terms of the royal master plan—and certainly wouldn’t be getting any special treatment.
Nothing happens by accident in the world of royal choreography. Courtiers were well aware that the billions of eyes on social media were very much hoping for a re-run of the 2020 Commonwealth Service when Kate blanked Meghan.
The palace was understandably not interested in facilitating a game of spot the difference. And they know that if Harry or Meghan had been photographed with William or Kate, the giant exercise of compare and contrast is all anyone would have been talking about this weekend.
As far as the palace is concerned, that’s not what the millions of hours of planning that have gone into the Platinum Jubilee were intended to achieve.
The low-profiling of Harry and Meghan is likely to continue for the remainder of the weekend. For example, although sources say that William and Kate will each give speeches at Saturday night’s Platinum Party at the Palace, there is no indication that Harry and Meghan will even be in attendance.
For similar reasons, The Daily Beast understands that it is also considered highly unlikely that the queen will attend a rumored first birthday party for her great-grand-daughter Lilibet at Frogmore Cottage on Saturday, and even more unlikely that a photograph of the queen with Lilibet will be released, as some have suggested, again at least partially out of concern that to do so would provide a major distraction from the core message of the Jubilee, which is, of course: “God save the queen,” and the achievements of Queen Elizabeth.
Will the queen be seen in public again? Not on Saturday during the day at least—Buckingham Palace said she would not attend the Derby horse race; Princess Anne will most likely stand in for her. It is a wait-and-see for the concert at the palace on Saturday night. A forecast of torrential downpours on Sunday is adding to fears the great national celebration could have a rather soggy, underwhelming end.
It was interesting to note that a story saying that the queen had met Lilibet at a lunch party on Thursday had its genesis in a claim by by Omid Scobie, the reporter who wrote the sympathetic Sussex biography Finding Freedom. Scobie, who is thought to be close to the Sussexes and their team, and was briefed by Meghan’s representatives when writing the book, said on a BBC breakfast show that the queen had finally met her namesake on Thursday.
The palace, for their part, flatly refused to comment on the veracity of Scobie’s claims, even off the record.
The reality is that despite several opportunities to position Harry and Meghan in any of many permutations with William Kate Charles and Camilla, the inherently risk-averse powers at the palace have definitively chosen not to do so.
The focus of a Jubilee is apparently the individual whose reign is being marked, but really this human is a Trojan horse for the wider institution of monarchy. In this sense, the Jubilee has given us a glimpse of the rapidly oncoming world of King Charles III, who was undoubtedly handed a gift from the heavens when his troublesome brother Andrew went down with Covid, meaning he could not attend the one event to which he had been invited, Friday’s church service, which Charles ended up presiding over in place of his ailing mother.
The glitz of its ceremony-making runs in tandem with the ruthlessness of the palace. Harry and Meghan have spent the last two years attacking the royal family, so it should hardly be a surprise that the institution has retaliated by treating them with ill-disguised disdain.