Love the royals? Join Beast Inside to get access to Royalist, The Beast’s exclusive royals coverage, including a weekly recap of everything happening with the Windsors.
Many of us have to sit with members of our family we don’t see eye to eye with from time, but usually there is a Christmas turkey or some gifts on hand to smooth things over.
Few have to make nice with their siblings and in-laws in the glare of the world’s media, as Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Prince William, and Kate Middleton did at today’s Commonwealth Day church service in London.
Astonishingly, however, the no-longer-fab four made few concessions to the public nature of their final engagement together as senior royals Monday.
This could, so easily—with the merest set of smiles and waves, or even the barest of conversations—have been an occasion of reconciliation in front of the cameras (real or not). Instead, it was an excruciating ignore-a-thon, a masterclass of social distancing.
This was despite the fact that, intelligently, steps had been taken to eliminate awkward standing-around-together time and the two warring couples were led directly to their seats on arrival.
This was a last-minute change of plan, and in sharp contrast to last year, when the foursome loitered, together, but each separately inspecting the fascinating detail of their shoes, in the entrance hall of Westminster Abbey, and then walked behind the Queen, who arrives last, to their seats.
Evidently Her Majesty, usually an inordinate fan of choosing precedent over common sense, had decided that following the 2019 playbook was not an essential part of the day, although an Alexis Colby style slap delivered by any of the young royals might have boosted ratings for this otherwise deeply dreary event which appeared to have just a few thousand viewers on a dedicated YouTube channel (at least three of whom work for The Daily Beast).
It came with commentary of such extraordinary sycophancy—at one stage commentator Robert Hardman said, “There is no doubt that the Commonwealth benefits enormously from the stardust that her Majesty the Queen sprinkles upon it”—that one imagines even the producers in the BBC’s dedicated royal unit, inured to such guff from decades of butt-licking, would have had the decency to blush.
Harry and Meghan arrived first and were shown to their seats, next to Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, and a minute or two later, William and Kate arrived.
Anthropologists could have had a field day with the ensuing dance of the royals that unfolded: Edward bobbed up in his seat to greet his important nephew, Meghan and Harry remained superglued to theirs.
Harry appeared to say, “Hello,” while Meghan smiled, mini-waved and mouthed a greeting at the couple. The camera angle obscured William and Kate’s response, but it appeared to be sufficiently non-effusive for Meghan to immediately turn to her husband for social rescue.
A conversational stand-off then ensued: William and Kate turned in their seats and spoke to Edward and Sophie, Edward and Sophie spoke to Harry and Meghan—but William and Kate and Harry and Meghan made no conversation with each other.
Yes, that’s right: two brothers and their wives, involved in one of the most public falling-outs of the year, couldn’t bring themselves to even pretend to say:
“How are you doing?”
“Yeah alright man,” and smile.
That is literally all it would have taken to nudge the narrative onto a different trajectory.
If this is what things look like when this lot are on best behavior, imagine being a fly on the wall when all hell broke loose between them in Kensington Palace.
Eventually, the Queen arrived, the service got underway and everyone had an alibi to frown seriously for the next hour, as speaker after speaker applauded the diversity of the Commonwealth (the Commonwealth is a loose federation of nations, many of which once counted the Queen as head of state) while studiously ignoring the fact that the Monarchy was only able to hang on to its first-ever non-white member for just 682 days.
Then, it was over. The congregation filed outside as the BBC’s commentators gamely tried to insist that, honestly, despite looking “pensive” during the service, Harry and Meghan were going to be super-involved in the Commonwealth, and that they weren’t leaving the royal family—“The family bonds are still there.”
To prove that, we were told, Harry was coming back to the UK to fire a starting gun at the London Marathon next month. “Hopefully,” the commentator somewhat lamely added, shrewdly hedging his bets, because, you know, maybe he will, maybe he won’t.
It’s not hard to imagine, as they got into a blue Range Rover and were whizzed away from the cloying embrace of royal life, that Meghan and Harry might have let out a well-justified scream of joy and relief.