If you’ve ever opened a window to help a trapped bee, only for it to ignore you and keep smashing its head against the glass, you’ll understand how frustrating it is to watch the Duke and Duchess of Sussex attempt to leave the royal family. The door is wide open. All they have to do is walk through. And yet.
As previously assumed, the Sussex Royal dream is over. Harry and Meghan’s plan—to recap: leave the royal family, slap the word “Royal” on every tchotchke imaginable, then swim in money like a pair of less meritocratic Scrooge McDucks—was stopped in its tracks by the Queen, who worried that it could erode the institutional integrity of the British monarchy.
It was a fight they would never win. The Queen is still by far the most popular royal. Even republicans have a small soft spot for her, thanks to her ability to remain in the same thankless job for such a long time. It’s the same begrudging respect you’d show to a man who’d had his arm stuck down a toilet for six months, for instance. Harry and Meghan didn’t stand a chance against her. The easiest win for them would have been to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and revert to plan B. The problem is that their plan B involved throwing an embarrassingly public tantrum.
In a statement that reeked of wounded ego, the pair argued that Buckingham Palace does not possess global rights to their brand, petulantly noting, “There is not any jurisdiction by The Monarchy or Cabinet Office over the use of the word ‘Royal’ overseas.” Right or wrong, the general consensus is that the statement came off as snotty and entitled.
The problem is that their plan B involved throwing an embarrassingly public tantrum.
For a better example of an easy win, let’s look instead to Canada, which recently announced it would stop helping with Harry and Meghan’s security costs. And of course it did. Wouldn’t you? A poll conducted in January revealed what a stupendously unpopular policy it was in the first place, with just 19 percent of Canadians supporting the notion of covering those costs. Forcing a pair of wealthy foreign freeloaders to pay their way might count as the surest political slam dunk in Canadian history, and this from a country that founded the modern concept of peacekeeping. It has even managed to make Justin Trudeau look good; something that has happened less and less since his strange decision to grow a ratty coma-patient beard.
A few speed bumps were always going to be inevitable on the road to independence, but this last week has been peppered with little news stories that have only underlined the impression that the Sussexes are their own worst enemy. For example, last week Harry spoke at an eco-tourism conference in Edinburgh. To signal his eco-virtue, he took the train home rather than fly—except he reportedly claimed an entire first-class carriage to himself, which not only ramped up his individual carbon footprint beyond all measure, but probably cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in the process.
Then there’s Meghan, who has committed two major sins. The first was leaving her son in Canada during her most recent visit to the U.K., leading to tens of thousands of dollars in increased security fees, plus a sad Queen who doesn’t get to see her great-grandchild. The second, reportedly, is attempting to leverage her public platform by trying to get a role in a superhero movie. This last one seems especially egregious. Not only did Meghan get her last voice-over job after her husband cornered Bob Iger at a premiere, but we also shouldn’t forget that her highest-profile movie work to date was a 30-second cameo as Hot FedEx Girl in Horrible Bosses a decade ago.
Harry took the train home rather than fly—except he reportedly claimed an entire first-class carriage to himself.
And even one of Harry’s last remaining royal duties—helping Jon Bon Jovi launch the new Invictus Games theme tune—has backfired, because it turns out that Jon Bon Jovi is now the spitting image of Theresa May, and his appearance has forced us all to relive our old Brexit nightmares. It’s like they can’t catch a break.
To make matters worse, their reappearance in the U.K. this week only underlined how good they are at being royals. Appearing together on Thursday night, their first joint public appearance since their big announcement, it was almost embarrassing how easily they upstaged everyone else. Royal life is by all accounts a mind-numbing procession of factory visits and post-office openings, so to see Harry and Meghan beaming at each other in the pouring rain—each raindrop inexplicably becoming a tiny spotlight pointing straight at them—was to understand the glamour they brought to the family. The fact that they’re turning their back on something they do so well to flounder in the shark-infested waters of celebrity is confounding.
At least they can comfort themselves in the knowledge that, when it comes to spectacularly botching easy wins, they’re no worse than the rest of their family. Upon returning from the COVID-19 hotspot of Northern Italy last week, Zara Tindall (18th in line to the throne) had her management put out a statement declaring that she would not follow the lead of other tourists by self-isolating. Which is absolutely baffling from a public-relations point of view, since the monarchy already has a bad-enough reputation without one of them potentially becoming the Typhoid Mary of the new black plague.
It should be pointed out that not everyone in the royal family is as dramatically averse to the concept of self-isolation as Zara. There is also Prince Andrew, a man destined to never catch the coronavirus because he’s so universally loathed that he isn’t really allowed to leave his house anymore.
Andrew, as if it needs to be said, has had another terrible week in a year full of them. Back in his Newsnight interview, Andrew denied ever meeting Virginia Roberts, who claimed to have been coerced into sex with him when she was 17. However, a lawyer now claims that a string of civil lawsuits brought about by victims of Jeffrey Epstein will roundly disprove his claims. If true, it could undo Andrew forever. That was bad enough, but he has also recently been accused of breaching royal protocol by letting a supermodel sit on the Queen’s throne. And what a relief it is to say that none of that last sentence was a euphemism.
Andrew has also recently been accused of breaching royal protocol by letting a supermodel sit on the Queen’s throne.
But whenever Andrew’s problems worsen, you can always rely on Sarah Ferguson to distract the world with yet another batty moneymaking scheme. She might have been implicated over an undisclosed loan to a friend she helped arrange from a troubled entertainment company whose board she sat on, but she still found time to release three $2,300 fountain pens apparently “inspired by the colours of nature.” The pens are made by Italian firm Montegrappa, whose last big celebrity partnership was with Sylvester Stallone. However, unlike Stallone’s effort, Fergie’s pens aren’t covered in skulls and snakes. Never let it be said that the woman doesn’t have taste.
Still, in a world gone mad, at least you can count on the direct line to the throne to keep nudging in their easy wins. While everything burns around them, the Cambridges have simply been carrying out the laboriously tedious tasks traditionally asked of royals. The week before last, Kate Middleton was mentioned in Vogue for wearing a vaguely athleisure ensemble to a Tae Kwon Do training center in East London. Meanwhile, on the same day, Prince William got to drive a paver.
During a meeting with local dignitaries at the Tarmac National Skills and Safety Park, William was briefed on how to lay a small amount of asphalt around a tight corner. Afterward, the mobile plant assessor told the press that William was good. He did so well, in fact, that a manager jokingly offered him a job as a Tarmac layer. Given the way his family is going, it’s hard to see that as anything other than a promotion.
Stuart Heritage is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL based in Kent, U.K.