It’s only been 48 hours since House Sussex publicly announced their intention to create a new job description for themselves and the story keeps changing and updating. Quick recap: when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle first released their statement, Buckingham Palace soon followed, less than two hours later with a rather terse response, saying that there were “complicated” issues to work through, suggesting that the Queen was far from signing off on the matter and that there might be pushback.
Yesterday was all about feelings as we heard about how the Queen was “blindsided” by the Sussexes and that she, Prince Charles, and Prince William were given only 10 minutes heads up about the announcement, even though Harry had already initiated conversations with the Queen and Prince Charles about his plans/hopes. We know now that that’s indeed how it went down – that a few weeks ago, Harry had expressed his desire to make changes to the Sussex role in the royal structure and that he was told to put it in writing, which he resisted because he was worried about leaks, but he did it anyway and, oh, look what happened, there was a leak. The Sun’s Dan Wootton published an exclusive about the Sussexes wanting to move to Canada which is why Harry and Meghan expedited their announcement and released it the following day.
Yes, the website had been a work in progress for some time – which is what organised, strategic people do – but the moment The Sun went ahead with their story, whatever initial timeline the Sussexes were operating on was thrown out and they accelerated the drop, so as to better control the story. If I were part of their team, I would have advised the same thing. Because that was Harry’s warning to them when he was asked to put his request in writing: this sh-t will leak, this is not running a tight operation, your staff, Dad, and your staff, Brother, cannot be trusted… and the very thing he predicted came true.
Near the end of the day yesterday, another update – the Queen called for a crisis summit and instructed everyone to put forward a few options to be considered. They now want to get this done soon; “haste” is the word that was used, like a matter of days, not weeks or months. Which, as you know, is not usually how these people roll. They’re slow as f-ck. That’s their whole brand: steady and constant, closer to the “static” side of the spectrum than “dynamic”.
The question now is what those options look like. Critics of Harry and Meghan say they can’t have their cake and eat it too – but at this point, publicly, we don’t know what the cake actually is. This wasn’t defined in their announcement and no outlet has been able to say, exactly, what the Sussexes’ ideal plan looks like. Right now there are just assumptions, which I’ve made too. If “financial independence” is the stated goal, it seems likely that they want to be free to consider investment deals etc that directly support their causes, and appearance and marketing opportunities that are beyond the limited scope of what royals can typically engage in. But none of that is all that specific and on the other side, it certainly isn’t clear how they want to or will be able to engage in royal duties to represent the Queen and the Commonwealth.
The only thing that is quite defined is their relationship with the media and the royal rota, or what they call The Cartel. And that’s probably been a major sticking point over the course of this year. For the other households, Buckingham, Clarence, and Cambridge, their attitude has always been that the UK tabloids, like the Daily Mail and The Sun, sure, they suck, but it’s something they’ve endured with a classic “let’s just suck it up and push through” approach. Harry and Meghan obviously don’t want to play that way – but for them, even if they were to play it that way, and “suck it up” like the others, the stakes for them are much higher. Because they’re in a biracial relationship with a biracial child. Remember, last year there was already a media incident with a Neo Nazi group calling Harry a “race traitor”. If you are not a person of colour, you may not appreciate how triggering this is for people of colour, those for whom racial violence isn’t just a prospect but a reality; it is their lived experience. But the added layer of frustration here is that those who experience this not only have to go through it, they have to justify or prove its existence.
Early on in my relationship with Jacek, we went on a road trip, travelling through very white small towns. One morning we stopped at a local diner. People stared and glared and I felt othered and unsafe. Jacek, who is white, didn’t get it. He didn’t notice and when I told him, initially he was dismissive. But he did start picking up on it the next day, and the day after. He became aware of the hostility – as soon as you see it, you can’t ignore it. A few years later when we were moving across the country and driving through other small towns, we ended up pulling into a gas station and he was the one this time to tell me to not get out of the car and stay low. But without me in his life, he wouldn’t have known in the first place. And I know for sure that I’m not the only one with a story like this.
So for Meghan and Harry, there’s a whole other level of bullsh-t that they’re dealing with where The Cartel is concerned that other members of the British royal family, not to mention the courtiers, don’t have to deal with and … may not be able or willing to understand? Because if it’s gotten to this level of tension, obviously there’s a major communication breakdown.
And it’s not just “Megxit” – calling it a “Megxit” undermines Harry’s assertiveness, as if he’s always been the compliant, obsequious one. You remember when he was with Chelsy Davy, how much time he spent and wanted to spend in Africa, away from the UK? And when he was serving in the armed forces, how much he welcomed being away from the UK while doing his duty for family and freedom? Harry has always had an escape muscle that’s pulled at him.
Word is he’s staying back in England the last couple of days to continue to negotiate the situation. In the short term, the Sussexes have gotten what they want, in a round about way. Remember they had floated their ideas a few weeks ago and were told to pump the brakes. Someone then leaked it to The Sun, prompting them to make the drop on the announcement. Whoever it was who was leaking it to Dan Wootton and The Sun, then, may have misplayed their card. Because now it’s accelerated the situation in a way that, clearly, isn’t what Buckingham Palace and Clarence House and Kensington Palace had in mind. Does that give Harry an edge at all in the negotiations, given that the media is all over this and his relatives haaaaaate being in the news? Or will it only be a temporary gain because it’s harder to get what you want out of people when they’re mad at you? I don’t know that there’s a clear answer here. What Harry’s done this week is he’s sent the message to his family members that he’s willing to go off-book, and these are people who don’t know how to go off-book. The British royals aren’t exactly skilled at 2020 strategy and management.
As for Meghan, the common language about her now is that she’ll be away from London for the “foreseeable future”. Which some are taking to mean she is f-cking done with England. Which brings to mind the part in the documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, when she told ITV journalist Tom Bradby, when he asked if she was OK, that she appreciated him asking because no one really asked.
It was taken then as a shot at those who are supposed to be closest to Harry and now, these months later, an even clearer picture is emerging. They timed that documentary to coincide with the announcement of the lawsuit(s) and, speaking so candidly like that, both for Meghan about how she’s been treated by the tabloids and Harry about his relationship with the UK media and his family, that they are not about to hide their hurt. And they were criticised for that too – because stoicism is typically the way of the British royals. Isn’t it interesting then that there are so many headlines about how hurt the other members of the royal family and the Queen are right now over Harry and Meghan’s decision?