Farewell tours tend to be the preserve of ageing rock stars. Royals, cut from the cloth of Elizabeth Windsor, are meant to keep going until they are six feet under.
Harry and Meghan have torn up the script that he received at birth and she on her wedding day. In under two years, they’ve gone from offering the royals a tantalising refresh to departing these shores by the end of this month.
Their voluntary extraction has been painful for them and the family they are leaving behind. Both sides have made mistakes. The Queen and others will surely reflect on what more they should have done to keep Meghan on the inside; they don’t have a good track record when it comes to women staying put in the Firm.
And Harry now knows his grandmother’s — at times — gloved hand conceals an iron fist. She didn’t take kindly to her grandson’s attempt to bounce her into allowing the couple to be part-time royals and part-time earners of money in civvy street. It was a ‘have your cake and eat it’ approach that was never going to fly, with the couple even displaying a degree of petulance over their website being forced to abandon the just created ‘Sussex Royal’ brand.
Bruised by the battles of recent months, there have been attempts at rapprochement. William and Harry have tried to improve their damaged relationship. The brothers know they need each other, not least because only they completely understand the enduring and unrelenting pain of the bereavement inflicted on them in their teenage years.
The Queen, by her actions, has demonstrated her hope that this farewell tour is more au revoir than adieu. Harry’s prized honorary role as Captain General, Royal Marines isn’t being filled for twelve months; one of the many topics that was probably discussed during his four-hour private meeting with the Monarch the other week. The fact we know it took place demonstrates how addictively attractive leaking has become to some of the senior members of the four competing Royal Households.
There is a way back, in 2021, when the Queen will be approaching 95 and a review of the current arrangements takes place. No one can predict accurately what will happen then. But for the next twelve months Harry and Meghan will be astride the world stage, only not the royal one. Their last few engagements under the Windsor banner have demonstrated brilliantly the elixir they have that eludes others.
It’s unlikely any other royal, standing on a school stage, could prompt a 16-year-old Head Boy to declare, ‘she really is beautiful, innit’. Such teenage adoration, from Aker Okoye who also kissed the duchess on the cheek, was just one of the reactions Meghan provoked at London’s Robert Clack school where she celebrated International Women’s Day.
Other pupils were struck by the fact they were in the presence of a woman who describes herself as ‘half black and half white’. For a fleeting period of time, Meghan helped an ancient institution look and feel a bit more like modern Britain.
By accident, or by design (in reality, probably a mix of the two) the Harry and Meghan farewell tour has reminded the rest of the Royal Family what they had, briefly; what they’re losing; and what they’ll struggle to replace.
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Peter Hunt is a former BBC diplomatic and royal correspondent. He tweets on @_PeterHunt