Harry, Meghan and the nature of public service

20 February 2021

6:45 PM

20 February 2021

6:45 PM

Well, the ways have parted. That 12-month revision of the departure of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex for California (via Canada) has been expedited by, it would seem, the decision of the couple to share all with Oprah Winfrey. There was, according to the Mail’s well-informed Royal correspondent, Richard Kay, an hour-long conversation between Her Majesty and Harry, which ended with the sentiment: sorry, it’s in or out mate. Remarkably the two parties couldn’t even come up with a joint statement to give the illusion of amity.

The Queen’s statement is especially choice:

Following conversations with the Duke, the Queen has written confirming that in stepping away from the work of the royal family it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service.

Responsibilities. Duties. A Life of Public Service. I think the dimmest of us can see that she’s drawing a comparison between all of those things and the life of her grandson and his wife in Los Angeles. And it was that, according to Kay, that meant Harry and his lovely wife ‘hit the roof’.

The reply came swiftly from California:

As evidenced by their work over the past year, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex remain committed to their duty and service to the UK and around the world, and have offered their continued support to the organisations they have represented regardless of official role. We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.

Ooof. We get the message: that painful programme by the couple on Spotify to send out the message of the Archewell Foundation about being Kind and Nice and Mindful – that was service. The interview with Oprah, which I am keenly looking forward to, about the reasons why the couple felt compelled to leave – that’s service. Their video appearance to intervene to (all but) tell Americans to vote Democrat…that’s service. Really?

You know, I don’t think HM is going to be terribly impressed by that bit about ‘their work last year’. If anything, the record of this pair – who followed that extraordinary court case to keep correspondence between Meghan and her father out of the public domain, with the release of a picture of the two of them under a tree somewhere so that he could let us see his terrifically informal bare feet – has demonstrated how very wise it was to for HM to cut the connection altogether.

Service? I think in the context of the Royals, that means turning out for the occasional royal gala at the National Theatre in Meghan’s capacity as its patron. Or for Harry and the Marines, turning out for their commemorations in uniform. Not what you’d call demanding, but it meant a lot to the servicemen. Turns out you can’t do all that from California.

And then there were their roles in the Commonwealth. Harry and Meghan were president and vice-president respectively of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, while Meghan was patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities. So, they’d have to do the occasional royal tour, like that one in South Africa before they bowed out, during which they were treated with respect and made welcome. How hard is it to smile, chat, say something kind to children, look interested when people tell you what they do? The Queen, it seems, went out of her way to try to show Meghan the ropes and make her feel welcome. That’s not exactly being frozen out, is it? Well, we’ll find out, when they bare their souls to that Titan of public service, Oprah Winfrey.

I was sent by some fatuous children’s publisher a children’s book about Meghan marrying into the Windsors at the time of the wedding which suggested that this heartwarming event was like a fairytale…the lovely girl and her prince etc etc. Well, Meghan has tapped into a newer trend in children’s publishing – giving a feminist take to the fuddy duddy old fairy tales – in the way she’s interpreted her role. It was she who has hauled an admittedly pretty dim prince onto her horse and taken him off to her own stamping ground, where royalty usefully enhances celebrity, amplified by global corporate promotion. The Queen may not know who Spotify is when it’s at home, but she is shrewd enough to see that her grandson is making himself look a bit of a fool. She may even, who knows, feel sorry for Thomas Markle who last week pleaded with his daughter to see his grandchildren.

Meanwhile, one can only hope that the rumours are true that it will be Princess Anne who takes over the honorary role with the Marines from her nephew; she lacks Meghan M’s loveliness and Prince Harry’s matiness, but she’d frighten the other side. I wouldn’t set too much store by the assurance that ‘the Duke and Duchess remain much loved members of the family’ myself.

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