Daniela Elser: Prince Harry’s greatest failing leaves bleak future for royals

OPINION

Let it never be said that the British are not a contradictory people.

Polling done in the wake of the most recent topsy-turvy week of Windsor shenanigans has found that nearly half of all those surveyed think that Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have let the royal family down, added to which 43 per cent say they now think less of the California-based duo than this time last year.

And yet 45 per cent of Brits said they thought the renegade Duke and Duchess “were right to step down as working royals”.

Huh?

Meanwhile another poll, conducted earlier in the week, found 49 per cent of British people think Harry should be removed from his place as sixth in the line of succession.

(At least Oprah Winfrey unequivocally loves Harry and Meghan.)

All in all, it’s a bit of a puzzler: When Harry and Meghan finally do one day pitch up back at Heathrow, will they be greeted by a pitchfork and torch-wielding mob or by a horde of fans burning effigies of the Queen and ready to carry them aloft via litter to Frogmore Cottage?

For Her Majesty, though, along with the so-called Men In Grey who dutifully serve her (though in 21st nomenclature I think it should be People In Grey), it’s a moot point because if there is one thing the last week has made abundantly clear it is this: The vice-like grip that Harry and Meghan exert over the British public imagination, good and bad, is not a phase.

This is not some passing enchantment that will, with time, dissipate.

They might be gone but the British public have not – and will not – be forgetting them anytime soon, no matter where they live or whether they are entitled to slap a coronet in front of their names.

Love ’em or loathe ’em, despite having the Sussexes’ final official ties to the monarchy being severed by the palace, there is no question Harry and Meghan have an unassailable dominance over the royal conversation and will remain a significant proverbial thorn in the side of the palace.

This is not to imply that the Duke and Duchess have been conducting some sort of Machiavellian campaign to hog media attention on two continents because really, these days the duo only seem to have stars and stripes in their eyes. (Union what? St George who?)

Rather, this intense national fascination says far more about the 66 million inhabitants of Great Britain than it does about Montecito’s two newest ratepayers.

No matter whether it is in any way intentional or totally accidental, Harry and Meghan – in setting themselves up with what amounts to be a competing royal “court” replete with genuflecting attendants (oh hey Oprah!) and a loyal army of subjects – represent a perpetual distraction for the British people from whatever the real royal family is up to.

In January, The Times reported that in 2021 the Queen was keen to get “back to balcony business” and would return to London for Trooping the Colour in June, a grand flag-waving fiesta of national pride which would constitute the first major British public occasion since the pandemic began.

However, in light of last week, the looming post-Megxit question is, can the royal family ever really “get back to business” when the Sussexes continue to hold such sway over Britons?

The answer to that question, for now at least, is a firm “no”, the tenor and tone of which you would instruct a salivating dorgi to release one’s favourite silk scarf.

In fact, if there was ever any question that having achieved their “freedom” the British public and press would somehow lose interest in the couple has inched out of unrealistic territory into the downright hallucinatory.

Exacerbating the problem is that the remaining working HRHs, which per The Mirror, the palace is trying to sell as the “Magnificent Seven” – Aka Prince Charles, his wife Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, Princess Anne, William and Kate Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Edward and Sophie Earl and Countess of Wessex – are hardly thrill-a-minute dynamos with Adele on speed dial.

Their brand of dogged, dependable and quite dull royal good works might impress reigning monarchs everywhere, but in the battle for the public’s attention they will most likely always come a distant second to the Sussexes.

Which is why it is particularly ironic that despite this messy state of affairs, that while the UK can’t drag their eyes away from the Sussexes, the couple themselves seem relentlessly focused on building their dazzling future in the US, leaving Blighty behind in their rearview mirror.

While the couple have maintained their personal charitable ties to the UK – notably and among others Invictus Games for Harry and SmartWorks for Meghan – aside from that nearly every new project they have taken on in the last 12 months has been US or globally focused.

Today, Harry and Meghan seem predominantly focused on winning over their American fanbase, a notion which would have been totally foreign to Harry in his former life.

When the couple launched their Archewell Foundation towards the end of last year, of the five projects and partnerships they chose to highlight there is not a British one among them.

When Covid started to become a real threat in March last year, instead of returning to the UK, Harry and Meghan flitted to LA via a $150 million borrowed private jet to spend their days angrily swatting at paparazzi drones in the garden. (Gee, who’da thunk it?)

When the Duke’s father and this brother tested positive for the virus, still they stayed put. When his grandmother told a traumatised nation “we’ll meet again”, they were an ocean and a continent away.

In February last year, the couple spoke at a JP Morgan conference in Miami, signed business deals with Silicon Valley’s Netflix and Sweden’s Spotify and the Duchess invested in an American vegan latte business, not a Union Jack-waving entity among them.

Is it any wonder a good chunk of the British population might be feeling a tad peeved?

National hurt feelings aside, the doomsday scenario for the palace remains in intractable place, that is, in the months to come, despite their best efforts and all the bunting they might be able to get their hands on, the royal family will not quite be able to get out from under the long, long shadow cast by Harry and Meghan.

This weekend marks exactly once year since Harry returned to the UK to begin the final round of official engagements that marked the end of their royal careers. And nearly one year since the Sussexes sashayed out of royal life, we are all still totally and utterly in their thrall.

The palace, like it or not, included.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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