ANOTHER ANNUS HORRIBILIS?

As the dust begins to settle over the dramatic ITV Documentary on Harry and Meghan, are the Royal Family's problems only just beginning?

By Jonathan Reed

24 October 2019

It all feels slightly déjà vu doesn’t it? As if we have stepped into a royal time-machine back to the 90s. But unlike the war of the Wales’ – the Diana versus Charles saga which dominated newspapers at that time – there feels something truly odd about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex seemingly attacking The Royal Family.

A senior source close to the couple spoke to CNN stating that some Palace insiders were determined to fuel “anti-Prince Harry and Meghan hysteria”, and that the couple had “single-handedly modernized the monarchy”.

These are strong statements which to my mind seem far from the truth. Firstly, no other member has done more for the Royal Family than the woman who has headed the institution for nearly 70 years. Her Majesty The Queen has quietly, tentatively and passionately steered her family through six decades of political and social changes. She has seen through wars, scandals, and with the art of soft diplomacy, ensured that the monarchy endures without uttering a single complaint.

Her modernisation has been implemented with subtility, where the changes may not seem noticeable today, but the way in which The Royal Family of 2019 operates, is in stark contrast to the monarchy the Queen inherited in 1952.

So, when the CNN statement was revealed, I like many Brits were left frowning at what could be perceived as a blatant example of delusion of grandeur. There is no denying that Harry and Meghan have made an impact, they have highlighted issues with aplomb and compassion aplenty, but are their heads becoming too big for their crowns?

Secondly, after watching the ITV documentary and pre behaviour of the couple to the media – including Prince Harry reprimanding Sky News Royal Correspondent, Rhiannon Mills, for asking a prefectly adequate question – there seems to be only two people who are feeding the anti-Sussex rhetoric, Harry and Meghan.

Picking a fight with the Royals will never end well for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and airing your family grievances publicly will further alienate your argument. But amongst all this sorry affair, what is most perplexing is, just what issue does Harry and Meghan have with the Royals?

This is a family who welcomed Meghan with open arms. The Queen broke unspoken traditions to envelop the Duchess into the royal fold. She walked with the royals to church in Sandringham, even though at the time she wasn’t a member of the ‘firm’. The couple were bestowed a blockbuster wedding venue, they were provided a “cottage” on the grounds of Frogmore and given their own household and charitable foundation. I can’t remember the last time a member of the Royal Family who is sixth-in-line to the Throne was granted such prestige.

Against all of this goodwill, Harry and Meghan seem to be on a war path against anyone who dare try to give advice that doesn’t fit into their narrative. Another source close to the couple revealed to The Sun newspaper that Harry is ‘stronger than ever’ insinuating that the concerned attitude of his brother Prince William is overhyped.

Once again, I find myself referring to the ITV documentary, to which painted a very different picture. So much so that it makes you wonder whether Harry even remembers his own actions throughout the hour-long TV special.

Standing against a campfire, he spoke openly about how the following Press pack reminded him of his mother’s fractured relationship with the media. “Every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash it takes me straight back, so in that respect it’s the worst reminder of her life as opposed to the best,” he said. Add this to the Prince admitting to a young South African boy that he sometimes struggles to get out of bed on a morning due to the troubles of the world, it hardly screams ‘stronger than ever’.

There will be many who will have watched the ensuing drama which has escalated since the dramatic ITV documentary with consternation. For those they will have seen two extremely privileged individuals bemoaning problems which pale in comparison to the abject poverty of the enthusiastic South Africans Harry and Meghan were meant to champion. Instead of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex celebrating their successful royal tour and their work with those less privileged, this documentary has ignited a worrying trend of self-preservation. And achieving that goal at any cost.

In 1995 Harry’s mother, Diana, Princess of Wales took part in an infamous interview with Martin Bashir, one which she would later admit was the biggest regret of her life. She won the sympathy of the public but in return forced through the divorce she didn’t want, alienated her from many of her friends and angered Prince William so much, he refused to see or speak to her for over a month. To put it simply, it didn’t resolve her problems.

© Getty Images

Harry and Meghan’s interviews will also achieve the same ending. The difference is, Diana didn’t polarise the British public as much as the Sussex’s do. And perhaps this is where the documentary has mostly failed. Those who love Harry and Meghan will continue to, those who don’t will do the same. The dial of public opinion hasn’t shifted like it did with Diana.

When the Princess of Wales sat in her living room of Kensington Palace admitting that ‘there were three of us in this marriage… so it was a bit crowded,” 25 million viewers listened aghast to those words. When Meghan solemnly stated that “it’s not enough to survive, you have to thrive” only a peak UK audience of 3.2 million tuned in. The documentary became the fifth most watched program that week. Does this prove that the British public are over the constant drama which emanates around Harry and Meghan?

The Royal Family has basked in the glow of brilliant press and public opinion, the best in decades. Yet with the unravelling of the Sussex’s relationship within the monarchy, its stability is now facing question. Pitting themselves against the Royals, and in particular the Queen and two future Kings isn’t going to bode well for Harry and Meghan and it now leaves the question of what happens next?

The Duke and Duchess want a private life, and that’s a choice they have the right to demand, yet why does it feel that they are actively doing everything to achieve the opposite?

When Harry diplomatically insinuated that the rumoured rift with his brother was true, he must’ve known that his comments would have adorned the front pages of every newspaper up and down the country. He must’ve been aware that William would’ve been concerned after hearing his struggles, as any other sibling would be. Harry himself alluded to this fact saying that “I’ll always be there for him and as I know he’ll always be there for me.” Yet if that’s the case, why state that his brother’s concerned reaction is ‘hysterical’?

© Getty Images

Unfortunately for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the Royal Family operates on hierarchy not celebrity. Its popularity is accomplished through a team effort, with the minor royals supporting the Queen and those who will embody the emblems of sovereignty and majesty afterwards. Harry and Meghan’s roles are as a supporting act and it will forever be that way whilst they remain members of the ‘firm’. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important; it just means they aren’t vital.

The sad truth is that, if like many suspects, they leave the monarchy and set out on the own path without their HRH’s, then the Royal Family will soldier on and in years to come so will the media and the public. Sure, it would be a dramatic finale to a situation that could have been wholly avoided, but whether they stay or leave, it doesn’t change the fabric of direct succession to the throne.

What Harry and Meghan’s documentary demonstrated was that the Sussex’s clearly don’t understand this, and their aide’s statement to CNN confirms it. They don’t see themselves as the support, but the main attraction. They aren’t part of the royal team; they are the one’s leading it’s modernisation, and it is here where the problem lies.

© ITV

Harry described his mother’s death as a ‘wound which festers’, a statement which you can’t help but sympathise with. But it also feels as if another wound is festering too, one of resentment – an antipathy for a lack of support and of being the ‘spare’.

If this gameplaying lasts, whereby the Duke and Duchess of Sussex continue to declare war on everyone and anyone without fear of the repercussions, then they are doomed to fail. If they aren’t careful, they will isolate themselves from a family who could genuinely help them, and for Harry, a brother who is the only person on earth who can understand his loss.

This whole sorry mess does feel like déjà vu, and before it well and truly spirals out of control, the Queen must step in otherwise she could well be heading for another dreaded annus horribilis.