Well, that was about as much of a surprise as a drunk uncle at a wedding. For months now, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have had the look of two people who would rather suck lemons than continue to be an active part of the Royal Family.
Frankly, it’s a surprise they’ve lasted this long.
That said, I’m very sad to see them go. And so soon. It feels like they’ve barely got stuck in, hardly had a chance to understand what the job really entails before handing in their resignation.
Prince Harry and Meghan (pictured, official engagement photo in 2017) announced they are ‘stepping back’ from Royal duties, this evening. It is surprising they have lasted this long with a look of two people who would rather suck lemons than continue to be an active part of the Royal Family
It’s almost as though they never really had any intention of trying to stick it out at all, as though right from the start the notion was always there in the back of their minds that if life as Duke and Duchess didn’t live up to expectation, they would simply leave.
Being a part of the Royal Family is not easy. It may carry with it all the trappings of privilege, but there is a hefty price to pay. It takes determination and a deep-rooted sense of duty to withstand both the scrutiny and expectations of the British public and press. A strong backbone and a thick skin are just as vital as a graceful carriage and an elegant wave.
A strong backbone and a thick skin are just as vital as a graceful carriage and an elegant wave for being part of the Royal family. The couple’s announcement is indicative of how little they cannot look past their own immediate happiness and gratification
Their recent news comes as Prince Philip has only just been let out of hospital (pictured) and the family are still weathering a storm of Prince Andrew’s ‘car-crash’ Newsnight interview
Successive generations of royals have had to learn these lessons in their own way. None – not even the Queen herself – have been immune to the great pressures that come with such a rarefied existence. The personal sacrifices that have to be made can be hard to bear, all the more so because they have to be borne in private.
And yet, for those who endure, the rewards are great. Not just the undying love and respect of the British people, but also a chance to pursue one’s passions and really make a difference where it matters.
Both Prince Charles and Prince William have battled their own demons, and risen finally to the challenge. Which is why it’s all the more unsettling to see Harry, once the rumbustious soldier, never afraid of getting stuck in among the lads, flying the white flag so early on in the struggle.
There takes a certain degree of personal sacrifice to join the Royal family. But with the announcement of leaving their senior royal positions, people are left wondering whether their million-pound wedding (pictured) or Frogmore Cottage was not enough
I suppose there is a kind of courage in knowing when you’ve had enough, and in that respect Harry has been clear enough. But in truth it’s not entirely obvious what has driven him to such a conclusion: was the £2.4 million taxpayer-funded refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage not lavish enough? The outpouring of affection at their multi-million-pound wedding insufficiently fawning? The Queen’s repeated invitations to stay – rebuffed more than once – not hospitable enough?
It’s almost as though nothing matters to this couple apart from their own immediate happiness and gratification, as though they are incapable of seeing beyond their own little bubble of privilege. It has often been speculated as to whether they might end up walking away from Britain. But the timing of this announcement could hardly be more insensitive, or more indicative of the how little either seems to understand the true nature of their roles as Royals.
Meghan turned down the Queen’s invitation to join her at the Highland Games in Scotland. Her Majesty was left ‘disappointed’ by the Duchess of Sussex’s rejection and choosing to watch her friend Serena Williams play tennis instead
Prince Philip has only just come out of hospital. The Yorks are still weathering a storm of scandal. In the wider world, Britain’s forces stand in peril in the Middle East. Yet this is the moment they choose to walk away – and without telling the Queen.
Yet for all that, my reaction to this story is more sadness than anger. Especially when you think back to how happy we all were when Harry finally found his bride, how excited we were to share in his delight.
That little lost boy deprived of his mother had had it rough, not least because of a distant father who sometimes seemed more interested in his mistress. All those years of drunken escapades, Nazi uniforms, strip billiards in Vegas, fleeting Sloaney girlfriends – they all melted away when it became clear Harry had found a woman he felt could be his own rock to cling onto in a turbulent life.
For all those reasons, the nation invested such hope in their union – one which also provided an incredible opportunity to breathe fresh life into the institution of royalty.
Here was a beautiful, successful, independent young woman from a mixed race background who had made her own way in life against considerable odds, and whose ambition and ability were an inspiration to so many.
But there is a big difference between being a famous soap actress and a member of the royal family, and grasping that distinction is something Meghan has clearly struggled with throughout. For a minor Hollywood celebrity she has always seemed curiously ill-at-ease with the public nature of her role as royal consort, uncomfortable with the proprietorial nature of the deal.
Britain’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Meghan Duchess of Sussex reacts as they leave after her visit to Canada House in thanks for the warm Canadian hospitality and support they received during their recent stay in Canada
Now, for whatever reason, Harry seems to have been distanced from his own family in the same way Meghan extracted herself from much of her own, and also walked away from her first husband.
That said, let’s be clear: while the temptation is to blame Meghan for the couple’s decision to walk away, in truth the ultimate responsibility lies with Harry. Meghan at least has the excuse that she was not born to this role, that she had no previous experience, that she could not have ever truly known how it would turn out. He, by contrast, was to the manor born. He knew exactly what he was letting her in for.
Harry’s own struggles before he met Meghan may have played some part in his choice of bride. Had he married a more conventional woman, a member of the British upper classes, he would never have had the chance to escape the institution that, in his heart of hearts, he still blames for the loss of his mother. In some ways, Meghan is for Harry the ultimate excuse for an opt-out. She may be the catalyst; but she’s not the cause.
It also, perhaps, explains why he has, time and again, ridden to her defence so passionately. Through her, he has seized the chance to hit back at all the injustices he perceives as having persecuted his late mother, to do for Meghan what as a young boy he could never do for Diana.
Meghan signing a guestbook at Canada House. The couple both appeared to be refreshed and in high spirits following their break
On a more straightforward level, to see someone you love judged because of who and what you stand for is so very hard, especially when you have no say in the matter. Harry was born into this life, he did not choose it; he has, for all his faults, endured great personal suffering because of it. And to have to stand by and watch it make the woman he loves so clearly unhappy must be agonising.
It is this, I think, that explains his decision. And also, looking back over the past 18 months, his gradual detachment from his family – his brother William, to whom he has always been so close, his father Charles – and some of his oldest friends.
Meghan Markle celebrated the impending arrival of her first child Archie with a lavish baby shower trip to New York in February 2019
Fired up with a determination to make a success of his marriage at all costs, to succeed where his father failed, he has turned his back on so much of what made him.
It is also why, since he married Meghan, we have witnessed the birth of a new Harry, one shaped less in the image of his own family and more in the mould of Meghan and her fashionable and wealthy international circle. The woke, somewhat humourless and very entitled Harry we see before us now is almost unrecognisable as the rumbustious fellow we knew and loved. Of course, people grow up, they change. We can’t forever expect him to be happy-go-lucky Harry. But still, it’s quite a transformation.
And so it’s goodbye Windsor, hello Winnipeg, or whatever corner of North America where they feel most at home. What else is there to say, save to offer our best hopes for happiness with their son. And perhaps to add: be careful what you wish for.