It started with an Instagram post and ended with a phone call.
After 13 months of drama and controversy, the Queen has drawn a line under the chapter of royal history dominated by Harry and Meghan Duke and Duchess of Sussexes’ exit from royal life, with news breaking that the auto-exiles would never be returning to royal life.
Overnight, any lingering hope that one day the couple might one day return, in some guise, to the HRH flock was snuffed out with Buckingham Palace confirming in a statement the duo had, once and for all, made the final decision to relinquish their remaining official roles.
January 8 last year saw the Sussexes dramatically take to their, and every wellness influencer’s, platform of choice (to hell with official press office statements, right?) to tell the world that they had enough of spending their days focused solely on being good rule-following HRHs. They wanted out as full-time working royal stiffs and had devised their own nifty plan for “a progressive new role”.
What followed was a palace vs Sussex tussle that ultimately saw the couple walk away from royal life.
Still, there existed the infinitesimally slim possibility that they might come to regret their dramatic decision.
That flame has now been extinguished and a new report has painted a picture of the decisive final steps Her Majesty took to bring this turbulent chapter to a close, revealing that quiet conversations have been going on inside the palace since the new year over the fate of the Sussexes.
On April 1 last year, the first day of Harry and Meghan’s new “free” life on civvy street, most of the details of Megxit had already been hammered out. They would retain but had agreed not to use their stylings as His/Her Royal Highnesses and they would no longer be allowed to bill themselves as “Sussex Royal”.
However, they would be allowed to ink as many deals with a staggering number of zeros attached as they fancied and they could live their lives far away from the eyes of palace mandarins.
It was also a deal that neither side actually wanted; it was, in fact, an epic lose/lose for the ages.
Harry and Meghan had initially, in their January Instagram post, declared they wanted “to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty the Queen.”
At Buckingham Palace, the Sussexes’ proposal went down about as well as Princess Michael of Kent dropping by unexpectedly for a scone. The Queen, reportedly concerned that this would look far too much like the couple profiting off their royal status, read them the riot act, so to speak. (Let us at this point all politely ignore the fact her son makes millions of pounds by schilling his Duchy of Cornwall brand fruit and veg via a major UK supermarket chain.)
They could either come back inside the tent or they were out; their proposed half-in/half-out model which proved to be about as popular as a raw, vegan nut loaf mysteriously cropping up on the Sandringham Christmas table.
Nor did the royal family want to lose Harry and Meghan from their number. As the brand’s two most electrifying stars, their loss posed a serious threat to the ability of the house of Windsor to sell itself to younger Brits and to ensure its survival in the 21st century.
Things came to a climactic head on January 13th when Her Majesty and Princes Charles, William and Harry sat down about 2pm inside the library of her vast Norfolk estate for a confab that became known as the Sandringham Summit, a sort of Yalta Conference for the titled set.
In only a matter of hours it was settled: The Queen had refused to budge and, faced with two very distinct options, Harry and Meghan had chosen to chance their luck out in the cold, real world where they would have nothing but their wits, ducal titles, global fame and their estimated $40 million private fortune to rely on.
But make it that plucky twosome did.
Today, they have not only a Real Housewivesesque mansion of their very own but have signed high-profile deals with streaming giants Netflix and Spotify which are reported to be worth a combined $183 million and their fledgling charitable entity Archewell is up and running, with a pretentious website to boot.
However, there was still one big question mark over their new lives.
Despite Harry agreeing at the Sandringham negotiations to give up his honorary – but beloved- military titles, Her Majesty came up with a nifty plan to leave the door ajar. Harry’s military titles and official patronages would effectively be put on ice for a year rather than being redistributed, and a 12-month review period was put in place on the off chance the Sussexes ever came to regret their hasty exit.
Which brings us to the days after Christmas last year as the end of 2020 approached and the Queen set in motion the final act of Harry and Meghan’s royal divorce.
According to the Telegraph, sometime after the holiday, the sovereign “tentatively picked up the telephone at Windsor Castle and asked to be put through to her grandson. Some 5,500 miles away, ensconced in his new Californian mansion, the Duke of Sussex, 36, took the call he had been expecting for some time.”
What came next might have been no more than “a formality” but the consequences of the call were seismic: Once the decision was made about the couple’s patronages and Harry’s titles, “there would be no going back”.
In the Telegraph’s telling, “Before [the Queen] instructed courtiers to announce that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would not be returning to the royal fold, she needed to be sure that this was what he wanted. She had to be certain that this new independent life he had so desperately craved was going in the right direction and that, crucially, he had no regrets.”
Regrets? It seems unlikely that Harry and Meghan might have any regrets so weighty they would junk in their glittering new life to return to living Windsor under the Heathrow flight path and spending their days opening suburban sports centres.
What is also interesting about news of the Queen’s call to Harry is the light it casts on recent reports which have cropped up in the British press saying he was “determined” to hang on to them and that “He will fight to keep the three patronages.”
Last week a source close to Harry said, “All they have done is express their commitment to [their royal appointments and patronages]. There is no question that if it was up to them, they would keep them.”
In fact, according to the Telegraph report, the decisions over the Sussexes’ remaining official roles were already a fait accompli after the Queen’s trans-Atlantic check-in when this ultimately futile media push began.
“As the Queen is likely to have gently reminded her grandson on that first call in the New Year, it was simply not possible for a member of her family to simultaneously pursue private business interests while also representing her on matters of state.”
Thus, the die was cast but drama seems to follow Harry and Meghan like the Queen’s remaining dorgi trailing in her perfumed wake so even the announcement of this final, sad news was dogged by tumult.
On Monday past, the Sussexes announced they were expecting another baby (huzza!) only to be followed within 24-hours that they had agreed to a 90-minute sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Then, came renewed speculation that the Queen was going to strip them of their remaining titles, leading to feverish speculation. Which came first: The news of their prime time confessional or the supposed monarchical punishment? Who, the thinking went, was lashing out at who?
Turns out, “the Sussexes had hoped to let the dust settle on the announcement about their royal patronages before revealing they had recorded the interview. But the news was leaked, prompting a rushed announcement.”
So … it’s a mess.
What is interesting about the news of the Queen’s phone call is how determinedly she took the steps she saw fit to protect the crown and that even at 94-years of age, her guiding concern was to fiercely guard the sanctity of the monarchy.
There was, based on this new reporting, no equivocating, no wavering.
What must it have felt like for her to have to decide between her adored grandson’s happiness and obvious desire to hold onto his titles and her responsibility to the crown? It is an unthinkable position that at various points in her reign she has been put in, and now we know, she still has to contend with as a nonagenarian.
When the Queen made that call from Windsor Castle it was after having celebrated Christmas, for the first time in her life, far away from her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren due to the pandemic lockdown.
There is something both awesomely impressive and deeply poignant about her steeliness and willingness to do what was right (again, to her mind) rather than what might have made her heart rest a bit easier.
In a 2017 interview, long before anyone had heard of Megxit, Harry told Newsweek that none of his family really wants to sit on the throne, saying “Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time.”
In hindsight, who knew how devastatingly right he was all along?
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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