We pored over every much-publicised detail. Her Givenchy dress; the Botswana diamond ring; a bouquet of Princess Diana’s favourite forget-me-nots; Prince Charles accompanying Meghan to the altar; the conspicuous absence of her own father.
Today, by contrast, we expect the relationship milestone to be shrouded in more privacy. No anniversary social media post (the Sussexes had to forgo their official Instagram page when they stepped back from royal duties – the perfect punishment for rebellious young people); no behind-the-scenes video of Meghan eating breakfast in bed unwrapping her leather-themed present; and no congratulatory message on Twitter from the in-laws. At most, perhaps, another themed charity fundraiser added to the Archewell portfolio – for Archie’s birthday, the couple requested money for vaccine equity (when did kids stop wanting Scalextric?).
This is the new era of the Sussexes. Harry and Meghan 2.0: the Montecito years. We should not be surprised that the couple are simultaneously leaning more into the private family life they said they always wanted, while continuing to give themselves (and their work) enough publicity to turn a profit and pay the bills without support. And yet the world is incensed.
In making a bid for freedom, the couple have entered a PR purgatory, where they are roundly criticised no matter what they do. If they share nothing, they’re condemned for withholding from the public. If they overshare, they are accused of relentlessly courting publicity. If you thought there was a middle ground where they could perhaps share a little without compromising their boundaries, the reaction to the single, sepia-toned photo of Archie on his second birthday – criticised for obscuring his face – proves otherwise.
With the upcoming birth of their daughter, the writing is already on the wall. Given the couple resisted many of the traditional expectations around Archie’s birth despite still being in the royal fold – giving birth at the Lindo Wing, the photographs on the hospital steps, the public christening, sharing the godparent’s names – it would be entirely logical to deduce they will go even further to protect their second child. Especially one who arrives after the tragedy of a miscarriage.
We can already see that the duke and duchess are likely to take their time in deciding how and when to release information about their daughter, perhaps waiting days or even weeks to do it on their own terms. Given they’ve not even specified the month of her due date, this shouldn’t be impossible. In time we might get a photograph, but if you’re expecting a Facebook album uploaded from the birthing pool, think again.
However they approach the birth, we should know by now that they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. However much, or little, they decide to share, the criticism will continue all the same.
Since stepping back, Harry and Meghan are no longer just public figures but pantomime villains for the haters, and moral crusaders for the fans. In the world of the Sussexes, there are no floating voters. A fairly damning video made by YouTubers Josh Pieters and Archie Manners demonstrated just how entrenched the court of opinion is, as royal commentators analysed and derided the content of the Oprah Winfrey interview, while reportedly not yet having seen it.
Indeed the narrative around Meghan and Harry is no longer about how they behave, only about how it further entrenches each camp’s position. Whether or not what Harry and Meghan choose to do is entirely reasonable or actually quite annoying, the headlines remain the same.
If they’d flown the gilded nest at a cost to the public purse, they’d have been riding the palace gravy train. Instead they’ve cut ties and are now doing their best millennial job hunter act (perhaps they, too, write their CV while watching reruns of Homes Under The Hammer), and still they’re accused of everything from plagiarising children’s books to cashing in on their royal status. When they keep mental health struggles a secret, they’re accused of lying; when they talk about them openly, news bulletins scream “Royal whinger: Prince Harry at it again”.
Their partnerships with Netflix, Spotify, Apple TV, and others, have been viewed in some quarters as the ultimate monetisation of the royal brand, serving up a slice of the Queen to Silicon Valley capitalists. But would critics rather that they settle for something less in your face? A rattan armchair collab with John Lewis? A “legend of banter” slogan T-shirt range on QVC? It is clear that all the options on the table come with a side order of critique.
Fundamentally, for them to want to make money to pay their mortgage with the best offers available, to wish to correct false representations in the press, but to also keep their family life behind closed doors is not an inherent contradiction or a wildly ambitious ask. Yet in trying to take control of the narrative, they’ve sealed their own fate and put a target on their backs.
Many people don’t want the Sussexes to have it all, for the plan to have worked out and for them to ride into the sunset to live happily ever after. Instead they are forever baying at the sidelines, ready to give a thumbs down. To shout into the echo chamber and hear back: you were right all along.
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