If Harry and Meghan ditch their titles and move to Canada, they’d be saving the Royal Family – not abandoning it

The institution enjoys its privileges through the conditional consent of the people. By redefining how it functions, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would be keeping it alive

Sean O'Grady
Wednesday 08 January 2020 15:36 GMT
ITV documentary maker reveals how vulnerable Prince Harry and Meghan Markle seemed

So they’re off to Canada, then. Or at least, it looks that way. Buckingham Palace, however, has dismissed “speculation” that the Sussexes, still better known as the soap couple Harry and Megs, fancy relocating to Toronto. The pair recently enjoyed a six-week festive break there (nice!). It’s somewhere Meghan knows well from her time filming Suits. But the word “speculation” is usually Palace code for “true but not ready for release”, so I assume their bags are already packed. It’s got nothing, one hopes, to do with Boris Johnson winning the election and the exciting, albeit terrifying atmosphere in post-Brexit Britain.

Given the press they get, the abuse on social media and in the comment sections of our tabloid press websites, I can’t say I blame them. Some of it is racist; the rest borderline racist. They can’t do anything right according to their many ill-informed critics. Even their Christmas card was supposed to be photoshopped (and who gives a fig if it was anyway?). They’ve been actively hated by some of the most deranged, people who never have and never will meet any of the royals. They were derided as the worst kind of virtue signalling, private jetting, hypocrites. It must hurt. As Meghan said in their candid interview with ITV’s Tom Bradby: “It’s not enough to just survive something right? That’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive, you’ve got to feel happy.

“I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip. I tried, I really tried. But I think that what that does internally is probably really damaging.”

She didn’t need to add that she and Harry didn’t want their son Archie growing with the same cruel media persecution that has been visited upon them, as it was on Harry’s mother Diana, princess of Wales (and contributed to her untimely death).

You could argue their enemies have won, driven them into (albeit comfortable) exile. You’d be right too. I doubt they’d be thinking about going elsewhere (South Africa was another option) were it not for the campaign of hate waged by some newspapers. But they’d still also be usefully thinking about what being minor royals amounts to these days – how best to do and define “the job”, wherever they are going to be living.

The Sussexes are modernising the House of Windsor. They’re effectively reinventing royalty, or at least adding an alternative model for it for the 2020s and beyond. Soon, for obvious reasons, things will change, and the questions about the function of the institution will come into focus again. This is a world where the distinction between royalty and celebrity is hopelessly blurred. It is a world where the British Royal family have no political or constitutional power (nor desire it). It is a world where deference has not only long since disappeared but been replaced by something far worse than hatred or contempt – indifference. It is a world where the Royal family has, to borrow a phrase, lost its power and is yet to find a role.

As the Windsor dynasty has ballooned in number, the Sussexes, Wessexes, Yorks, Kents, Gloucesters, and all the rest of the ruritanian extended clan grow ever further from the succession and ever more remote from any useful public role. Can you tell the Kents apart? Thought not. In such a world they are at best minor celebs. And as minor celebs, they can do some good in a minor celeb way.

They can spend their time as goodwill ambassadors, in charity work and in promoting worthy causes (this includes the environment and climate change, by the way). This has already been going on for some years, but if Harry and Meghan do base themselves for some of their time in Canada (a Commonwealth country where the Queen is head of state) they might have more freedom to shape things their way.

Ditching the HRH titles and status would be bold, but they’d be no less famous or glamorous as a result (just as Diana didn’t cease to be one of the most famous faces on the planet when she lost hers). The only caveat to all this is that it would not be right that Harry and Meghan carry on this amenable existence as super PRs at the expense of the British taxpayer or even “private” Royal money (there is no such thing). They should have little difficulty in finding funding through sponsorships or private donations, while Meghan, a successful actor in her own right, is also wealthy. They’ll not be applying for Universal Credit, anyhow. So good luck to them, the Invictus games and all their other projects.

The Royal family enjoys its privileges, its role and its perks through the consent of the people who support it, financially, socially and politically. As the fate of Prince Andrew shows so chillingly, this can be swiftly and permanently lost. Their enemies may not understand it, but Harry and Meghan are actually trying to keep the institution useful and alive. If that means being a bit more woke, there’s nothing wrong with that.

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