There is something simple and relatable about Prince Harry and Meghan's predicament and their proposed solution
Harry, the charismatic ginger prince, has always inspired fanciful thinking. But it has usually been other people doing the thinking.
After his first public appearance with Meghan Markle at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, for example, when the world could not get enough of this new royal couple, Carleton University international affairs professor Philippe Lagassé proposed a “tongue in cheek” theory that Canada could make Harry its King, and all it would take is a “simple parliamentary statute” or a constitutional amendment, which Canada could do all by itself.
That later inspired a National Post article arguing the less controversial but still convoluted theory by which Harry, who is not a Canadian citizen, could similarly be appointed Governor General of Canada. Just this week, a poll said 60 per cent of Canadians would approve.
There are notorious conspiracy theories over his paternity, given the state of his parents’ marriage. There are rumours about his rakish behaviour with army mates. The point is everyone seems to like him more than the others, except perhaps the Queen, and they seek to set him apart in their minds. He has cultivated this image successfully. Politicians are sometimes evaluated by how much people want to have a beer with them, and it also works for princes. In a fair vote between a glass of sherry with William and a few G&Ts with Harry, the kid brother wins in a landslide.
But in the end, fanciful thinking is often just that — at best false, at worst malicious. William is the future king, after their father Charles, and Harry is the spare heir. The Crown might weigh less on his head, but it is still there. He is as tied up in the Windsor knot as any of them, and no amount of Canadian free living is going to fix that, not unless he walks away from his family completely.
This is the note of dull caution that arises from news that Harry is doing some fanciful thinking of his own, about extricating himself and Meghan from the royal finances, seeking to “step back” as senior royals and “to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution.”
A statement by the Duke and Duchess says they plan to continue to honour their duties to the Queen, the Commonwealth and their patronages, but that they will be dividing their time between England, where they live outside London in Windsor, and North America. They have only specified the continent, but given Meghan’s history as a Torontonian and the fact they appear to have made this decision while on holiday on Vancouver Island, Canada is being reported as the likely destination.
Canadians get excited at this opportunity to live up to national reputation as polite hosts. Tim Hortons offered them free coffee for life. The fanciful thinking of bumping into Harry on Bloor Street or on some ravine hiking trail kicked into gear. The Sussexes in the Annex, the central Toronto neighbourhood where Meghan Markle lived when they started dating, is the sort of thing the city’s tourism industry does not even let itself dream, lest reality pale in comparison.
“This is going to be a global branding phenomenon,” said John Pliniussen, associate professor of marketing at Queen’s University. “In terms of monetization, it’s unlimited. It’s virtually unlimited.”
And yet there were rumblings from across the ocean.
“We understand their desire to take a different approach but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through,” the Royal Family said in a statement that radiated displeasure. “Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage.”
It was reported Thursday that those discussions had already begun in earnest. The Times of London reported the couple “ignored the advice of their most senior aides,” just as they did last year when Harry arguably overshadowed an Africa trip by voicing his outrage at media intrusion, and that they gave the rest of the family no more than ten minutes notice of their blockbuster announcement.
There are even leaks about palace aides aborting a “grandson to granny” meeting between Harry and the Queen, which could have been seen as an affront to Prince Charles’ authority.
Even if the legal details are unclear and as complicated as the King Harry theory, there is something simple and relatable about Harry and Meghan’s predicament and their proposed solution.
Their role now is to be cast as the slightly-wrong, over-emotional, virtue-signalling oddballs — always vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy
Caitlin Moran said they may have simply realized “that their role now is to be cast as the slightly-wrong, over-emotional, virtue-signalling oddballs — always vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy because the day-to-day life of being ‘two of the most famous people in the world, living in one of the wealthiest families in the world’ involves planes, staff, privilege and fuss.”
Who would want that?
A tweet was circulating Wednesday noting the novelty of public figures quitting their family to spend more time at their jobs. This was clever, but it missed the central role of a royal who is arguably the main player in this family feud.
Archie Mountbatten-Windsor is not a job. For Harry and Meghan, he is a calling, like God, running, yoga or veganism. Parenthood, especially in the early years, fills people up and drains them dry. It changes them. And destiny trumps ancestry every time. So a new father is, in an important metaphorical sense, no longer a son or a grandson. Not in the same way, anyway.
So why not say to hell with it? Every parent recognizes this impulse. There is not much more thrillingly intimate and optimistic than looking into attentive little eyes and saying: “It’s you and me, kid.”
It never is, though. Time has a way of proving that, even for people whose families are not involved in hereditary monarchy. The Sussexes statement, defiant as it sounds, seems to grasp this delicate balance, that leaving England for Canada is about giving his immediate family space from his extended family, while also helping Archie appreciate “the royal tradition into which he was born.”