It looks as perfectly staged as a Hollywood film set. Meghan and Harry walking hand in hand through the serried rows of simple white headstones of fallen Commonwealth soldiers.
She is dressed almost head to toe in a long black coat; he wears a dark suit, his service medals and a poppy. In other pictures we see them laying flowers and standing with heads bowed in front of a wreath.
We’re told this is a personal act of remembrance. Harry. Meghan. Oh, and at least one professional photographer there to record it so that millions of people around the world can pore over this beautifully choreographed private moment.
Call me a cynic, but the remarkable thing about the photos is not the act of remembrance but the sheer PR phoniness of the whole set-up.
Meanwhile, the wreath that Harry would normally have been placing at the Cenotaph in London, alongside other members of the royal family, lay abandoned at the Royal British Legion’s Kent HQ yesterday.
According to Press reports, Buckingham Palace courtiers refused to allow it to be laid on the Duke of Sussex’s behalf because he is longer a representative of the monarchy.
Given the background, it’s hard not to see Harry’s “alternative Cenotaph” moment as yet another salvo in an endless public relations war with the royal family. His late mother Diana famously said she wanted to be a “Queen of Hearts” and it would appear her 36-year-old son and his wife are also increasingly desperate for public approval.
This time, though, it seems to have backfired very badly. Instead of winning plaudits for paying their respects, the Sussexes stand accused of setting up a photoshoot to use Remembrance Sunday to serve their own ends.
Seriously, what are we expected to make of the details they’ve shared with us, including that Meghan picked the flowers from the garden of their $14m LA mansion?
Only someone seriously deluded wouldn’t have seen the pitfalls in this one. Who could have thought it would look anything other than self-serving and another bid for relevance? Did the pair think it wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t see them do his bit?
Though the Queen and senior members of her family gather at the Cenotaph each year to remember the war dead, the event is not really about the royals at all beyond the constancy of the set-piece occasion.
It is about the millions of people who gave everything, who laid down their lives in the cause of freedom and for their country, many of whom are remembered in a deeply personal sense in homes around the world.
This year, too, the pandemic has brought an added poignancy to the occasion, with a quiet determination to mark it despite the many restrictions. On Sunday across Northern Ireland and the Republic, many paused to remember their war dead, as well as those who perished in later conflicts.
It is, to paraphrase what one former royal courtier said when criticising the Press on another occasion, the stuff of other people’s souls, and Harry and Meghan should tread very carefully indeed.
Of course, the visit to the Los Angeles National cemetery will have given the couple pause for solemn reflection. Harry’s admiration for the military runs deep. He served in its ranks for a decade and became a passionate and effective campaigner for veterans’ causes, including the Invictus Games. In a podcast released at the weekend he talked about why he wore his poppy with pride.
But the brutal truth for Harry is that he has walked away from royal life – and that means leaving behind all the big occasions too.
If he tuned into the ceremony in London from his LA mansion, one imagines he must have felt a deep pang of regret that he wasn’t standing at the Cenotaph with Prince Charles and Prince William, as he had done every year since 2005.
But then unlike his father and brother, and their wives, Camilla and Kate, he is also freed from the relentless round of less glamorous royal duties – opening hospitals, visiting factories, chatting with civic dignitaries and charity volunteers. Instead he has plenty of spare time to roll around in his multi-million dollar LA mansion, dream up projects for his $150m Netflix deal and give us the benefit of his increasingly “woke” worldview.
Nearly a year since exiting the royal family, it’s rather pathetic that Harry and Meghan are still trying to hang on to the Windsor coat-tails. After all, they were the ones who decided to walk. And they were never going to be allowed to carve themselves a half-in, half-out position – choosing those events that suit their agendas and diaries and cold shouldering those that don’t. That would risk too much damage to Windsor plc.
The primary role of the royal family is to represent the nation in a non-party political way. It’s built on a mystical bond between the monarch and her people. The expectation of that can never change so royals who walk away from that duty can’t expect to be accorded the same deference.
For better or worse, Harry and Meghan now represent only themselves – and their Foundation.
They are in effect private citizens. Perhaps their acts of remembrance would be better away from the cameras now too.