Caitlin McBride: 'So why did Meghan and Harry quit The Firm?'
Prince Harry is determined to protect his wife in a way he never could his mother. But how will the Sussexes navigate the logistical nightmare that is 'stepping back' from the British royal family?
But what does it all mean?!
Royal watchers the world over are still catching their breath at the news that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have decided to “step back” from their roles in the royal family in a history-making decision. The news is - without being hyperbolic - huge.
Those who have been observing the couple for months won’t be surprised by the decision as their displeasure has been simmering for years. But the idea of them voluntarily walking away from royal duties was – and is – a logistical nightmare.
In a carefully worded statement released on social media accompanying a picture from their engagement shoot in 2017, they said: "After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution.”
Their decision comes after a six-week break, during which they split their time in Meghan’s native Los Angeles with her mother Doria Ragland and Canada, where she spent seven years living in Toronto while filming Suits - and where her love story with Harry began.
Their time across the pond was likely one final test they passed with flying colours. They managed to keep much of the details of their trip secret and it was only after speculation in a Sunday newspaper that Buckingham Palace confirmed they were enjoying respite in the country.
It was only when music producer David Foster, a former reality TV star whose fourth wife Katherine McPhee knows Meghan since their high school days, let the cat out of the bag about the private Vancouver Island mansion they rented that any real information about their trip became available.
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There were otherwise no paparazzi shots, no leaks about either’s behaviour and no silly stories to fill up blogs about Archie’s developmental stages, according to strangers who had 10-second conversations with them.
In other words, for two of the most photographed people in the world fighting aggressively for privacy - it was heaven.
Since news of their relationship became public in 2016, Meghan, then a working actress was ‘unveiled’ as the woman who had stolen Harry’s heart. She was mixed race, divorced, and American. Her American divorcée status meant the inevitable Wallis Simpson comparisons were made (and will continue with their decision to effectively leave their roles as royals), but it was Meghan’s mixed-race heritage that made her a target against an unforgiving and unrelenting tabloid media.
And thus began a three-year campaign of unfavourable coverage about the Duchess of Sussex, who in some people’s minds, couldn’t do anything right.
Until the turning point of 2019, Meghan seemed to relish the coverage; satiating the global ambitions she had unashamedly harboured throughout her career. For much of her life, she displayed a passion for philanthropy, a willingness to graft and a desire to be famous. Being a royal gave her all that, and more.
She was on the cover of Vanity Fair in September 2017, just a few weeks before announcing her engagement to Harry. During their engagement interview with ITV, it was clear she was steering the conversation and she established herself as the expert in navigating the media.
All that changed by the time of their May 2018 wedding: by then, she was painted as a villainous woman who (allegedly) made Kate Middleton cry over a five-year-old’s bridesmaid’s dress. Months after that, she was ‘texting staff at 5am’ and long-serving members of the royal household were reportedly leaving under her watch.
By the time she announced her pregnancy, the attention from some publications didn’t soften as it tends to during women’s pregnancies, but instead, copper fastened their criticism. It prompted a rare move to sue, contrary to the royal mantra, ‘Never complain and never explain’.
Meghan has launched proceedings against the Mail on Sunday, alleging breach of copyright for publishing a letter she sent her father Thomas Markle, and fighting back against a “campaign of lies” she laid out in court papers lodged in December.
During her pregnancy, she couldn’t cradle her bump correctly, her heels were too high, and she hugged her husband too much. Meanwhile, in the US, she was reaching god-like levels of popularity; being heralded as an example of the American Dream come to life.
A mixed-race woman from California, raised by divorced parents, pulled herself up by the bootstraps and became a princess. And not just any princess - one who married the adored youngest son of the universally beloved Princess Diana.
To ignore the influence of Diana’s legacy in what likely informed Harry and Meghan’s decision would be negligent. He lost his mother when he was 12 years old; the images of him standing with his teenage brother Prince William and father Prince William behind her coffin during her funeral procession forever etched into the public’s collective memory.
Royal watchers felt instinctively protective of him, even throughout his adult life, remembering that broken-hearted little boy who spoke about the effect the grief had on him throughout his entire life, and the mental health issues which followed.
He partied, he dated a lot of socialites, he dressed up as a Nazi for Halloween and played poker naked in a Las Vegas hotel room. He was the ultimate party boy who made a lot of mistakes, but was still seen as a lost little boy at heart looking for some structure and true happiness in his life.
In 2017, Harry spoke about his desire to leave the royal family and seek out a genuinely private life, but said it was only because of his devotion to his grandmother Queen Elizabeth that he decided to stay and carve out a role which could make him happy.
He, William and Kate Middleton had been successfully working together on Heads Together, their mental health initiative, under the Kensington Palace umbrella and he launched the Invictus Games, an international multi-sport event in which wounded, injured or sick veterans competed in nine different sports.
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“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment. We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages. This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity. We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.” - The Duke and Duchess of Sussex For more information, please visit sussexroyal.com (link in bio) Image © PA
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In rare interviews - always in conjunction to promote the Games - he was speaking about his desire to settle down and start a family of his own, and remained famously close with his brother and niece and nephews.
“My mother took a huge part in showing me an ordinary life, including taking me and my brother to see homeless people,” he said in 2017. “Thank goodness I'm not completely cut off from reality. I am determined to have a relatively normal life, and if I am lucky enough to have children, they can have one too."
It was a prophetic quote indicating this decision was far from a snap one, suggestive that when he became a father, it would be the most serious role in his life.
By the time of Archie’s birth last year, speculation began to mount about Sussexes future in the royal family due to the growing discontent between the new parents and the unrelenting tabloid press. Their decision not to give Archie a title was yet another hint that maybe they weren’t in it for the long haul after all.
Their documentary, Meghan & Harry: An African Journey, instead of focusing on their tour duties, became instead an introspection on the couple’s personal lives, which was troubling to viewers.
Meghan, holding back tears, famously said she “wasn’t okay” and the pressure she was facing as a new mother in the world’s most famous family was getting all too much.
Harry said separately, “I will not be bullied into carrying a game that killed my mum.”
He has been vocal about supporting his wife first and foremost since before they were even engaged, releasing two statements condemning the negative coverage about her, deeming most of it as being untrue.
Soon after, they announced their decision to take the aforementioned break for “private family time”, a move scoffed at as royals have to toe the line by acknowledging their taxpayer-funded lifestyle.
Thus, the inclusion of their willingness to “work towards becoming financially independent” in their statement today is crucial. If they aren’t reliant on public funds, then there’s no quid pro quo arrangement.
There’s no need for contractually-obliged photo-calls hours after giving birth, no unfavourable interviews from distant family members and no need to cooperate at all; unless it was on their terms.
British royals don’t exactly have an established history of being financially independent, so how they will acquire enough wealth to continue the life to which they’ve grown accustomed remains a mystery.
Meghan was said to have a net worth of $5m when she met Harry and their official royal work, including their wardrobes for appearances and some work on their home, is funded by the Duchy of Cornwall (Queen Elizabeth receives funds from the Sovereign Grant as reigning monarch).
The possibilities for their next chapter are endless, however. There are potential speaking engagements, book deals and with a black of impossibly well-connected celebrities, dignitaries and world leaders, their network knows no bounds.
And if their beaming faces at Tuesday's visit to Canada House is anything to go by, both are thrilled with what is ahead.