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The reason for Harry and Meghan's leaving is very simple... the rigidity of royal life is simply not for them

All change: the Queen is said to be not best pleased with Harry and Meghan’s decision
All change: the Queen is said to be not best pleased with Harry and Meghan’s decision

Paul Hopkins

More than 20 years on, the image of a bewildered, forlorn Prince Harry, a solitary child, being made to walk behind the funeral cortege of his mother, alone and watched by millions, says more about the untimely death of Diana - and, indeed, Harry himself - than any other image you could summon.

On the 20th anniversary of her passing, I wrote in this paper of Harry saying that walking behind his mother's coffin, aged 12, was something "no child should be asked to do".

Harry revealed he had sought counselling a decade later to help deal with his sense of utter loss.

And he spoke of the awfulness of the paparazzi, still snapping away at his mother as she lay dying in the back of the Mercedes in that Paris underpass. The prince despises the Press, has never forgiven the media for their intrusion - indeed, their continued intrusion, judging by the screaming headlines about how dare he and Meghan step down from their royal duties without telling anyone.

The tabloid Press, in particular, has been on Meghan Markle's case since day one.

Many royals go through periods of negative Press coverage, but the American actress has had a particular bull's-eye on her back - and not through any fault of her own.

(Though, mind you, telling her security people at Wimbledon to order spectators in the stands not to take her picture was pretty high-handed.)

As a woman of mixed race and a feminist, Meghan Markle has become an icon of sorts and also, sadly, something of a hate-figure.

As an American, she has exported the Windsor brand back to a land that traditionally has looked crooked at blue bloods and hereditary rulers. And like that other American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, she has emboldened her royal husband to break away from his family.

And I think it of little surprise that their announcement comes so soon after the scandal surrounding Prince Andrew.

Her own family was somewhat dysfunctional, the Windsors so much more so and a dysfunction too far for Meghan. The tabloids have accused Prince Harry's wife of being selfish, of upsetting her sister-in-law, Kate, of coming between Harry and Prince William.

She's been all but cast as the Yoko Ono of the royal family.

The frenzied criticism of Meghan is not about racism, as some, particularly the US media, have argued.

It's about sexism - ergo, one Piers Morgan - and a resentment of her for speaking up, for somehow not giving Harry the lead when they make an appearance together, for soaking up too much of the spotlight and having the temerity to reinvent the kind of do-good work that royals do.

By contrast, Kate Middleton is more traditional, doesn't speak much publicly and, when she does, she echoes what William says.

At the end of the day, it would be all-too-simple to blame their going on the media's perceived hounding of Harry and Meghan.

As an aside, I am reminded of Prince Harry, as he walked towards the journalists covering his and Meghan's tour of Australia in 2018.

He was in no mood to make friends, when he quipped: "Thanks for coming, even though you weren't invited."

No, the real reason for their going is simple enough: the rigidity of royal life is not for them.

The unofficial motto of the late Queen Mother was simple: "Never complain, never explain."

It was an attitude influenced by her blue blood - in which a stiff upper lip was highly regarded - and the sense that the royal family must maintain its mystery in order to propagate and survive.

It is a motto that Harry and Meghan have roundly rejected.

The couple's announcement this week that they will "step back" as senior members of the royal family is a telling moment in the centuries-old soap saga of the monarchy.

The unorthodox couple have come to symbolise a new type of royal: unashamedly political, emotionally open, socially conscious.

Their joint statement said they wanted to carve out a "progressive new role" for themselves within the royal family, but a second statement from Buckingham Palace said that such a "different approach" had yet to be signed off.

The Queen is not amused. And we haven't even begun to discuss the huge financial implications of their going, what with all those ongoing security details.

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