Daniela Elser: Message for Meghan and Harry in Queen’s first outing since Oprah interview
Today is a very good day for two adorable puppies named Fergus and Muick (pronounced Mick).
Not only were they recently adopted – by the Queen – and given some particularly spiffy digs to call home – Windsor Castle – but now courtesy of the Royal Australian Air Force they have two bespoke RAAF dog jackets coming their way.
Overnight their owner undertook only her third event outside of the 1000-year-old castle she has called home for since the COVID-19 pandemic began, swaddled in something affectionately dubbed HMS Bubble. (Well, aside from the months in summer when HMS Bubble decamped north to her Scottish bolthole Balmoral so she could gad about in tartan.)
Taking to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Air Forces Memorial in Surrey for a short service, the Queen proved she had not lost her regal touch when it came to her exemplary pastel hat game or making charming small talk with grown men on their very best behaviour. (At one stage she asked an RAAF officer if they were “being sent off to chase the Russians”, to which he replied, “That’s correct Ma’am, it’s a lot of fun for us.” Hear that, Vladimir?)
While the outing, her first public appearance in nearly five months, represents the world inching closer to a resumption of blessed normalcy – you know, back when royal engagements were gloriously dull and the most outre thing a Windsor would willingly do in front of cameras was accidentally insult the Scottish or fall asleep during the Highland Games – the world, the royal world included, is profoundly different now.
As the Queen thanked the Air Force with her signature restraint for her pooches’ new coats, this engagement carries with it far more weight and meaning.
Because today marks the one-year anniversary of Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s first day of “freedom”, their first day on civvy street, the first day they were no longer officially royal and nor were they bound by palace strictures.
Now, while the timing of Her Majesty’s military excursion was entirely coincidental it is impossible to ignore the implicit symbolism of her visit in relation to the Sussexes.
Let’s start with the most obvious aspect, which is that while the monarchy might currently represent a bastion of whiteness and unthinkable privilege it is also inherently bound up with the Commonwealth.
During the 94-year-old’s 69-year reign, the last remnants of the empire have been rightly dissolved and replaced with the voluntary union of nations that is the Commonwealth. Comprising 54 nations, it represents 2.4 billion people, 94 per cent of whom live in Asia and Africa.
The Queen’s lifelong, steadfast commitment to this organisation is one of her greatest legacies and is a poignant reminder of what Harry and Meghan could have accomplished.
Given the drama and the Sturm und Drang of the last month, it could be easy to forget that barely two years ago, the sovereign tried to help her grandson and his wife by offering the embattled duo the chance to dramatically re-imagine their royal roles and to even move away from the UK.
In April 2019, reports first surfaced that Buckingham Palace was considering a plan for the Sussexes to set up home in Africa. The thinking was simple – they would be able to escape the UK while still serving the crown, a perfect balancing act of regal deference and service and personal happiness.
The Times said that both the palace and the government had been involved in discussions “focused on how to devise a bespoke soft power role for the couple” with the idea being that a new post would be created for them which would “combine some charity work, an element of promoting the Commonwealth and some work on behalf of the UK”. (The same report ominously quoted a friend fretting, “More and more friends are worried that they’ll just get on a plane and live in LA and never come back.”)
This would be the couple’s so-called “Malta moment”, a reference to the blissful period between 1949 and 1951 when Prince Philip was stationed on the Mediterranean island with the navy and he and the Queen lived a relatively normal life there.
Writing in Battle of Brothers, veteran royal biographer Robert Lacey revealed that Her Majesty had even brought her former long-time private secretary Lord Christoper Geidt in to help craft the plan.
It should have been a win-win.
Harry and Meghan could stretch their wings, escape rule-bound royal life and enjoy being feted on the world stage – the monarchy could bask in the reflected glow of these two globetrotting go-getters winning over the younger generations.
Clearly, this situation never came to pass, however what is worth not losing sight of is the Queen’s willingness to reimagine the scope and role that Harry and Meghan could play in the royal house – the point being, they were not doomed to a one-size-fits-all version of royal life.
And this is why today’s Queenly outing is such a sentimental one.
Look closer and it is a reminder that the Sussexes didn’t have to choose between a life in stifling Britain, all grousing Fleet Street hounds and grey weather, and the lure of ostensible freedom in the Californian sunshine, albeit a future that meant being stripped of any official ties to the institution and country Harry has dedicated his life to.
They could have assumed a global role, representing not only the crown but the UK on the world stage. In their hands, the monarchy could have evolved, brand-wise, from symbolising entitlement and exclusion to an organisation with an international reach and focus.
Not only would it have given them the sort of professional roles they reportedly craved, they would have escaped the very long shadow cast by William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and been able to build their own royal ‘court’.
In the months before the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, she was starting to formulate a plan to become a roving, jetsetting humanitarian ambassador.
Harry and Meghan – with the blessing of the UK and the Queen – could have stepped seamlessly into something akin to this and played a pivotal part in re-imagining the function of a monarchy in the 21st century and of reshaping the royal brand into one built on inclusivity and global change.
They could have been Angelina Jolie and Kofi Annan rolled into one gloriously photogenic package. It would have been dazzling and it would have gone a long, long way to ensuring the survival of the royal house in the 21st century.
Now that royal fight for relevance continues, a battle that will fall almost entirely on the narrow shoulders of William and Kate.
Here’s a thought – when those cute RAAF dog coats arrive, Your Majesty, make sure you release pictures to the press. In the fight for survival, the crown needs all the help it can get, even if it’s the four-legged variety.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles
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