It’s the weekend. Time for lighter topics, such as “Whatever shall we do about Harry and Meghan?”
For those of you who missed it, Harry and Meghan, a.k.a. the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, members of the British Royal Family, announced recently that they are stepping back from their role as “senior members” of the royal family, will split their time between Britain and North America, and hope to achieve financial independence. And people think Millennials are irresponsible!
The announcement was greeted with some puzzlement. What, pray tell, is a “senior member” of the royal family, and how do the Sussexes qualify? One would presume the designation belongs to Queen Lizzie, well into her 90s, or her son and heir Prince Chucklehead, now in his 70s. Harry and Meghan are only in their 30s.
It seems “senior member” is Brit-speak for “having to serve as ceremonial figures on a routine basis, like the rest of the royal family.” It’s an occupation open only to royals, and to Hollywood celebrities who once would have taken up roles on the game show Hollywood Squares. It’s a pretty empty job, not exciting like being an accountant or middle-level manager.
One could understand Harry and Meghan wanting to chuck the job. Meghan actually had a real career as an actress and celebrity. And Harry was once famous as the royal cut-up, sometimes taking a mischievous turn by wearing a Nazi uniform. Being as functional as an ornamental china cup is dull by comparison.
Let unsaid in the official announcement were some of the important reasons why Harry and Meghan made this announcement. They weren’t just tired of the boring ceremonies. They were also tired of the round-the-clock press coverage. (And who can blame them for that?) And Meghan has taken more than her share of abuse for being American, biracial, and her own person. Say what you will about Harry, he’s stuck with her. I think the two can take their place among adults without any shame. That’s more than could be said for some of their critics.
Britain treated their announcement as some sort of disaster. It is being compared to the Abdication Crisis of 1936, in which a British king renounced the throne to marry a sexually aggressive twice-divorced American woman. Harry and Meghan have been accused of not keeping the queen informed. This apparently is a form of treason.
One wonders what the big deal is. Harry is not part of the main line of succession to the throne, standing sixth. Short of an unexpected die-off, there are Windsors to sit on the throne into the next century. Harry’s chances of inheriting the throne are not much better than mine. I’m supposedly descended from Alfred the Great. I’m not sure that qualifies me under the Act of Succession (1701).
Clearly, the issue is symbolic. The British Royal Family is one of the things that keeps the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland together, which is pretty funny when you look at how dysfunctional they are as a family. But the alternatives are worse. One shudders at the thought that the nation would have to look to Boris Johnson as their symbol of unity. The day that happens, Nicola Sturgeon will be able to take Scotland out of the Union with a spontaneous uprising. No, the Royals, particularly the much-revered queen, hold the country together.
Therefore, Harry and Meghan’s move is deeply disturbing. They are not behaving as royals should! The Realm is in danger! Winter is coming! People hunt for an explanation to assuage their fears. Clearly, it’s Meghan’s fault. Meghan really isn’t one of them anyhow. If only she hadn’t corrupted Harry with her dark sexual arts. (See, one can be misogynistic and racist at the same time.) Oh, why couldn’t Harry just go on being a scapegrace, bedding random women of loose morals like a good royal?
As for the unhappy couple, I have trouble sympathizing with their plight. None of this hogwash about “they should have known what they were getting into.” It is a boring job, and even demeaning to realize you’re doing work because of who Harry’s grandmother is, not really anything about yourself. Still, Harry and Meghan are famous, wealthy, and, apart from being royals, presumably happy with each other and their little family. That puts them in a better position that perhaps 99% of the world’s population.
And I doubt they can really escape from being royals. They can stop doing the ceremonial stuff, they can step into the background, but they are still royals, still celebrities. If Meghan tries to resume her career, she’ll be dogged by the eternal question of whether she’s getting a role because she’s a good actress or just a royal. And what Harry will do, who knows? The essential problem is that if they try to make a living as celebrities, they are really just relying on their position as royals, even though they are no longer doing the job. And while it’s a stupid job, being a royal, the British taxpayers want their money’s worth. Ultimately, they finance the royal family, because they could vote it out of existence and confiscate its every property.
I do have a suggestion for Harry and Meghan. You really want to chuck your royal roles and be your own persons? You want to be valued for who you are and what you can do, not just which family you belong to? Spend 5 years helping Jimmy Carter build houses for Habitat for Humanity. Or something similar. Something that will show you actually doing good by your own efforts. I’m not saying this because I think you need to do some sort of penance for your wealth and privilege. No. I’m saying this because it is one way to get people to take you seriously. It’ll show that you’re trying to shuck being a celebrity, that you want to do real stuff. As much as anything could, it could help take you out of the limelight; after 600 pictures of Meghan looking decidedly unsexy and unstylish in paint-stained overalls, even the paparazzi will get tired.
I doubt you’ll follow my suggestion. Probably, you’ll try to make a go of it in comfortable jobs, where you are implicitly relying on your royal fame. Unlike your Uncle Wessex and his wife, you might succeed. And no one will be unhappy. Unless, late at night, you lay awake wondering if being a royal celebrity is all that you ever are or will be.