The members of the Royal Family have always been there to serve the Queen rather than to compete with her. That is the best – and only – way that the Monarchy can function. But that’s not, in my view, a lesson that Harry and Meghan have been willing to learn.
What, for example, to make of the claim in Finding Freedom that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex believed they had, almost overnight, propelled the Royal Family to ‘new heights around the world’?
‘Harry and Meghan liked being in control of their narrative’, the authors were told. They wanted to ‘call their own shots’. And this is why ‘agreeing to fold their household into Buckingham Palace, instead of creating their own independent court, had proved a big disappointment to them.’
It is confirmation, I’m afraid, that the newly married couple were more concerned about promoting their own agendas than the interests of the Monarchy itself.
I’ve no doubt they are genuine in feeling that they were being ‘reined in’ by the senior courtiers and officials in the Palace, as the authors describe, or that they were viewed as too successful. But this goes to show how little Harry and Meghan have understood about the institution to which they were once bound.
I have worked with people in the Royal Household since 1972. And despite what the ‘sources’ in Finding Freedom claim, courtiers are not there to brief against members of the family or to attack them. It is simply not what they do. What advantage would they have in keeping Meghan and Harry down?
The newly married couple were more concerned about promoting their own agendas than the interests of the Monarchy itself, writes HUGO VICKERS. Pictured above: Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex watch a flypast to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force in 2018
Such officials certainly do have a role in coordinating the activities of the Royal Family – that is perfectly reasonable. Private secretaries are among the most active people in helping decide what individual Royals do, both in the interests of the family and of the country. They are there to help, not obstruct.
The Queen has always understood this and that is why she has been so very good at taking advice from whomever is in a position to give it, whether a Government Minister or a private secretary. It is how the Royal Family works.
These ‘men in grey suits’ are not sinister Machiavellian figures, as Harry and Meghan like to believe. Rather, they are highly responsible individuals working with their best interests at heart.
If Her Majesty has been a shining example of taking their counsel, there have been less successful models including, I am sorry to say, Harry’s much-loved mother, Diana.
She liked to complain about her secretaries and courtiers, claiming that they failed to provide the advice she needed. In fact they did, she just didn’t often listen.
Diana was constantly competing with the Queen, determined to do things her own, independent way, and I fear it has rubbed off on her son and on the daughter-in-law she never got to meet.
Harry and Meghan, too, have chosen to work outside the system. It did not bring Diana any joy – and it won’t bring Harry any, either.
The Queen is said to be saddened by the situation her grandson is in, and his isolation from the family, and understandably so. She is hugely fond of him and the personal bond is strong. According to the book, they are close enough for Harry to have considered a friendly ‘ambush’ of the Queen, circumventing courtiers by driving straight from the airport to Sandringham to meet her face- to-face to discuss his plight.
There is genuine understanding across the generations, too.
Her Majesty’s distress was real; the element of surprise was upsetting
‘Despite her sadness at the thought of losing the Sussexes as working Royals, the Queen could see it was necessary for the couple to completely separate from the institution,’ the authors write. Her distress was real, say the authors, particularly when, on January 8 this year, the couple decided to announce their historic decision to leave the Royal Family not in a private conversation, but on Instagram. At the same time they launched their website, sussexroyal.com, catching the Palace unawares.
‘The element of surprise, the blindsiding of the Queen… was deeply upsetting,’ according to a senior member of the household.
Such was Harry’s mood of suspicion at the time, says the book, he even feared his grandmother was trying to ‘block’ him as he attempted to make his case for a new life.
Diana was constantly competing with the Queen, determined to do things her own, independent way. Pictured: The Queen and Princess Diana
Yet as Harry prepared to leave the country for his new life in North America, some things between them remained the same.
On March 1, he had lunch alone with his grandmother, ‘just two of them for Sunday lunch’, say the authors. ‘No titles,’ an aide said. ‘Just granny and grandson.’
Even if Harry had turned his back on the Royal Family as an institution, the Queen remains one of the most important women in his life. She reportedly said she would support him ‘in whatever he decided to do’ and that the door remained open should her grandson and his new wife ever want to resume their former roles.
While Her Majesty would have been tremendously hurt by their decision to leave the Royal Family, she would never have forced them to do something they simply did not want to do.
Like other senior Royals, the Queen had recognised the special qualities that the Sussexes brought to the Monarchy and it is a sign of the esteem in which she held them that they were given special roles as Commonwealth youth ambassadors.
I believe, by the way, that the couple’s belief that they could be financially independent was seriously mistaken.
The book suggests that the Sussexes had hoped to earn a living through speaking engagements and commercial deals, particularly ones with positive social impact.
Why did Harry think he might have commercial value when he was no longer a member of the Royal Family? The world still thinks of him travelling in a carriage as a Prince and appearing in regalia on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Yet in his new, American incarnation he sports a bushy beard and wears a woolly hat. Try marketing that!
The truth, of course, is that when people give you money, they want something in return. Harry has been very well protected by the Royal Household and the system he has now rejected – a fact that will become increasingly clear.
The light and sparkle and boyish charm that Harry once had has gone
In pursuing his independence, his late mother is not the only example that Harry might have learned from. He would also have benefited from studying the unhappiness of Edward VIII, later Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor. Of course the two men share some similarities: they both fell in love with American divorcees and found themselves marooned on the other side of the pond, adrift from the Royal Family.
After leaving Britain to be with Wallis Simpson, the Duke of Windsor had wanted to come back on his own terms and got a very rude shock when he realised that the British public did not want him back. The result? He had the saddest eyes I have ever seen in a man.
I saw him at Princess Marina’s funeral in 1968. It was the last time he ever came to Britain. His eyes looked hollow and dead – a picture of total misery.
If Her Majesty has been a shining example of taking their counsel, there have been less successful models including, I am sorry to say, Harry’s much-loved mother, Diana, writes HUGO VICKERS. Pictured: The Princess of Wales and the Queen attend the Opening of Parliament in London, November 1982
Compare that to the Queen, who always has such a sparkle in her eyes. The difference? She has done her duty.
In life you have to choose either the path of perceived happiness or the path of duty – the one of duty will always bring more joy. Today the light and sparkle and boyish charm that Harry once had has gone.
I first noticed his unhappiness in March last year when he came to the Commonwealth observance service at Westminster Abbey. I interpreted it as a man who had taken on something he couldn’t cope with. He was probably torn.
Could it be rooted in childhood? When he was a boy he saw his mother as a victim. But he was powerless as a young child to do anything.
When Meghan says she is a victim, her husband jumps to her defence
In Meghan, he has found a woman with echoes of his late mother, who once said she never got a word of thanks after everything she had done for the Royals.
In a similar vein, says the book, Meghan has concluded that: ‘I gave up my entire life for this family. I was willing to do whatever it takes. It’s very sad.’
And now, when she says she is a victim, Harry jumps to her defence.
That we should have ended up here is such a waste of potential. The Queen gave the couple the entire Commonwealth to look after and they could have contributed hugely.
I have seen first-hand the immense joy Harry has been able to bring whether in Australia, Africa or the Caribbean. Blessed with huge personal warmth, he has always engaged with the locals, and they loved him for it.
Diana was constantly competing with the Queen, determined to do things her own, independent way, and I fear it has rubbed off on her son and on the daughter-in-law she never got to meet, writes HUGO VICKERS. Pictured above: Diana, Princess of Wales, Prince William, Prince Harry, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, watching Trooping the Colour in June, 1989
Only a few years ago, I watched as he played cricket with locals in St Lucia, thrilling the children there. And the work he did with the Invictus Games for injured ex-servicemen has been marvellous.
Meghan, too, has great natural popularity. She brought so much to the Royal table and in so many ways.
Today, we miss the old Harry more than ever. During the coronavirus crisis, he could have held Zoom conferences with servicemen and women – perhaps with a twinkle in his eye.
He could have been outside Frogmore Cottage, clapping the NHS with Meghan and Archie, just as William and his family did at their Norfolk home.
Yet this is not the end of the road. In the Queen, Harry has a truly remarkable grandmother who retains her generosity towards him, in stark contrast with the way the Royals treated Edward VIII, who was effectively cast out.
For her grandson, it seems, the door will always be open.