The Sandringham Summit

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Happy Monday, everyone. It’s been a very full four days since we last checked in here on Sussexit, so let’s get right to it. Following a meeting this afternoon at Sandringham between the Queen, Prince of Wales, and Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, the Queen released the following statement:

“Today my family had very constructive discussions on the future of my grandson and his family.

“My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family. Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working Members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.

“Harry and Meghan have made clear that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives. It has therefore been agreed that there will be a period of transition in which the Sussexes will spend time in Canada and the UK. These are complex matters for my family to resolve, and there is some more work to be done, but I have asked for final decisions to be reached in the coming days.”

What does this mean? No one really knows yet. The statement is very vague, and it’s clear from the last line that details have yet to be finalized. In other words, more to come. What is very telling is that the word “family” is repeated throughout, and that Harry and Meghan are referred to by their Christian names and not their titles. This a very informal statement from the Queen, meant to indicate that this is a personal matter, yes, but could also be read as a hint that the couple will be seguing to more private roles than they anticipated. The specific call out to the money issue indicates to me that, as expected, funding is a sticking point.

The other major takeaway is that the Queen specifically notes that this isn’t what the rest of the family wanted. It’s not a particularly incendiary line in a vacuum, but when you consider that what members of the Royal Family, much less the monarch, want is rarely part of the public discourse, I think this is pretty big. A narrative has formed over the last several months that the Sussexes have positioned themselves in opposition to the rest of the Royal Family, and while this statement is supportive, it also makes clear that dynamic is very real.

Let’s back up a bit. The Sandringham Summit (not an official name) took place at the Queen’s request at 2 pm GMT this afternoon. William is believed to have arrived in Norfolk yesterday and spent last night at Anmer Hall, while Charles flew in from a quick trip to Oman…as one does. Harry is believed to have arrived this morning with time to take lunch with his grandmother and father, while William arrived 15 minutes before the meeting began. Press are camped out to catch pictures and live report the comings and goings of family members, so as you can imagine, I think all four are having a ball.

The Duchess of Sussex (Meghan) is believed to have participated in the meeting via phone. She flew back to Canada last week, where the couple reportedly left Archie and their dogs. This wasn’t immediately apparent last Tuesday when she and Harry returned to work, but subsequent guidance makes clear that by leaving Archie behind, this was always meant to be a brief trip to London. The fact that the couple flew their dogs to Vancouver with them in November also prompts the question as to whether they knew then their departure was going to longer-term than first announced.

The Duchess of Cambridge (Kate), meanwhile, was photographed in London, so she’s apparently not participating in these negotiations, and there’s been no mention of the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla) at all.

Earlier this morning, spokespeople for William and Harry released a statement denying an article from The Times (not mentioned by name) that ran under the headline, “Princes ‘fell out because William wasn’t friendly towards Meghan.’” The statement read:

“Despite clear denials, a false story ran in a UK newspaper today speculating about the relationship between The Duke of Sussex and The Duke of Cambridge. For brothers who care deeply about the issues surrounding mental health, the use of inflammatory language in this way is offensive and potentially harmful.”

The article itself describes Meghan (and Harry) feeling “bullied” by William, hence the statement’s phrasing. So, okay. Frankly, that article is probably the least splashy of the splashy articles The Times ran over the last three days, which I’m going to turn to in a separate post. In the meantime:

What’s actually going to happen

Again, we don’t know, but I was asked yesterday what I actually thought would happen and I said I thought Harry and Meghan would keep their titles, move to Canada for at least a portion of the year, retain Frogmore Cottage, and receive at least some funding from Charles. I noted that when it came to the freedom of their foundation and their ability to generate their own private income, I still didn’t see how that was possible. Based on the statement, I think those last two items remain stumbling blocks for reasons discussed in more detail here.

Also based on the statement, I think it’s likelier than I would have guessed that Harry and Meghan will lose their HRH status, if not their Sussex titles. The latter, to be clear, would require action from Parliament.

A transition period

What does this mean? Presumably it will be in place for longer than the “days” between now and when a final decision is reached. As such it appears that whatever is decided will take time to implement, which makes sense. And in the meantime, Harry and Meghan will have the freedom to live in Canada, which they’ve apparently already started doing, so fair enough. I would be surprised if either carry out a particularly heavy work calendar. In fact, I would be surprised if we see much of Meghan at all, and Harry may well only fulfill previously scheduled appearances and then fly under the radar for a bit. It all really depends on what the final decision is.

A tell-all interview

This was quite the red herring over the weekend thanks to comments from Tom Bradby, an ITV journalist who is also friends with William and Harry. Indeed, he was the reporter who spoke with Harry and Meghan on camera for their documentary last autumn, and he conducted William and Kate’s engagement interview back in 2010. He wrote a piece over the weekend that I’m going to get into more later, but in it he basically said that if the Sussexes did a more candid interview he didn’t think it would be pretty. This was read as potential blackmail fodder, and that the Royal Family may well give in to the Sussexes’ demands to keep this from happening. This has subsequently been denied, as have reports that the couple already signed on to sit down with CBS’s Gayle King.

The Charlotte and Louis factor

A little spin put on this situation by the Sussex camp and some commentators is that this situation is necessary, and indeed positive, because it forces the Royal Family to address how future “spares” will be dealt with. Specifically, this will be helpful to Charles and William in the long run because it will provide a template for Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. Frankly I think that’s a bunch of bull, but before I get into that, I want to touch on a related point repeatedly raised in the news and also by some of you: Isn’t this what Charles wanted for the monarchy? A more streamlined RF?

Yes, Charles wants a slimmer Royal Family. No, this isn’t what he he had in mind. If you want to see Charles’s vision, then take a look at pictures of the Buckingham Palace balcony during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012 (see image up top). On it stood the Queen, Charles, Camilla, William, Kate, and Harry. The Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip) was absent due to poor health and Meghan obviously wasn’t in the picture yet. Harry – and his future spouse – always had an important role to play, particularly during Charles’s reign. This ongoing situation is a very serious and very disappointing hurdle to making that vision a reality.

As for how to handle future “spares”…it’s always been my understanding that Charlotte and Louis would have the ability to carry out full-time royal work once adults on behalf of their father and brother, as applicable and if desired. There wouldn’t be a question that their own families would, but as children of a (someday) monarch, they are hardly junior royals. As such, they would likely have a prominent role to play while William was king, and take a backseat, but still supportive role, under George.

But so much of how that plays out will depend on a host of factors it’s impossible for us to anticipate today. Thus, no, this reckoning brought on by the Sussexes isn’t very helpful, and I’m not inclined to let this moment in time be styled as though it’s proactive. It’s not. It’s not at all how the Sussexes and the Royal Family positioned their role in 2018, and as such it’s simply reactive to how the last 18 months have played out.

That Lion King thing

An old video clip from the summer has re-surfaced in which Harry appears to be pitching his wife’s voiceover talents to Disney chairman Robert Iger. The couple attended the London premier of The Lion King where the headline news was that Meghan and Beyonce hugged, while the secondary news was Meghan’s offhand acknowledgement that the last few months of public life had been difficult. As such, this particular moment fell through the cracks, and without context, it’s not very significant. Harry tells Iger that Meghan does voiceover work, and that she’s very good and very interested. Iger expresses surprise and then says, in summary, it would be great if something worked out.

We now know that Meghan has signed a deal with Disney to provide voice work to benefit the charity Elephants Without Borders. We don’t know much else, but it’s a good indication of the sort of work the Sussexes may well be envisioning for themselves going forward. It’s also a strong sign that this level of independence was more than a twinkle in their eye as far back as six months ago.

That’s all for now. Later today or tomorrow I do want to wade into some of the weekend coverage from The Times, so keep an eye out.

2 thoughts on “The Sandringham Summit

  1. LEW

    Thank you, really excellent, especially as the dice are still flying. Some random thoughts really…

    I still think monetising their status in anything other than the pure service of charity would be a disaster. I really wish all the anonymous sources “briefing” on this would shut up/be shut up. If not sanctioned, it is treacherous and if sanctioned, utterly stupid and making the whole situation worse. Finally, whatever happens, they cannot be allowed to give up proper security, whatever it costs. Being royal at Harry’s level is a bit like living in the Hotel (palace) California, in that you can check out any time you like but you can never leave. If we want a Royal Family, we have to accept that even if a member thereof throws in the towel, they will need ongoing protection, because this is a nasty old world.

    Looking forward to your next post.

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