Well, the time has come to catch up on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Obviously by now their “farewell tour” has come and gone, and we’ll get to that as we delve into March, but for the purposes of this post I want to focus on the news that came out at the end of February re: the use of “Sussex Royal” for the couple’s branding in their new non-royal, North American life. God help us all.
I’m still rooting for Harry and Meghan – I really am. I’m rooting for them up until the point that they undermine the Royal Family, which is why these last several months have been so hard to watch. I don’t think they’re bad people, but I do think they’re listening to really bad advice and have lost all perspective. At least, I’m not sure what else to think as I watch them attempt to communicate around themselves in circles.
Let’s start with what happened: In early February, news broke that Harry and Meghan flew to Miami, Florida to attend an exclusive JP Morgan event where Harry spoke to the crowd about mental health. The event was tellingly absent from the couple’s Instagram page and there’s no word on whether Harry received money for his remarks, but I would imagine that he did. I find this very bizarre – the couple’s bread and butter are the younger, more progressive generations, and as such making it clear that you’re willing to pay to play with investment bankers is hardly “on-brand.” When there’s so much uncertainty about your future, why go this route so quickly?
Two weeks later, royal reporter Rebecca English broke the story that the Queen was all but decided that the Sussexes would no longer be able to use “royal” in their future branding. This was obviously quite a wrench in the couple’s plans given that all of their digital platforms are under that banner, and they’ve already filed copyright protections. This report was confirmed not long after, and the Sussexes linked to a page on their website via their Instagram profile.
The page they linked to is a laundry list of bullets meant, I suppose, to address questions media and members of the public might have on this situation. You can take that a step further and assume they want to push back against misinformation, if for no other reason than they state that people should check their website for accurate updates. But the thing is, these aren’t accurate updates, they’re carefully packaged snippets of what’s actually going on so that you hopefully don’t notice the Sussexes ended up with very little of what they actually wanted.
I’ll be honest with you, I’m not terribly interested in whether or not the Sussexes are allowed to use the term “royal.” I’m not surprised that they aren’t, and given what went down in January, this is not the hill I’d die on. I get, however, that it’s very important to Harry and Meghan because of how they’ve branded themselves thus far, and it does underline the Royal Family’s point – and what many of us have been saying for months – you can’t trade off your connection to the Queen.
Here’s where I think the couple has received bad advice – they’re using the word “royal” like Americans, as though Harry has a right to it by birth, and the Queen can’t legally stop them from using it. And sure, you can buy any number of novelty items out there that say you’re a “princess” or a “queen,” and no one thinks you’re laying claim as a nation’s head of state, but this is obviously different, and Harry and Meghan should frankly know better. It’s not a last name that you can own, and the couple doesn’t have the right to make money based on a situation from which they’ve excised themselves, regardless of whether or not that was their intention.
My second sticking point in all of this is the bullets they posted. They read to me like – well, okay, I’ll put it like this: have you ever drafted a note to an ex or friend when you were really, really mad or upset, but you felt like you weren’t being understood? You have complete tunnel vision and you get so sucked into your own narrative that you end up laying out some sort of quasi-legal case in the imaginary court of emotional justice? And you’re trying to be “fair”, but you can’t help but let slip a few digs? Yeah, that’s how those bullets read.
Ideally, you get those thoughts off your chest and then throw that draft away, because you learn, as an adult, that very little good comes out of strong emotion. Harry and Meghan have not learned this lesson. They are clearly very mad. They clearly feel very misunderstood. They are clearly existing – mentally, at least – in the eye of some storm in which they are being victimized and battered, but the problem is, no one else can see the storm and they’re increasingly embarrassing themselves. They need strong advisers who understand this landscape and they clearly don’t have that right now.
What’s interesting to me as well is how many bullets reinforce that Harry was born into the Royal Family, is a future king’s son, and is still sixth in line to the throne. Yes, that’s all true – it’s just slightly odd tonally coming from a couple who has always claimed to not care about such things, and to have found the rigors of the life that comes with those little factoids untenable. There’s a strange air of snobby defiance, as though Harry’s royal blood can’t be stripped away, but in reality it rather can be, practically speaking, and the extent to which it has any trading power in North America is highly debatable. Yes, Americans like royals, but from a distance and as a point of novelty.
At the end of the day, Harry and Meghan mangled their departure from the RF from start to finish. They’ve been trying to dance around that with slippery language, but the fact of the matter is, they led with emotion and they lost. A lot. The situation they find themselves in is not what they wanted at the outset and they need to do a better job of helping themselves. Needless to say, this was not the happiest note upon which to re-enter the UK, but we’ll get there…