The Sussex Circus

Embed from Getty Images

I said a couple times during the mourning period for Queen Elizabeth that I would circle back on the full scope of the Sussex drama that played out over the last month. So, here we are. I’m going to attempt to take this piece by piece, so this is somewhat digestible.

The Landscape

It bears repeating how incredibly coincidental, if not poetic, it was that The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were in the UK when Queen Elizabeth died. The couple returned to England to carry out a handful of work commitments, as well as make a stop in Germany associated with the Invictus Games. Already, their presence was generating headlines because they would be residing at Frogmore Cottage, just a few minutes’ walk from Adelaide Cottage, which The Prince and Princess of Wales had just moved into.

Their arrival in the UK came on the heels of Meghan’s interview in The Cut, which was widely criticized in both the UK and U.S. for inflammatory and threatening remarks, mistruths, and generally out of touch comments. I will add, however, that many of her fans loved it. I remain confounded how anyone could see that article as positive press, but God bless.

Thursday, September 8

By all accounts, Queen Elizabeth’s decline came swiftly, with members of her family not at Balmoral urgently summoned. King Charles and Queen Camilla were already in Scotland, so they were able to make it to her bedside in time. Her two younger sons, The Duke of York and The Earl of Wessex, as well as The Countess of Wessex, were not so fortunate. The three of them shared a plane from England with Prince William. To the best of our knowledge, Queen Elizabeth had already passed by the time they arrived.

Following news that William, Andrew, Edward, and Sophie were enroute to Scotland, a spokesperson for Harry and Meghan confirmed they would both travel as well. Almost three hours later this was clarified to say that only Harry would make the journey. Five minutes later, Omid Scobie, a journalist who is widely believed to receive one-off tips directly from the Sussex camp, tweeted, “A source has shared an update stating that only Prince Harry has made the trip to Balmoral. Like the Duchess of Cambridge (who is in Windsor with their three children), the Duchess of Sussex is staying back in England (but still not attending tonight’s WellChild Awards.”

Less than two hours later, Queen Elizabeth’s death was announced. Ninety minutes after that, Harry arrived at Balmoral.

So, what happened? Why did Meghan not join Harry and why didn’t Harry join the rest of his family on the earlier plane?

The mention of Catherine in Scobie’s tweet is notable to me because it underscores the point was being made no spouses of grandchildren were present. Which was true. The question remains, was that conclusion reached by the Sussexes or was that point *made to* the Sussexes?

The short answer is that we don’t know; however, one narrative widely reported – and based on conversations with sources behind-the-scenes – is that Harry was personally told by King Charles not to bring Meghan to Balmoral on the basis that it would be inappropriate. Now, was that impropriety based on Meghan’s recent interview or the fact that more senior royal women, like Catherine, wouldn’t be there? Again, we don’t know. Regardless, this narrative has a second act, which is that Harry pushed back strongly and the logistical kerfuffle resulted in not only his delay in getting to Scotland, but the delay of his brother, uncles, and aunt getting there in time.

If true, that would mean dealing with the Sussexes resulted in two of Queen Elizabeth’s children missing the opportunity to say goodbye.

Personally, I’m inclined to disbelieve that whatever was going on with Harry caused the other royals’ delay. It may well be true, but I’m not going that route unless we are told in a more legitimate way. My inclination to disregard this tidbit is based on the fact that two days later, William extended an invitation to Harry and Meghan to join him and Catherine at Windsor for a walkabout. And I don’t think that would have happened had they just caused such an upset within the family.

I do, however, believe that there was some sort of pushback; however, that is based on the fact that Richard Kay, a columnist with close ties to King Charles’s former household, wrote that two dinners occurred in Scotland on Thursday night. One was attended by the King, the Queen, and William at Birkhall, and another that included Andrew, Edward, Sophie, and Harry at Balmoral. According to Kay, Harry was invited to join his father and brother at Birkhall but declined the invitation. Others report that Harry dined alone.

Finally, Harry left early on Friday, returning to Meghan in England. While the other grandchildren began congregating in Scotland, leaving behind their own spouses and children (as far as we can tell), Harry didn’t.

So, first there are the facts – Harry traveled to and from Balmoral after and before the rest of the family.

Then there are the unverifiable (for our purposes) theories – that Harry declined invitations and in fact had gotten into an argument with members of his family.

I’m sure many of us will land in different places on this, but here’s what I think: Yes, Harry was told not to bring Meghan because other spouses, namely Catherine, weren’t attending (a publicly digestible point) and that the Royal Family doesn’t trust either of the Sussexes (a point likely not articulated in the moment). I think Harry did push back and it played a role in his own delay.

I also believe that King Charles offered a dinner invitation to Harry, and it was declined. As for whether he dined privately or with his uncles and aunt, it feels like a toss-up. On the one hand, it’s hard to believe the Woke Prince himself would want to spend time with Andrew in that personal of a capacity given the optics – on the other, he does retain a close relationship with Princess Eugenie and has a long history of friendliness with the York family. And given the proximity of Sophie and Meghan in the coming days, perhaps the Wessexes have done a good enough job playing Switzerland that Harry wasn’t uncomfortable.

Regardless of the details, what was incredibly apparent was how isolated Harry has become from his family.

The Breaking of the News

Next came rumors that Harry learned of his grandmother’s death from a breaking news alert on his phone when his plane in Scotland landed. This has been clarified on background by the Palace – he was notified five minutes prior to the public announcement by his father via text.

That may sound cold, but bear in mind two things: 1) this is the reality of navigating a death that is both a family’s loss and a global news event and 2) how the Royal Family learned about any number of news events inflicted by the Sussexes.

The Windsor Walkabout

Two days later, in an 11th hour olive branch, William invited Harry and Meghan to join Catherine and him at the gates of Windsor to view the flowers left for their grandmother and greet the crowds. While the appearance was still unfolding, media was briefed that it was in fact William who had extended the invitation.

I’ve already weighed in that I think this joint photo-op was a mistake, so I won’t belabor the point. What I will say is, yes, it’s notable that media were not only briefed that this came at William’s direction, but that they were briefed so quickly.

Was this Kensington Palace – and William – taking advantage of the moment and capitalizing on it? Probably, yes.

Did William run this by his father beforehand? Again, probably, yes. In other circumstances, or even a few years ago, I would have said it was very on-brand for William to do something like this without asking permission first, but he and the King are believed to be very close these days, and given the broader context of what was going on and how much of the news cycle this would eat up, I don’t think he would be that disrespectful.

As for whose idea this actually was – I think that’s a jump ball. It’s entirely possible that King Charles actually directed this in the hopes that a show of unity would keep the Sussex drama from dominating the rest of the coverage.

Catherine & Meghan

The Windsor Walkabout was awkward to watch, and I’m sure that paled in comparison to how awkward it was to live. Notably, Catherine and Meghan didn’t interact at all. Unless you count brief eye contact as interaction. I don’t, really. Furthermore, they didn’t interact at any subsequent event they both attended despite physical proximity.

Two points: 1) consider that there was very real grief going on and this family had to *also* manage incredible social stress in public and 2) while the meat of this fight is certainly between the brothers, the women aren’t in much better shape.

How much of their froideur is based on loyalty to their husband and how much of it is personal is anyone’s guess. My instinct is that it started out as mostly the former and has slid into the latter.

Finally, Meghan has a better poker face than Catherine. And I’m saying that as someone with an even worse poker face. Real talk: if I’m mad at you, you’ll die of frostbite. So, no judgment here.

The Uniforms

I’ve already discussed this – I think the Palace made a mistake. However, I’ve also read a little more about this since the funeral as military rules and customs aren’t really my forte. I said last week that I thought Harry should have been allowed to wear his uniform at the funeral if he could only have one event – apparently, that would have been even more unseemly per the etiquette. I was also reminded that Queen Elizabeth herself was a stickler for such things, so while I knew she had weighed in on this, I feel even more confident saying she made this decision carefully and with full confidence that she was making the right choice.

Essentially this comes down to rules versus optics, as so much of this does.

I still think this was a bit sloppily handled in the playout, but I do feel like the Palace – or King Charles – did their best to find a true compromise.

William & Harry

There was no behind-the-scenes reconciliation. Apparently the two passed each other on a road in Windsor via car, backed up when they recognized each other, and had a quick chat. William was doing the afternoon school run, so George, Charlotte, and Louis were present. That was it. That was the extent of their interaction for the entire period they were living a few minutes away from each other.

Side Press Briefings

As all of these events were playing out, regular tidbits were reaching the press about the various interviews and appearances that Meghan was bowing out of because of the funeral. First, it was the delay of new podcast episodes. Then it was talkshow gigs. Next came magazine covers being postponed. My question is, if these hadn’t already been publicized – and to the best of my knowledge they weren’t – why and how did they reach the press anyway?

You could argue this news was leaked from the other side – the talk shows, event organizers, publications, etc. Except that breaking confidence like that for platforms that regularly engage celebrities isn’t standard practice. And this news was coming from sources more likely to have ties to royal camps. In other words, was the Sussex team briefing the media to underscore Meghan’s respectfulness?

If so, this falls in line with Harry issuing a statement about his uniform that stated attention should be focused on his grandmother, not him.

That all sounds nice at face value, but the other side of the coin is that what you have are two wolves in sheep’s clothing, knowing full well that if they cause problems in this moment, in this environment, they’re done for. Whereas if they play their parts well, they are able to continue the narrative that they try, they’ve tried, and still the Windsors won’t stop humiliating them.

My point is this, both camps are playing to the public for survival.

Finally, I want to circle back on the reception invitation (covered originally here) – I didn’t fully grasp this at the time, but it resonated later. If an invitation was sent and then rescinded, how did the media find out? Obviously, Buckingham Palace didn’t promote their own mistake. So, either the media was briefed that the Sussexes would attend *by the Sussex camp* and the Palace reacted, or the entire ordeal was taken to the press by the Sussex camp to continue to further the victim narrative.

And this, my friends, is why I said in my funeral post that the couple didn’t put a *public* foot wrong.

God Save the King

Several noted that during Queen Elizabeth’s commitment service at Windsor, Harry didn’t partake in singing the national anthem – God Save the King. This has been flung about as yet another sign of his disrespect, but I don’t think so. Say what you will about Harry (and honestly I have more to say…another time), but I think what we saw last week was grief. I think he was very close to fully breaking down in front of the cameras and just went through the motions as best he could in the moment.

So, I’m not going to ding him on that particular point. This was a very real loss for him.

The Diana of it All

I have a very limited appetite for comparisons and allusions to Diana when it comes to Catherine and Meghan. But then again, there are moments when both women concretely walk us there, so here we are. Catherine has made two recent references to her – one via the unofficial statement about her taking on the role of Princess of Wales and the other on Tuesday when she wore a red coat by LK Bennett that is called the “Spencer” style…or something like that. Anyway, it had Spencer in the name. That’s obviously not a coincident, but an homage.

Both women do it, Catherine in a more traditional way via jewelry and clothing and Meghan usually in the narrative put forth to the media (but also sometimes with jewelry…), but I do think Catherine’s recent choices are interesting and can’t be separated out from Meghan’s. In other words, I think Catherine’s pointed references to Diana right now are also about ensuring that particular legacy isn’t wholly divorced from that of the Windsors.

It’s defensive of William’s position as her son too and defensive of the monarchy as a whole as we gear up for another season of The Crown. Very on-brand for Catherine. I like steely Catherine. This recent edge we’re seeing is *chef’s kiss*.

The Memoir

November, December, or early 2023. Those are the best guesses right now. I’ve heard that Harry has asked for re-writes and requested a delay. I’ve also heard that the book is so far gone in the publishing process that nothing can be changed.

We don’t know, but as I’ve said before, no reconciliation will happen until that memoir is out.


Likewise, if I had to put money on it, no announcement or change in titles will happen until post-memoir. If it’s in line with Oprah and The Cut, then I highly doubt title changes will be forthcoming. And if they do, my guess is that it will be closer to the time of the coronation when King Charles and his staff have a better sense of the landscape on all of this post-transition period.

But news broke yesterday that Harry and Meghan were shifted down on the Royal Family website, chalked up by the Palace as a run-of-the-mill update based on their non-working status. Sure, Jan. Realistically, this is a pretty good indication that the Palace air is chilly.

The Times

If you follow me on Instagram, then you saw my preliminary dissection of the first Times article from Valentine Low book. There have been two more since then. I’m not going to dig into this more here, but I do want to flag that this timing isn’t some master plot by the Palace to make a dig at Meghan post-funeral. I think you *can* make that argument with regards to the disclosure about bullying allegations prior to the Oprah interview, but in this case, for the book to have the publication date that it does, this is in the hands of publishers, not third-party staff.  

I’ll cover in due course.

**ENDS** 😉

3 thoughts on “The Sussex Circus

  1. Peter

    Great recap. Harry may genuinely believe he is one of history’s great victims but that’s not a sentiment shared by most people. I do think that he’s been taken advantage of, not by his family, but by Meghan.
    In time he’ll regret this book. People don’t respect someone who makes a living out of complaining about their family. There will always be an interest in someone who’s willing to divulge secrets about a famous individual or family, but in the long run it will damage him just as much as it damages his family.

    Obviously, Meghan doesn’t care about his family, or the institution or the country. My guess is that Meghan will divorce him in a couple of years once the well has run dry in terms of what she can obtain from the marriage. Harry will return to England a broken man. Middle aged, unemployed, estranged from his family and pitiful in every sense of the word. There’s a heightened risk he will self-harm.

    How different things would have been if he’d married a British or Commonwealth girl that understood the institution and genuinely cared about his legacy within it. Things could have been so different with the right partner (just look at Kate and William).

    On a separate note, I have read that Harry was worried about becoming irrelevant, comparing himself to Prince Andrew. This a genuine concern, given Charles’ (and the media’s) constant harping about a “slimline” monarchy and “senior and junior” royals. These are real people, with real emotions. Imagine constantly reading that you’re a burden or irrelevant, that would send anyone over the edge.

    It’s a mistake to slim down the royal family. With only 5 people the focus of everything the risk for serious damage should a scandal etc. occur is magnified. A larger royal family with various personalities spreads the risk. Nobody wants a bicycle monarchy of five people. Republicans do, but since when anyone take advice from someone that is actively hostile to your continuation!

  2. LEW

    A lot there, thanks Rebecca. Couple of things for me. I find it hard to blame Kate for not putting on a show when the Oprah interview was so personal about her. I’m far from convinced we’ve had “the truth” about the whole bridesmaid imbroglio, as opposed to one persons “truth” and in her position I would be untrusting and yes, angry.

    I believe Harry and Meghan were utterly blindsided by the Queen’s death. It’s arguable that they shouldn’t have been given her age but I suppose they’ve been out of the country, to some degree out of the loop and the final decline was rapid. I also think (and this may not be kind) that they seem to inhabit a mystical country where what they want to be real seems in some magical way to become real to them. This will have been a cold hard dose of reality and I think the penny may have
    finally dropped that the forthcoming book will do them no good at all, especially if it criticises the now King and Queen and Prince and Princess of Wales. The power has changed and the bit of protection they had via a loving grandmother has gone.

  3. Heidi

    I, too, like “steely Catherine”, as no woman, or indeed man, marries into that family with merely a desire to be taken care of or looked after. Ambition is the name – and it becomes her!

    I’ve found Meghans professional and poised attitude these past couple of weeks, far more interesting, though. By saying nothing, she managed to communicate much, which reminds me of what I found so compelling to begin with. She is a very good speaker – unafraid and “warm”. What an asset she could’ve been together with a prince who was already a favourite with the nation. What happened?

    Vanity, oh, vanity – absolutely – but they must have been surrounded with bad advice, worse advisors and bad luck. Sad to see, but for all their moaning, they are about to be pushed in the general direction of the Exit-sign.

Leave a Reply