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It is a story that is becoming very familiar when it comes to the royal family and the Sussexes—the tale of two statements. Ever since Harry and Meghan released their bombshell announcement on January 8, 2020 that they were carving out a progressive new role within the monarchy, and the world watched as Buckingham Palace scrambled to release a very different message, it has been laid bare just how much this family is not always on the same page. And, yesterday, as another announcement was made regarding the Sussexes’ roles and future, we once again saw so much that is so personal exposed on (and between) the lines of official palace communication.
The latest statement from Buckingham Palace was, in many ways, unsurprising. It had been expected—indeed even spelled out on the front page of the Daily Mail—that Harry and Meghan would not be able to keep their formal royal patronages if they were no longer working royals. The door that had been left open when they walked away from royal life at the end of last March had slowly been closing the more they forged ahead with their new commercial plans. It was hard to see a way Harry could have kept his honorary military appointments without a formal role in the royal family, although it was also obvious that he very much wanted to. The Sussexes had long hoped to be half-in and half-out but, as the Queen wrote to them, this is simply “not possible.”
But what does make Buckingham Palace’s statement on the matter so remarkable is that it includes details such as the fact that the Queen wrote to them. Instead of sticking to the bare minimum of facts (which the Palace frequently does on many matters), it spills out, by accident or design, beyond the formality of information about patronages into something much more revealing. And the separate message from the Sussexes, sent at almost exactly the same time, reads innately like a ‘response’ that lays simmering tensions bare.
The line in the Buckingham Palace message describing “the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service” might be viewed by some as a superfluous—even pointed—spelling out of the ideology of what it means to be a working royal. The decision to insert a final sentence about the family being “saddened” and Harry and Meghan remaining “much loved” is a poignant reminder of just how deep this professional decision goes.
It is not clear whether Harry and Meghan knew what wording would be used in the Buckingham Palace statement before they agreed what their own comment from a spokesperson would be. But, either way, it’s hard not to detect a note of defiance in their decision to sign off with the words: “We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.” One assumes that a definition of service is for the benefit of the public rather than an attempt from Harry to teach his grandmother to suck eggs.
What Harry and Meghan do spell out in their statement, in saying that they have offered their “continued support” to organizations, is that they wanted to keep the positions that have been returned. You do not have to be an expert to work out that this will be tough for Harry. He chose his freedom, but handing back his honorary military appointments was a hefty price to pay.
We may find out more about how he feels about this after the Sussexes sit down with Oprah in a 90-minute interview to be aired on March 7. They are not the first royals to give lengthy television interviews, but the Queen famously does not. Instead, she notoriously goes by the motto “never complain, never explain” and does not elaborate on her personal thoughts or views. She will, of course, continue in this vein, but with Palace statements like this we are not left completely in the dark.
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