Tarnishing the brand
While Labour leadership candidates pathetically line up to defend Harry and Meghan Windsor in the name of anti-racism and anti-sexism, Eddie Ford says it’s time to put republicanism back onto the agenda.
No doubt you were shocked like me by the announcement from Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, that they wanted to “step back” from royal duties. You could almost call it a pre-emptive abdication, except for the fact that - short of a massacre - Harry never had a chance of becoming king.
Instead, “after many months of reflection and internal discussions”, the couple want to carve out a “progressive new role” - whatever that could be - within the institution of the monarchy, where they would be “financially independent”, alternating their time between the UK and North America. They also announced the launch in April, which just so happens to be the start of the new financial year, of a “new charitable entity” - a “non-profit” organisation that will probably be similar to those run by the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hilary Clinton, Bill and Melinda Gates, etc, etc. Wealthy and super-rich philanthropic individuals can generously donate to such charities safe in the knowledge that is tax-deductible.
Now 93 years old, the queen was not amused by the announcement - blindsided by its timing, as it was made without warning. In fact, it is reported that she and fellow royals were “dismayed”, “furious”, “disappointed” and “hurt” - first Andrew, now this. What is the world coming to? At the beginning of the week there were ‘emergency’ talks at Sandringham House attended by the queen, Charles, William and Harry - Meghan did not take part, though she was originally going to join by conference call from Canada, where she has been with her son (Archie Mountbatten-Windsor) ever since the couple broke the news last week. After the meeting, the palace issued a statement saying the queen has agreed a “period of transition”, in which Harry and Meghan will live in both Canada and Britain - as the couple “have made clear that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives”. Naturally, she was “entirely supportive” of their desire for a new role, though she “would have preferred” them to remain full-time working royals - but there were “complex matters” still to resolve and “more work to be done”.
Royal-watchers, like modern-day Kremlinologists, immediately picked up on the fact that Harry and Meghan were not referred to as the duke and duchess in the statement - only as the Sussexes and by their first names, raising questions about whether they will retain their honorific titles in the future. More scandal. There is now speculation about whether it is going to be the British or Canadian tax-payer who is going to pay for security during this “transition” period - Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, remarked that there are “still lots of discussions to have” over “how that looks and what kind of costs are involved”.
Boris Johnson reassured viewers of the BBC Breakfast show that he was “absolutely confident” the royal family is going to “sort out” a future role for Harry and Meghan - patriotically adding that the monarchy is “one of the great assets of this country”. Revoltingly, but totally predictably, all the Labour leadership candidates - including the ‘leftwing’ ones - heaped praise on Harry and Meghan, and the constitutional monarchy in general. Emily Thornberry was particularly keen to parade her pro-monarchist credentials on the Andrew Marr programme, arguing that British taxpayers should continue paying for the couple’s security and pointing out that Harry has “done great service” in Afghanistan, when he was in the army - he “used his instinct to try and defend our country”, and now he wants to defend his much-loved wife and baby from “media scrutiny”.1 As for Rebecca Long-Bailey, she compared the “hostility” she had experienced as a Labour left from some sections of the press to that encountered by Meghan Markle, but apparently that resulted from some kind of sexism - “Don’t attack a woman for the sake of attacking a woman.”
Whilst the couple’s wedding two years ago was a spectacular ideological success, allowing The Firm to present itself as modern and liberal, it is true that not everyone is a fan of the black American divorcee and former actor. Piers Morgan, vile as ever, attacked Meghan, as she had “ditched her family, ditched her dad, ditched most of her old friends, split Harry from William and has now split him from the royals” - concluding that this is what “spiteful treachery” looks like. Nigel Farage grumpily complained that Harry had been the most popular young royal in a 100 years - “and then he met Meghan Markle and it’s fallen off a cliff”. Sour comments from ardent monarchists upset at what they see as the undermining of their beloved institution. Being a foreigner, Meghan might not instinctively put ‘Britain first’.
At present, regarding Harry and Meghan, 5% of their costs are met by the sovereign grant - the annual funding mechanism that finances the monarchy. This is the public money they intend to relinquish. Prince Charles funds the remaining 95% from the income he generates from his Duchy of Cornwall properties. Presumably this arrangement will carry on, at least for the time being.
The couple say they intend to retain Frogmore Cottage, their official residence at Windsor that was gifted to them by the queen - and, of course, will now remain empty for a considerable part of the year, as they split their time between the UK and North America. Understandably, some critics have demanded they refund the £2.4 million of public money spent refurbishing it for them. On their swish new website the Sussexes claim they were originally offered Apartment 1 in Kensington Palace as a home for their growing family - but it was “estimated to cost in excess of £4 million for mandated renovations” and would not have been available to occupy until late 2020.2 On this basis, they argue, Frogmore is 50% cheaper than the property in Kensington - an obvious bargain for the British taxpayer.
So what is the couple’s plan for the future, apart from presumably making quite a lot of dosh from their new “charitable entity” - how will they become “financially independent” and get the freedom to “work externally”? The monarchy has faced problems in the past with ‘working’ senior royals. For instance, the Earl and Countess of Wessex - prince Edward and his wife, Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones - struggled unsuccessfully to combine high-profile jobs in TV and public relations with royal duties. Almost 20 years ago Sophie was accused of “cashing in” on her royal status in a bid to win business for her PR firm from a “fake sheikh” undercover reporter - Edward was criticised too for similar reasons. In the end they admitted defeat and devoted themselves to full-time royal duties in 2002. Guidelines devised after this episode advise royals to first consult the Lord Chamberlain, the most senior official of the royal household, before taking on any new business activity. They also require that anyone connected with a business activity “should be carefully briefed not to try to exploit, either deliberately or inadvertently, the member of the royal family’s position, associations or access”.
Yet this is akin to demanding the impossible. In their new role, when it is finally sorted out, Harry and Meghan say that they remain “dedicated to maximising Her Majesty’s legacy both in the UK and throughout the Commonwealth” - which sounds a lot like cashing in, especially if they keep their royal titles. From a monarchist perspective, they risk tarnishing the royal brand - becoming more like celebrity culture and Hollywood-style show business.
But it is still the case that making money is making money, business is still business - coming into conflict with the cherished ideals of the royal family and everything it is supposed to stand for. The monarchy, as we all know, is ‘above politics’ and transcends petty ‘sectional interests’ - in case you didn’t know, it acts to promote the interests and wellbeing of the entire nation, certainly not its own or any commercial considerations. Heaven forbid. After all, one day the monarch might be needed to step in and take over if there is a revolutionary crisis, which is why it needs to retain the trust of the majority of the population, irrespective of class. Therefore royals are not supposed to have their own business or other interests - it goes against the rules of the game. Yes, huge sums of money are lavished on them, but that is precisely so they can carry out their vitally important duties - it goes without saying. In other words, they cannot be half in and half out, as Harry and Meghan seem to want - it just does not work. How can you be above sectional interests if you are running a business and raking in the profits?
However upsetting it might be for those who believe in the royal ideal, everything indicates - love them or loathe them - that the couple are going to exploit their royal status for everything it is worth, quite literally. Harry and Meghan are seeking to register the “Sussex Royal” brand, having been using it on their Instagram account and website, as a global trademark for a range of items and activities, including clothing, stationery, greeting cards, pyjamas, and even the running of “emotional support groups” - a rather alarming prospect, given the royal family’s track record in this area. The application covering Australia, Canada, the EU and US was filed in December with the World Intellectual Property Organization in the name of their new charitable organisation, the Sussex Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Some have suggested Harry and Meghan could make as much as £500,000 in their first year of being released from royal duties, particularly by tapping into the lucrative North American market - using their ‘Oprah connection’, the American version of royalty, and an army of other A-list friends like George Clooney to generate income. Future enterprises could include book deals, talk shows, beauty products and a charity-based clothing line with a special emphasis on sustainability or environmental causes - green capitalism, royal-style. PR gurus have been hired to “maximise their marketability” in the US, with hints of a secret deal already signed with Disney (in May the corporation gifted the couple a special cartoon featuring Winnie the Pooh to celebrate baby Archie’s birth).
Public speaking is another good earner (whether or not you can string together a sentence), with Harry charging up to $500,000 for each appearance. James Henderson, public relations advisor to the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, said the Sussexes were likely to use their newfound freedom to “make millions” in the US, while turning their Sussex Royal brand into a global empire - remember how Princess Diana was approached to be the face of L’Oreal for $20 million after she and Charles were divorced.
The royal couple say they want to take a “step back” and “work towards” financial independence - but keep their substantial income from the Duchy of Cornwall, their rent-free residence in Windsor, their splendid titles and all the perks that come with being royals. All this despite having enormous independent wealth that the vast majority of us can only dream of, and huge earnings potential just by virtue of their status and name. Frankly, they want to have their royal cake and eat it.
On the other hand, we in the CPGB want to bring this nonsense to an end by fighting for a democratic republic - the only real way to liberate the prince from his current dilemma. No more royals, titles, honorifics. No more agonising over funding and future revenue streams. Then Harry and Meghan can live a normal life just like us.