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  • Rachel Burchfield

I'm back from vacation early to give my thoughts on Harry and Meghan’s news


All four of the “Fab Four” that really never was – and now, most assuredly, never will be – returned to work today. I did as well – my first full workday back since I left for my Costa Rican vacation at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, January 8. By 1 p.m. on Wednesday, January 8, some of the most groundbreaking Royal news of the modern era had broken – Harry and Meghan were stepping down as “senior Royals,” whatever that means, and were going to be splitting their time between the U.K. and North America, presumably Canada, where they’ve spent roughly the last two months in hibernation, avoiding Christmas at Sandringham, the greedy, ruthless press, and any attention.

And my God, what has happened since: Unprecedented statements, plural, from the Queen on the state of this situation and her family; unprecedented statements from William and Harry, defending their relationship; an unprecedented summit at Norfolk with the Queen, her two heirs, and Harry. In just one week’s time, it feels as though the monarchy has taken 500 steps forward and 500 steps back, all at once.

For every point I have in this discussion, there is a counterpoint. Despite being on vacation and truly away from any means of writing this post, I haven’t even been able to formulate what I’m going to say about the matter because, for every point I make inside my head, there is an equal and opposite counterpoint to go up against it. I am a Royal Family blogger, a lifelong Royal Watcher, borderline obsessed with this Family, and I have nothing to say yet everything to say – another juxtaposition of point and counterpoint that is making an opinion impossible to make.

What I will say is this: Meghan, a biracial, American woman, gave up everything for her marriage to Harry and no one batted an eye. She gave up a lucrative career as an actress on a hit TV show and a marginally lucrative career as a blogger for The Tig (which, come to think of it – remember when her lawyers renewed the trademark for The Tig last year and we all laughed, thinking, Why is there that need? She’ll never be able to reopen The Tig! Well…). She gave up her home country of the United States, leaving behind her beloved and adored mother, Doria, leaving her literally halfway across the world as Meghan moved to London. She gave up her privacy, her home, her dog (who was considered too weak to travel that far), and, some say, her sanity. (In fact, it’s Meghan’s reported anxiety attacks behind Frogmore walls that were one of the final nails in the coffin for Harry’s decision, many say.) She, an unabashed feminist, now had to play by stupid Royal rules – only clear nail polish. No bare legs. Backwards and asinine rules that were only there because they’ve always been done this way. Meghan gave up everything for Harry, and when Harry decided to give up his Royal work, even partially, the whole world crumbled. The double standard: Women can give up everything and it’s expected of them; men give up something, and it’s a global meltdown.

As I type this, all of this is just so complex and complicated that it’s impossible to truncate down into a blog post. But, if we may, let’s take a look at Harry’s life and what might have brought him to this decision (because, contrary to popular belief, I feel this decision was primarily his, not hers). Harry is born in 1984, the last time, in Diana’s words, that his parents’ marriage was ever happy. Charles was hoping for a girl; when he was borne a son, and not only a son, but a redheaded, Spencer-looking son, he and Diana’s marriage was never the same. The marriage was never right to begin with, but after Harry’s birth, it completely imploded, resulting in Charles running back to Camilla and Diana running to man after man after man, trying to fill a void that no one could fill. Harry was raised with his parents basically at war with one another, and when he was eight, they separated in 1992. By the time he was 12, his parents’ divorce was finalized, and his mother, after a 17-year battle royale with the paparazzi, was dead, killed in a car crash in Paris as her Mercedes was in pursuit by the clicking cameras, as always. (Diana, as a name, is Roman for the goddess of hunting; it turns out she was the most hunted woman in the world for half of her 36 years of life. Harry, for his part, said in late 2019 that every time he hears a camera shutter click, it is like PTSD of his mother being hunted all over again.) Harry, along with brother William, was told the devastating news after being woken up out of sleep in the middle of the night at Balmoral; Diana died overnight from Saturday into Sunday, and, when the Royal Family attended church that Sunday morning – just hours after Harry found out that the love of his life, his mother, was killed – not a word of her death was mentioned at the church service, on orders of the Queen. This prompted Harry to ask his father “Is mummy really dead?” thinking he’d dreamed it. Less than a week later, Harry was forced – in one of the most cruel moves I think the Family has ever done – to walk behind his mother’s coffin, an agonizingly long walk, as he stared at a card adorned with the word “Mummy” that he’d placed in the flowers above her casket. One week later, Harry turned 13.

Knowing the Family like I do – and seeing both William and Harry’s present-day impassioned commitment to mental health – I guarantee that the boys did not get the mental health help that they so desperately needed during those tender years after Diana’s sudden and shocking death. Losing a parent at any age, under any circumstances, is traumatic. Losing a mother – perfectly healthy, and only 36 – at 12 when she was expected to come pick up the boys from Balmoral literally the next day is damaging beyond comprehension. The “stiff upper lip” culture that the British Royal Family is known so infamously for enacting is, I believe, exactly why all of this is happening in present day. All of this – all of the events this week on Harry’s part – are, I believe, tied back to August 31, 1997, and the aftermath of it. It’s been 22 years in the making, but this is, in many ways, a final answer to those dark days in Harry’s life; a reclamation of his life, a hopefully saving of his wife’s life from the misery he watched his mother endure, and an avoiding of the same style of raising in his son’s life that he, Harry, was raised in, which damaged him and left scars that he is still trying to unpack. This time around, Harry is saying, we're going to do better.

The years went on and we saw Harry falter, turning to drugs and alcohol to stymie the pain of the loss that he was never properly allowed to deal with. We saw him have at least two long-term relationships – Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas – and we saw both women leave him because they just couldn’t take the pressure of being a Royal girlfriend and possible future wife, even if he was the spare. And then we see him meet an actress named Meghan Markle in 2016, at nearly 32 – long after, he has said publicly, he thought love had passed him by. He was attracted to her for many reasons, but most likely one of them is because she is the exact opposite of the “stiff upper lip” culture. She is deeply in touch with her emotions, her feelings; her emotional intelligence and commitment to balance and wellness is so strong that many who have met her say that her calming aura is intoxicating. And, as we’ve seen from literally the very beginning of their relationship – only four months into it, to be exact – Harry, once he fell in love and knew she was the one, would do anything to protect her from the same fate his mother was resigned to. If you’ll remember, just mere months after they started dating, he released a statement defending her from the press, at that time against rampant racism that hasn’t ceased. And, it seems, he hasn’t stopped defending Meghan since, right down to last week.

So, in May 2018, Meghan marries into the Family. And dammit if she doesn’t try. She launches a cookbook to rampant criticism. A capsule clothing collection to rampant criticism. Guest edits British Vogue to rampant criticism. She goes on tours and she’s criticized for not being regal enough. She’s decimated for keeping Archie’s birth and christening private. For having a baby shower. She’s too much here and not enough there. Racial undertones are disgusting, and they permeate. She’s too fat. She’s too private. She’s too emotional. She’s too black. She’s too American. She’s never enough. She’s hated. Despised. The next Wallis Simpson. And then she and Harry go to South Africa, and the documentary comes out, and, if it was bad before, it’s unbearable now. Once she, Harry, and Archie left for Canada in late 2019, I knew they wouldn’t come back. I’ve been predicting it on The Duchess Commentary’s Facebook page since. I know the special affinity Meghan has for that country – she lived in Toronto and filmed Suits there for seven years – and I knew Canada was a perfect bridge between the U.K. and the U.S., and, as a Commonwealth country, I thought for sure they could move there, at least until Archie started school, and continue on with their work, away from the British tabloids and hopefully with some peace. I never expected what actually ended up happening.

I absolutely knew that, when Harry and Meghan’s first engagement of 2020 was to visit Canada House in London to thank Canada for its warm hospitality to the Sussexes during their visit, it was deeper than just a thank you. I knew in that exact moment they were moving to Canada, but I fully expected them to continue their full-time Royal work there, as they had been doing in the U.K. but just away from all the press. But, then, the next day, on January 8, this:

“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment. We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages. This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity. We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.” – The Duke and Duchess of Sussex

Though Harry and Meghan had talked through some of this with the Queen, she had not formally agreed to any of it, and when this statement dropped, she was just as stunned as the rest of us. Charles, who said he always saw in his future plans Harry working right alongside him, was devastated. William, who at one point called Harry his best friend, was gutted. As we’ve reported on the blog, the brothers have not had a close relationship since Harry and Meghan’s courtship progressed so quickly; in William’s defense, he was afraid of this exact situation happening when Harry and Meghan met and married in less than two years: That she wouldn’t be ready for the enormous pressures. I am sure he figured they would get a divorce; not that, instead of divorcing his wife, Harry would, instead, divorce his Family and his role within it.

There’s so much to unpack here. First of all, I say this: I support Harry and Meghan’s decision to carve out the best lives for themselves and their son that they possibly can – the healthiest, most beneficial lives that they can. I am not yet a parent, but I have heard from all of those close to me who are that parenthood changes everything. I am sure that Harry and Meghan, who entered into this marriage, I believe, with the best intentions to serve the Crown as long as they lived, completely changed their minds after having Archie. When Harry became a partner to Meghan, even as far back as 2016, he became almost obsessed with protecting her; but when he became a father in 2019, he realized that he would do anything – anything – to keep his son from having to go through what he went through in 1997. It all ties back to 1997, you see, and when 1997 met 2019, he never wanted his son to lose his mother, Meghan, as he had lost his, and he never wanted his son to have to go through, in any form or fashion, what he went through, be it with his mental health, the press, or the public. All of this – all of this­ – is, I believe, an answer to 1997 and an obsessive desire for Archie to never have to feel a fraction of the pain, anguish, and hell that he went through.

I do not believe this was Meghan’s decision. I believe she is a supporter of Harry’s decision. But I believe all of this stems from a father’s (and husband’s) love.

But, in typical fashion, Meghan is getting all of the blame for it. The criticism over the past two years has brought Meghan to such an anxious state that Harry feared she would either divorce him or lose it. And he wasn’t willing to watch either happen. So, he moved. He chose the family he’s built over the Family he was born into. And that I fully support.

Now, the counterpoint: The way it all went down. The news broke on January 8 because the (fucking) tabloids had gotten wind of all of this somehow and were threatening to break it. So, to come out ahead of the story, the Sussexes dropped the bomb. I feel as though their backs were against the wall and they were not doing it maliciously, but I don’t feel as though it was handled the best it could have been. Although, in Harry and Meghan’s defense, maybe they had no choice. Maybe they had to force the Family’s hand. As you can see, they are trying to make concessions to have the life they need to have to be mentally healthy and still serve the Crown; the counterpoint to that is that they’re trying to proverbially have their cake and eat it, too. They still get to keep so many of their Royal perks while being free to do whatever the hell they want. I see that point, and I validate it. But I see it from the angle of Harry and Meghan are doing what they need to do to not a.) divorce, b.) lose their sanity, c.) raise their child in a toxic environment, and d.) set an unhealthy example for Archie and the other child that might possibly come behind him. I think they want to honor their commitment to the Family while also prioritizing their mental health and wellness. And who can fault them for that?

And let me tell you, Harry and Meghan are nothing if not savvy. Even if the Queen took away their Duke and Duchess of Sussex titles – which only she can do, and, so far, has shown no signs of wanting to do – they have trademarked everything under the sun that has the words Sussex Royal, including launching a new website that answers a lot of pressing questions (and is worth checking out). As they look to become, as they say, “financially independent,” the path forward seems to be co-collaborating on their charitable foundation, and Meghan is in talks with Disney to do voiceover work. (Proof that all of this has been at play for a long time: Back at The Lion King premiere Harry and Meghan attended in July, Meghan is chatting with Jay-Z and Beyonce while Harry has a private audience with Disney CEO Bob Iger, telling him that Meghan does voiceovers. I think all of this – this entire plan, which includes the prelude documentary to garner sympathy from the public – has been in the works for a long, long time.) Harry and Meghan will still do some Royal Family work, particularly with their patronages, but will now have the freedom to do work they are passionate about, no holds barred. (Harry, for example, is currently working on a mental health documentary with Oprah, which was confirmed long, long before this past week. She, for her part, denies being the catalyst that prompted the Sussexes to take this leap. The Obamas also deny being the ones that told Harry and Meghan to pull the proverbial trigger.) The work they plan to do focuses around their passions and is outlined in depth on their new website, as is their media policy – the most staunch part of the website, in response to attacks from the media that they have endured for the past two years. I do agree that it feels at times like cherry-picking – they get to keep the good and dump the Royal stuff they don’t want to deal with – but how can I possibly argue with a couple doing what is best for themselves as individuals and as a family? But, because Harry and Meghan no longer will receive money from the Sovereign Grant and will be more financially independent, it will open them up to have more freedom in other areas of their lives.

So, my final word: This is a good thing. It ultimately will be. It will be messy in the interim, and the way it was carried out was not ideal – the rifts from this will take a long while to heal. But, at the end of the day, this is a Family, and I believe in time they will come together. I especially hope that William and Harry can repair what once was a pretty special relationship, and that William will be able to see that Harry is not trying to pose a threat to the monarchy and William’s future, but, rather, do the best course of action for the Sussex family so that he can be a better contributor to the overall work of the institution. Change is never easy but often necessary; the Family is in a turning point right now: What happened, happened, and how they respond to it within the coming weeks will truly determine so, so much. It will be interesting and utterly fascinating to watch.

Plus, everyone should be writing Harry and Meghan a thank you note for shifting the focus away from what could really bring down the monarchy and the truly fucked up situation in the Family right now: Andrew.

Some of you are wondering – is Meghan still a duchess? Yes, and, as such, she’ll still be reported on by The Duchess Commentary as if nothing happened and as if everything happened, if that makes sense. For example, Meghan was at work today on a solo outing, visiting the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre in Vancouver, where she is with Archie as Harry wraps up other work and engagements and Family stuff back in the U.K. For their part, the Cambridges were working today, too, visiting the city of Bradford in Kate's first engagement of 2020.

It’s almost like nothing happened – yet everything happened. This blog post is already a book and I have so much more to say. But the bottom line is this: How could anyone not support a person and a family doing what is best for them, mentally and emotionally? We can’t change the past, but we can go forward and blaze a brighter future. And I believe, at the core of it, that is what’s happening here.

And, for her part? I think Diana is proud as hell, smiling from her perch in Heaven. Her death was tragic, but even in the worst of situations, if you look hard enough, something good can come. And I think, nearly 23 years later, in time and if handled properly, this very well might be it: A new day for the British monarchy, one that is less rigid and structured and callous and, with all due respect, very Elizabeth II, and healthier, sustainable, and adaptable, one that will be around when George’s grandkids are born and beyond. This monarchy is either going to adapt, or it is going to die. And, although reviled now by the press and public, Harry and Meghan might have just saved the institution they have, at least in part, left.

Breathe, everyone. It will all be okay. It always is, in the end.

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