Since their UK return Harry and Meghan have faced one humiliation after another. A new photo perfectly encapsulates their disastrous trip.
If you want to get an idea of how rubbish of a time Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex are having right now in London, all you have to do is do an image search for James, Viscount Severn from the Queen’s service of thanksgiving held at St Paul’s on Friday.
The boy is, of course, the 14-year-old son of Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex and young James is currently 15th in line to the throne meaning that hopefully he knows someone who can get him a cushy job in investment banking – going into the family business of plaque-unveilings and ribbon-cuttings simply isn’t on the cards.
And yet while James enjoyed a plum, front-row position in the front row at St Paul’s, his cousin Harry – a prince, two-time war veteran and sixth-in-line to the top job – was ignominiously stuck in the row behind the teenager.
If ever there was an image that summed up the descent of Harry and Meghan it was this. Former frontline working representatives of the Queen, members of the Palace inner sanctum, to be left to demeaningly be shunted behind a surly-looking adolescent.
Seating charts, like the table placement and photos chosen for the Queen’s Christmas speech, are a serious business in the Palace world and the positioning of the Sussexes’ in what amounted to Siberia inside St Paul’s not so much spoke volumes as indecorously yelled at the top of its lungs.
While the last time Harry had been inside the famous 17th century church, for the Grenfell Tower National Memorial service in 2017, he had sat sombrely in the front row next to his brother and sister-in-law, William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, on Friday he was forced to accept his designated spot in cheap seats, the Sussexes’ B-list status made all-too-painfully obvious.
Harry and Meghan were being, quite literally, put in their place.
And all of this is even before the fact that the Sussexes were booed outside the service by some members of the crowd, the first members of the royal family, as far as I’m aware, to get such a mortifying reception. (William was booed at the FA Cup final last month by Liverpool fans, something the team’s supporters have done for decades when it comes to English establishment figures.)
With two days of the four-day Jubilee celebrations now under royal belts, what is becoming clear is that for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who flew in via private jet for the occasion with their two young children in tow, this trip is proving to be a far from pleasant one in a public sense at least.
When the couple waltzed off two years ago to make a fortune and create impact and spend their days coming up with nifty hashtags, it looked like they still held plenty of cards. Harry, in falling for the Suits star and dragooning her into the working royal ranks, had accidentally found just what the monarchy didn’t know it was looking for.
They were the adored golden couple and the royal family needed them, and oh-so-badly, to inject some youthful verve into the moribund royal brand and to connect with younger generations.
When Megxit crashed into headlines and the Zeitgeist in January 2020, the possibilities for where they would go next seemed limitless and thrilling. World, watch out!
What no one quite expected was for their star to lose its luster quite so fast.
Returning to London this week, for the first time since the emotionally-charged final round of engagements they undertook in March 2020, it is under something of a cloud.
A report in May in the Times reported that the publication of Harry’s memoir might be delayed and the same month it was reported that the duo is filming something that sounds like it bears more than a passing resemblance to a reality TV series. Hardly the sort of work that gets one invited to Davos or onto Jeff Bezos’ yacht now is it?
While they could not have been expecting a warm welcome back in Blighty, the public reception they have received has not so much been chilly as downright Ice Age-worthy.
The day before they arrived back, new polling done by YouGov revealed that their popularity had sunk to an all-time low, quite an achievement for two people who have only been consistently falling in the public’s estimation for years now.
Then on Friday came Trooping the Colour, the big military spectacle which traditionally marks the sovereign’s birthday. (We have George III circa 1760 to thank for making this into an annual tradition.)
The last time Trooping was held in London in 2019, Harry and Meghan were front and centre, enjoying a starring role in the carriage procession from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards Parade and then later appearing on the Buckingham Palace balcony.
And this time? While they were spared having to make the journey from the Palace to Horse Guards via bus like the Yorks, Tindalls and Phillips’, the Sussexes made the trip via station wagon before they joined 70-odd other Windsors to watch proceedings from the Major General’s office .
In not a single one of the few photos of Harry and Meghan at Trooping were they seen speaking to any of the more senior members of the royal family, only being photographed with the Tindall and Phillips children and at one stage chatting to the 86-year -old Duke of Kent.
Then came Friday’s service of thanksgiving. While again Her Majesty had made certain concessions to the couple – such as them arriving via Range Rover and not via the bus put on for the Queen’s other grandchildren and cousins and the Sussexes being given their own entrance into the church – there the outreach and grandmotherly tenderness stopped and the cold business of monarchy started.
After making their way down the 150 metre-long aisle, Harry and Meghan arrived at their seats. Gone was their top-tier status and instead they were wedged in between Princess Eugenie’s husband and former tequila ambassador Jack Brooskbank on one side and Lady Sarah Chatto, Princess Margaret’s daughter and 28th in line to the throne, on the other.
The message from the Palace in putting the Sussexes in the cheap seats seemed to be: You wanted out? Fine. But it’s time to reap what they have sown.
The royal cold-shouldering continued onto social media. Prince Charles’ Clarence House Instagram account posted a series of images from the day and the shot chosen of his son and his daughter-in-law was not only of them with Zara Tindall, rather than an image of them on their own, but also came after a series of shots of the Cambridges, Charles’ siblings and an artsy image of the church. Not exactly the sort of top-tier billing the son and daughter-in-law of the future king might expect.
(By contrast, Charles was seen sweetly blowing Kate a kiss on the live TV broadcast.)
Telling as well, while the rest of the extended royal family then enjoyed a lunch at the London Guildhall after the service, Harry and Meghan instead returned to their Windsor home.
While so far we have seen none of any behind-the-scenes animosity leak out into the public realm, as we did during the finale Commonwealth Day service in 2020, the cracks are very obvious in this weekend’s show of royal unity.
While we have had instances of Harry and Meghan being treated with higher-ranking status than the other non-working grandchildren of Her Majesty, nor have we witnessed anything even vaguely resembling a genuinely warm show of outreach.
So far, all that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have gotten out of this UK trip is to have to suffer through medium-grade public humiliation in the name of Queen and country. If they had harbored any hopes of enjoying a fresh injection of royal stardust and reminding the world that they are indeed ‘beloved’ members of the Queen’s family then they would have to be sorely disappointed.
The big test will come on Saturday night, London time, when the younger members of the Queen’s family are expected to appear at the concert being held at Buckingham Palace. Freed of the constraints and formality of things like seating charts and precedence, will we see the Sussexes yukking it up with their cousins? Will we see a slight thawing in Cambridge and Sussex relations? Will we see something vaguely resembling a smile from Harry?
And just how expensive of a cashmere get-up can Meghan wear?
The bigger question is, will the Sussexes have achieved anything during this trip besides knowing exactly what the back of James, Viscount Severn’s head looks like? Here’s hoping for the sake of their private jet bill.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.