It has become normal in the Queen’s Christmas broadcast for the sovereign to deliver her annual message of goodwill from behind a desk on which recent photos of her family have been placed looking outwards so that they can be studied by her audience.
Who does and who does not feature on the royal Christmas desk has always been like the changing panorama of faces on the historic balcony of Moscow’s Kremlin. It showed who was in favour and who was not.
In 2018, Harry and Meghan had featured smiling in a silver frame. But there would be no sign of them in 2019, nor any mention of the name Sussex.
There are those who maintain that the pictures on the Queen’s Christmas desk are really the choice of that year’s TV producer. If so, he or she would surely have requested an image of the most talked about set of British royal personalities of the moment — Harry, Meghan and their new baby Archie, who were a matter of avid fascination to TV audiences around the world.
Upset: The Queen tried hard to accommodate Meghan and Harry’s concerns
It was unheard of for the royal Christmas desk not to feature a cosy image of the latest royal grandchild or great-grandchild. But in 2019 there was no sight of Harry and Meghan’s six-month-old son, Archie.
A brief video clip flashed on screen during the broadcast showing the Queen and Meghan’s mother Doria cluck-clucking over the little boy, but there was no name-check.
The Queen simply acknowledged the arrival of her great-grandchild in passing, without mentioning his name or his parents: ‘Prince Philip and I have been delighted to welcome our eighth great-grandchild into our family.’
This was the Queen’s only reference to the new arrival and his parents in her 2019 address to the world — an anonymous ‘eighth great-grandchild’.
The Sussex family had been ‘non-personed’ as effectively as the Soviets non-personed Trotsky and Khrushchev — another charming custom, of course, that had been developed by the Kremlin.
The reasons for this very public signal of Her Majesty’s displeasure were, by December 2019, manifold.
There was the row over the fitting for the tiara Meghan wanted to wear at the wedding — leading to Harry’s famously petulant outburst: ‘What Meghan wants, Meghan gets.’
Royal approval: Harry and Meghan pictured on the Queen’s desk in 2018…
There was the deception over the announcement of Archie’s birth, which unlike every other royal birth of modern times took place in total secrecy: Buckingham Palace announced at 2pm on May 6, 2019, that Meghan had gone into labour that morning — when in fact, she had safely given birth to baby Archie eight hours earlier, at 5.26am.
That was followed by a refusal to make public the names of the godparents. It is still expected by monarch, palace and just about anyone with a stake in the game that the world should be told who the new royal baby’s ‘sponsors’ are. How can you judge the suitability of a sponsor who remains unknown? Yet the names of Archie’s godparents are still a secret today.
There was the issue of Vogue that Meghan guest edited. Unlike Kate and Diana before her, she declined to feature on the cover. Her concept was instead to display with the headline Forces for Change, a gallery of the women activists she admired, from Jane Fonda to Greta Thunberg, with 13 other Left-wing, multiracial campaigning women — a move which left many with serious constitutional concerns about the monarchy weighing into politics.
And when Harry and Meghan decided to trademark Sussex Royal products without asking the Queen’s permission, the extent of royal fury at Sussex impertinence rose to even higher levels.
‘Hopping’ was a mild description of how mad the family was.
There was nothing intrinsically taboo about royals selling something in order to generate funds: for decades there had been a highly successful souvenir shop at Buckingham Palace and Prince Charles’ Duchy Originals line of products were generating some £3 million or so a year from a whole range of items, headed by its beloved Duchy Originals oaten digestive biscuits. But listed under Sussex Royal’s surprise June 2019 trademark applications were, for example, ‘social care services, namely organising and conducting emotional support groups; counselling services; emotional support services; provision of personal support services to help, care for and support persons in need . . . mentoring and personal care services.’
Duchy Digestives were one thing — but Sussex Royal personal therapy sessions? It was beyond parody.
The starting of any commercial activities by a member of the royal family requires liaison with Buckingham Palace and depends, ultimately, on the approval of the Queen herself.
So one might have expected Harry at the very least to have consulted his father when it came to going into business himself.
But as 2019 wore on, family consultation was ceasing to be Harry’s style. During his and Meghan’s tour of South Africa in the early autumn of that year, the couple issued between them three lawsuits against News International, the Mirror group and Associated Newspapers.
In other words, the couple had lined themselves up against three of Britain’s biggest media companies — without talking to the Queen or Prince Charles first.
Once again Harry had totally failed to consult the Queen about a major initiative affecting his royal work and image — and the image of the crown as a whole.
The family finally hit back.
… but a year later it’s just William, Kate and their three children
Elizabeth II had always had a soft spot for Harry, and she had been delighted by the arrival of Meghan, whose personal energies seemed to complement her grandson’s so well.
As Head of the Commonwealth and reigning over an ever more multicultural society in Britain, the Queen had especially welcomed the exciting new dimension that a mixed-race recruit brought to the Windsor identity — and as we shall see later in this series, she herself had spotted when things were going wrong, and had helped devise a strategy she firmly hoped would make things easier for the couple.
But there were some matters on which Elizabeth II would not compromise — and chief among them was the authority of the crown. By not disclosing their plans to market merchandise under their own royal trademark, Harry and Meghan had trespassed dangerously on that authority. To commercialise the crown required the crown’s consent — and the Sussexes had not sought that.
Now their failure to seek permission for their lawsuits took their rebellion one step too far.
The absence of a single Sussex from the 2019 assemblage of significant royal faces in the Queen’s Christmas broadcast appeared to reflect a deliberate decision on her part. She would be providing no brand endorsement opportunities this year for Sussex Royal.
The new royal picture that the Queen did release on January 3 to mark the new decade showed Queen Elizabeth II herself, the future King Charles III, the future King William V — and, going even further, King George VII in the shape of little Prince George, just coming up to seven years old.
What a fascinating and historic image to remind us of the essence of the royal system! The current monarch with three future monarchs. All the living heirs — and not a suggestion of a ‘spare’.
According to insiders, this formal photograph, taken in the Buckingham Palace Throne Room a week before Christmas 2019, was the idea of Prince Charles, anxious to promote his cause of the ‘slimmed-down monarchy’.
Palace sources have also let it be known that the plan of depicting the direct line of royal succession was enthusiastically supported by Prince William, which might be seen as sending his younger brother a message.
The message was received and it was taken to heart.
The Sussexes had taken refuge with Archie for an extended Christmas break on a wooded, four-acre Vancouver Island estate off the west coast of Canada.
Striking a pose: Meghan’s oh-so woke Vogue cover
It was a sort of sabbatical. Before leaving London Harry had spoken to his father and grandmother with a few of his ideas about how things might change for himself and his wife within the royal structure.
It was a pity that William was now so angry that he was not speaking to him any more. It was as if Harry had become un-brothered.
The harsh reality was that the gospel according to Meghan — as evidenced in the special issue of Vogue she had edited — was simply not royal, nor was it in harmony with mainstream, ‘un-woke’ British opinion. William and all the senior members of the royal family — not least Prince Charles and the Queen — had come to feel the same.
This growing disapproval at the top had started seeping downwards. The honeymoon was over. On the talk shows, Meghan and Harry had become topics of national controversy instead of celebration.
There was an urgent need for the image of the Harry-Meghan brand to be turned around — and the couple saw the ten-day tour of Southern Africa for which they were preparing at the end of September as the perfect opportunity.
When she got engaged to Harry in 2017, Meghan had announced a definitive end to her showbiz career. But she had retained her Hollywood ‘three As’ — her agent, attorney and accountant — to field calls relating to the professional side of her life.
And she remained particularly close to Keleigh Thomas Morgan, a representative of the crisis management and PR firm Sunshine Sachs, with whom she had worked while she was acting in the legal drama Suits.
Thomas Morgan had become a friend and in due course a fellow new mother — she had occupied a prime seat at the royal wedding — and as Meghan’s relationship with Buckingham Palace went awry, Keleigh moved into the vacuum to give Meghan the benefit of her professional advice.
It was decided that for the South Africa trip, there were to be a minimum of smart clothes or fashionable costumes and poses that suggested Vogue.
There must be no private jets — commercial flights only. And above all, let us see as much as possible of Archie. There was to be no more of this ‘secret baby’ nonsense.
On day one, Meghan and Harry visited a charity in Nyanga supported by the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust that they now jointly headed, and they mingled informally with children who were learning about their rights and taking part in self-defence classes.
There were also some female empowerment lessons going on and it was impossible for Meghan not to give expression to what she felt in her heart. She stood on a tree stump to speak to these young women with whom she identified, and for the first time since her marriage she referred to herself in public as a ‘woman of colour’.
As Harry watched her saying these words, the love and admiration shone out of his eyes.
A few days later, Harry went to Angola, where he was photographed walking through the very same minefield at Huambo that his mother had famously visited in 1997.
‘It has been quite emotional,’ he said on Friday, September 27, ‘retracing my mother’s steps . . . to see the transformation that has taken place, from an unsafe and desolate place into a vibrant community.’
Harry said he knew what his mother would have done if she had still been alive. ‘She would have seen it through . . . Let’s finish what was started. Let us consign these weapons to the history books.’
Talking of finishing what was started, Harry had prepared a very private memorial to his mother for that last Friday in September. The Prince had long been indignant that Rupert Murdoch’s News International had not paid the full price for phone-hacking activities by the News of the World (since closed down) against himself, William and Kate ten years earlier.
For some time since his marriage, and with Meghan’s encouragement, Harry had been consulting David Sherborne, a leading media and privacy barrister who had been winning cases for dozens of phone-hacking victims — and for Mirror Group victims as well.
The newspapers had settled with all of Sherborne’s victorious clients for large sums of money. But Harry did not seem inclined to settle. He did not appear in the mood for compromise.
Harry’s two lawsuits for the misuse of confidential information, filed in the High Court by Sherborne on September 27, 2019, would be his revenge for his mother — launched as they were on the day that he walked in Diana’s footsteps through the mines of Huambo.
The climax of the trip, which would prove historic, were Harry and Meghan’s interviews with Tom Bradby, whose cameras had been following them for his ITV documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey.
But Meghan had gone into negative ‘victim’ mode.
‘How are you feeling, Meghan?’ wondered Bradby.
‘Thank you for asking,’ she replied with a steely and defiant edge. ‘Because not many people have asked if I’m OK.’
She went on to say she was worried about the effect of keeping a stiff upper lip on her mental health, adding: ‘I think that what that does internally is probably really damaging . . . I’ve said for a long time to H (that’s what I call [Harry]), it’s not enough to just survive something, right? Like that’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive, you’ve got to feel happy.’
Her words tailed away as she tried to hold back the tears. It ended the Sussexes’ oh-so-promising tour of Southern Africa on a sad note. Self-pity and tears — which Sunshine Sachs playbook had they come from?
On October 1 — the day before they flew back to Britain — a press release announced Meghan’s own lawsuit against DMG Media, alleging breach of privacy against the Mail on Sunday for publishing excerpts from a letter she had sent to her father, Thomas Markle.
In conjunction with Harry’s two cases launched in the previous days against the Mirror and Murdoch groups, the young royal couple were now lined up directly against Britain’s three largest media groups — a formidable prospect as they headed back to London at the beginning of October 2019.
Windsors do not do campaigns of social upheaval. They do not do headline-grabbing lawsuits in pursuit of personal crusades. And, most of all, they do not air their grievances like any other Johnny Depp. To be royal, sometimes, is to ride the punches, to take it on the chin — and to just shut up.
Hard-nosed demands and how Meghan Markle tackled THAT Sandringham summit like her TV legal alter ego (whose mantra was ‘Never underestimate the power of a good slap – or two’)
At the end of a foreign tour it is a not uncommon practice for the members of the family who have carried out the mission to pay a courtesy visit to Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace to report back to the Queen.
Her Majesty is 99 per cent certain to have visited those territories herself and to have personal knowledge of some of the presidents and places involved. These sessions tend to be informal get-togethers over tea or a gin and tonic — and occasionally the gist of the gathering gets leaked to the Press to convey the Queen’s gratitude to those who have carried the flag in her name.
But there was no such leaking in October 2019 to tell the world the Queen was happy with what Harry and Meghan had achieved in Africa.
As she sat in front of her TV watching An African Journey, Elizabeth II must have been delighted by the hope that her grandson and his wife had brought to the township of Nyanga in the name of her Queen’s Commonwealth Trust.
Tough: Meghan as ruthless Rachel Zane in Suits
Meghan’s leap onto the tree stump to speak out as a ‘woman of colour’ was brave and visionary.
But then to start emoting against the backdrop of one of the most blighted corners of the planet to complain about the distressing problems you are experiencing adjusting to life inside a palace — Meghan’s litany of grievance had suggested indifference bordering on contempt for the true concerns of the human beings among whom she had been smiling.
It also demonstrated a bizarre tone-deafness as to how miserably self-indulgent her self-pity must appear.
This was unquestionably the view of a powerful constituency inside Buckingham Palace, headed by the Queen’s Private Secretary, Sir Edward Young.
The three huge law cases against the British media establishment launched by Harry and Meghan while they were in Africa were the supreme examples of this — pure insubordination, not just to Young and his staff, who would have to process the implications as they affected the Crown, but ultimately to the Queen.
It was absolutely unknown for one, let alone three, such major conflicts with the outside world to be initiated by any member of the family without the Queen’s blessing — which Harry and Meghan had neither asked for nor received.
So in the autumn of 2019 there was the most godawful explosion over what Harry had done — and let his wife do — without the courtesy of consulting the boss.
To compound it, as the Christmas holidays approached Harry and Meghan snubbed the Queen for a second time. They had not gone to stay at Balmoral with her in the summer, and they decided that they couldn’t join her at Sandringham for the New Year break either.
Meghan with Harry being interviewed by Tom Bradby in Africa in 2019
That seemed to suit Charles and William just fine — and the same went for the Queen.
As the weeks went by and Harry and Meghan, now ensconced on Vancouver Island with Archie, discussed the tumultuous sequence of events since the wedding — what had gone right and what had gone wrong — they came to realise that they simply could not just go back to the old way of things in Britain.
It was a tough decision to make, but they would have to step back from their roles as senior royals. They could become some sort of semi-royals, they thought, and cut themselves off from access to royal money. They proposed to spend more time abroad, while still visiting Britain sufficiently to carry out their basic royal duties.
By being in Canada more and also travelling round the Commonwealth, Harry and Meghan would be able to maintain their work for the Queen, while stepping away from the pressures of the royal maelstrom in Britain.
The new website that they planned to launch when they got back to London set out their ideas as a manifesto with headings like ‘Supporting Community’, ‘Serving the Monarchy’, ‘Strengthening the Commonwealth’ and, most important, their personal hope to ‘carve out a progressive new role within [the institution of the Royal Family]’.
Worried that the news of their plans might leak if he put too much in writing, Harry emailed his father to say that he was looking forward to discussing the practicalities in detail when he and Meghan flew back to London early in the new year.
Finally, it seemed, the Sussexes did have some plans for which they were willing to seek the permission of Her Majesty.
Harry and Meghan were due to arrive back from Canada on Monday, January 6, and Harry suggested that he and Meghan could head straight off the plane for Norfolk that morning.
They could meet up personally to discuss the whole scheme with Charles and with William, if he was happy to join them — and most of all, of course, with Granny herself at Sandringham.
When he had spoken to his father and grandmother on the phone over Christmas 2019, the Prince of Wales and the Queen had both seemed open to the prospect of talking further. Harry should come up to Sandringham when he and Meghan got home early in the new year, they agreed.
But when the Prince phoned their offices from Vancouver to get a date in the diary, it seemed that he was not so welcome. Her Majesty would not be available for another month, he was told by her staff. How about 29 January?
At Sandringham (pictured) both the Queen and Prince Philip were said to be ‘devastated’
Harry and Meghan were seething as their Air Canada flight made its dawn touchdown in London on that Monday. They toyed with the idea of driving straight from Heathrow to Sandringham — which would certainly have provided a new year surprise for the Queen.
But an unannounced arrival could also have put important noses out of joint, and the couple opted for prudence, for the moment, driving instead to Windsor where they summoned a meeting at Frogmore Cottage with their top aides.
But the key negotiator and spiritual head of the whole team, to whom Harry himself would defer, was, of course, Rachel Zane — the character played by Meghan in the hit U.S. TV series Suits. She had not spent seven years playing the role of a hotshot paralegal in a top Manhattan law firm without developing the confidence that she could handle the cut and thrust of a high-stakes duel like this.
‘Don’t sign anything unless you can get something in return’ was the key commandment drilled into Rachel by her father Robert Zane, the high-powered black attorney who was both her nemesis and her inspiration in the series — along with ‘Stand Your Ground’.
Meghan was only staying in Britain for a few days before flying back to join Archie in Canada on Thursday, January 9. But the plan was for her and Harry to keep closely in touch by phone and internet as events unrolled.
At 6.30pm, the Sussexes pressed the button on their new website, sussexroyal.com, announcing the bombshell news that they would be leaving Britain and were planning to ‘carve out a progressive new role within this institution’ and to become ‘financially independent’.
The media shock at this was nothing to the dismay and anger felt inside the palaces — to whom Harry had given just ten minutes’ notice of the news.
Prince Charles was only just getting himself organised after returning from an official trip to the Middle East — and out at Sandringham both the Queen and Prince Philip were said to be ‘devastated’. Once again their grandson had acted unilaterally.
‘Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage,’ said Buckingham Palace tersely in a statement that it managed to rush out in just 15 minutes. ‘We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.’
Still, Harry had finally got his family to respond. Next day he kissed Meghan goodbye then settled down for a conference call with William, Charles and the Queen, who had all suddenly found time in their diaries to talk.
In the first emotions of the moment no real progress could be made. The Queen concluded that the four of them — Harry, William, Charles and herself — should sit down with their respective private secretaries at Sandringham the following Monday to hash things out, though William confided to a friend that he would much rather leave all the haggling to the staff.
‘I put my arm around my brother all our lives,’ he said, ‘and I can’t do it any more. We’re separate entities.’
The inference of this apparently kindly remark was that William could not deal with his brother as a separate entity — or did not choose to. The new Meghan-fired Harry clearly flummoxed him. William’s ‘arm around my brother’ — his lifelong care for Harry — had always seemed to have been based on some element of control, and that had now surely vanished.
William maintained his distance for the Sandringham summit. The Queen had suggested the family should gather for lunch before their big pow-wow in the library that afternoon, but he refused his grandmother’s invitation.
He would obviously turn up at 2pm for the meeting, he said, but he only wanted to talk business. The Prince himself has not confirmed his friends’ speculation that he was so furious with his younger brother that he would not be able to endure the hypocrisy of smiling at him over lunch.
According to [authors of Harry and Meghan biography Finding Freedom] Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand’s impression, the four members of the Royal Family, headed by the Queen, adopted a ‘practical workmanlike approach’ when they sat down together in the Long Library at Sandringham that afternoon.
They agreed that it was in everyone’s interest to work out a deal as soon as possible, and that Harry should marshal his aides to confer with their aides in the next few days back at Buckingham Palace in order to hammer out a compromise.
Hammer, sadly, was the operative word. The Sussexes’ tough tactics in giving the palace so little notice when they activated their provocative website the previous Wednesday had come straight from another mantra Rachel Zane lived by, ‘Never Underestimate the Power of a Good Slap — or Two’.
And having administered one good slap, another was around the corner when it was widely reported that her team had been in contact with ABC, NBC and CBS and celebrity chat show hosts such as Oprah.
‘It was like dealing with a hard-nosed Hollywood lawyer,’ says a senior palace source familiar with the negotiations. ‘The Sussexes wanted guarantees on every single point as if it were a contractual negotiation.’
‘They totally misplayed the negotiations,’ says the palace insider, ‘but then so did the palace.’
Directing the palace strategy was private secretary Sir Edward Young.
‘The trouble with Edward,’ says the source, who worked with Young for many years, ‘is that he is not very good at doing humans. He is incredibly difficult to read — impossible to fathom. He is also deeply cautious. He’s a letter-of-the-law kind of man.’
It was a transatlantic cross-cultural conflict that pitted the stereotypical all-American superwoman against a Monty Python parody of a toffee-nosed royal sucker-up — and it left little room for outside intervention.
The Queen had asked her trusted long-term aide Samantha Cohen, a cheery and no-nonsense Australian who had worked with Meghan for a while, to see if she could sit in on some of the sessions and help. But ‘Samantha the Panther’ — as the tabloids liked to call her — was unable to work her usual magic.
Serving as Prince Charles’s representative, and trying to mediate between the two sides, was his private secretary Clive Alderton, an experienced diplomat who had been ambassador to Morocco.
Charles felt sympathetic to his younger son and gave Alderton the brief of trying to bring the two sides together. But over the years Harry had come to distrust the man who organised so much of his father’s life — and hence aspects of his own life, too.
William was advised by his private secretary Simon Case, a high-flying Downing Street official who had previously worked with both David Cameron and Theresa May and was developing close links to Boris Johnson. But Case was not able to bring his political gifts into play — the basic dynamic was too confrontational.
The settlement that was wearily announced on Saturday, January 18, proved a succession of negatives.
The deal was dressed up with talk of it being ‘a constructive and supportive way forward’, but it involved Meghan and Harry being ‘required to step back from royal duties’.
Harry would lose his beloved military appointments and his role as Commonwealth youth ambassador, too. The Sussexes could no longer represent the Queen and ‘will not use their HRH titles as they are no longer working members of the Royal Family’.
The fact that the Sussexes themselves had volunteered to forgo all access to the Sovereign Grant and public funds as their own proposed price for freedom — along with paying off the costs of Frogmore Cottage’s renovation — was presented as a punishment: ‘They will no longer receive public funds for royal duties.’
And when it came to their plans for earning their own money using the name of Sussex Royal, that decision was delayed ‘pending further palace deliberations’.
The Queen deliberated for several weeks, then ruled that Harry and Meghan could not use Sussex Royal as the brand name to market their merchandise and various activities in North America.
It was reliably reported that Her Majesty remained well-disposed towards her grandson and granddaughter-in-law. She wished them well in their new life in Canada — and her ‘eighth great-grandchild’ as well, of course.
But it was also said by those in the know that the couple’s erratic and impulsive behaviour for the past year had not inclined Queen Elizabeth II to entrust the Sussexes with the use of the word ‘royal’ any time soon.
- Extracted from Battle Of Brothers: William, Harry And The Inside Story Of A Family In Tumult by Robert Lacey, to be published by William Collins on October 15 at £20. © 2020 Robert Lacey.
What Prince William thought of the Sussexes’ decision to keep the identity of Archie’s godparents secret
William did not think too highly of Harry and Meghan’s ‘prima donna’ manoeuvres to conceal the birth of their son. He and Kate failed to visit the new arrival for a full eight days.
By contrast, the Queen, Prince Philip, Charles and Camilla all turned up within hours to coo over the baby — and it seemed strange that, when the Cambridges did finally pitch up more than a week later, they didn’t bring along little George, Charlotte and Louis to welcome their new cousin.
Then came the real crunch: the godparents. An essential component of any Church of England christening process, these adult mentors who will guide the new baby spiritually, morally and often materially through life are considered even more important for members of the Royal Family. Technically, they carry the title of ‘sponsor’.
Numbers six and seven in the order of succession may not seem particularly close to inheriting the crown, but who knows what can happen in an age of mass terrorist attacks and global pandemics. Six and seven could well get promoted to three and four — or even higher.
Paranoia: Meghan and Harry refused to reveal the names of Archie’s godparents
‘Secret sponsor’ has a dodgy sound to it. And it is an ingredient of Britain’s representative monarchy that the people should have the right to know who is giving moral guidance to their possible future king or queen.
Here again, however, precedent, protocol and practice all collided headlong with Harry and Meghan’s firm insistence on their privacy — and that of their new baby.
Confirming the palace announcement, the Sussex Royal office made clear that the whole ‘sponsor’ issue was non-negotiable.
The godparents’ names would not be revealed.
‘Friends’ of William suggested that the future king, only five places clear of Archie in the order of succession, could not comprehend how such a basic matter of constitutional principle had been misunderstood.
The Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 11, 2019
How could any new Windsor royal be christened in a meaningful sense without the newcomer’s sponsors being known, if not present?
What does such bizarre and paranoid behaviour indicate about the parents involved? One thing we may conclude is that Harry and Meghan had developed an exaggerated idea of their own importance.
The months since their marriage had demonstrated that the couple share a common character flaw — they both have a tendency to cascade downwards from their peaks of generous self-confidence into miserable moments of self-pitying victimhood.
They see the world as hostile and start behaving in self-destructive ways that make that hostility come to pass.