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Kate in Needle & Thread for Africa Summit Reception

Friday, January 31, 2020

It is time to start catching up on Kate, yes? On the 25th, I did an overdue post on Kate's green McQueen in Yorkshire, so now it is time to jump back to her red Needle & Thread she wore to the Buckingham Place reception eleven days ago (January 20).

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge hosted the UK-Africa Investment Summit reception at Buckingham Palace on behalf of Her Majesty. This was right in the midst of the Sandringham Summit drama, and lots of fans noted it was the type of reception at which Meghan and Harry would have featured prominently but for their surprise departure from active status. That said, I don't think they would have hosted, because the reception was the final event of the Investment Summit put on by the U.K. government and was attended by multiple heads of state, and therefore hosting was quite a big deal. The fact that the Queen passed it to William and Kate underscored (again) the Cambridges' rising seniority and the Palace's push to keep the spotlight on its stars. One immediate result of the Sussexes departure, however, is that the Wessexes will now feature more prominently in the BRF, as we saw that evening.  

Kate debuted a new label.  I don't know why, but I thought she'd already worn Needle & Thread, and now that I find out she has not, I am wondering why I know so much about the brand. I have followed Needle & Thread for years now, and love many of the label's evening dresses.  The designs fit right into Kate's closet, right over by all her beaded Jenny Ps.

Unlike Jenny Packham's gowns, Needle & Thread always has a little more going on, which may or may not be to you your taste.  "More going on" makes these dresses a little bohemian and a little  quirky. Needle & Thread features beading, needlework, tulle, flounces, ruffles...sometimes it is stunning, sometimes it is too Little House on the Prairie: Runway Edition.  But, hit or miss, the designs are always busy.  For instance, you can see there is a delicate ruffle right at the shoulder of Kate's dress, and without criticizing JP, the beading on the sleeve has a design to it, whereas JP usually just has a non-descript pattern (the blue dress in India is a notable exception). 

Frankly, this dress is not my favorite Needle & Thread. To me, it is pretty close to a tea-length Jenny Packham.  I like some of Needle & Thread's dresses that mix more embroidery in with the beading.  I think I am just not a sequins girl, but Kate definitely is. I loved that she went with such a bold ensemble, though.  Anytime Kate wears red shoes (or really anything with more pizazz than her usual black or blue pumps) I get excited.  She paired this dress with her Gianvito Rossi heels, her custom Casa clutch from JP, and new earrings by Soru. 

A bunch of you messaged me noting that Kate seemed overdressed for the event, but although the Princess Royal came in a very business-appropriate suit, I think Sophie's dress was fairly formal, as were a number of the female guests.  But even if they weren't, I was always taught that the hostess gets to dress more formally. Am I the only one that was raised on that rule?  Anyway, this was a hit. Not a smash hit, but a hit.  And, I love how Kate's hair has been so luxe these past two weeks. More on that in a future post... 

Kate's Professional Shift Has Changed the Cambridges' Public Persona

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge kicked off their 2020 calendar last Wednesday with an afternoon in Yorkshire. The day took on an unexpected gravitas thanks to Harry and Meghan Sussex's surprise announcement that is currently sending shock waves through the Palace, the press, and the public. Meghan and Harry's soft-abdication ratcheted up the heat on the Cambridges to present a stable, calm, and positive face to the public that afternoon. As luck would have it, the Cambridges were already positioned very well to handle this crisis.

Although Sussexes seemed to dominate the 2019 royal news cycle—from the drama of the Cambridges and the Sussexes’ deteriorating relationship, see here (explaining the household split), here (discussing the Foundation split), and here (explaining tense background to the Foundation split); and the series of PR blunders the Sussexes made, which ultimately culminated in their six-week break, see here—peppered in among those blockbuster stories, was another development, and that was a growing discussion about the stability and star power of the Cambridges. 

For years, these two have been our modern fairy-tale—the prince and the commoner he made his princess. It was a natural story, and it was true. Whatever good things Kate might have accomplished had she taken a different path, she wouldn’t be a super-star had she not married a famous man. Of all women, William picked Kate, plucked her up out of obscurity, and made her his princess. That is the true fairy-tale love story we all fell for. There was a corresponding balance of power where William was the full royal, and Kate, royal by marriage, let him take the lead in royal duties. Interestingly, the couple’s strengthening image has developed, in my opinion, because Kate has been growing her own profile. As the seasons of life change, and these two have solidly shifted from newlyweds and new parents, to seasoned parents with growing responsibilities within the royal family, their public dynamic has been naturally shifting, too. Kate has been earning her royal-status and her equity in the firm. 

It began discreetly some time ago, now. At the close of the Heads Together campaign, the Palace began to push to give Kate more public credit for her private work on behalf of the royal family. Since the birth of Louis, the Duchess has been quietly working behind the scenes even more to develop her own path—to better define the focus of her work within the royal family for the next few decades, and indeed, for the rest of her life. We started to see the visible fruits of that work this year, in the beautiful gardens she designed in the spring, and then in the fall as she started to talk more and more about her forthcoming Early Years project. 

Although William has certainly been the principal in public, as is the case with many relationships, the couple’s personal dynamic is different in private. It has long been reported that Kate is quite assertive in the couple’s home life. In their engagement interview, William talked about how funny Kate is (so we know she is smart), and you can see from their banter they have a very balanced relationship. Royal reporters with their ears to the ground have often relayed reports from reputable sources that Kate “wears the pants” at home. It was this private balance that led me to believe and predict the Cambridges would have a third child—because Kate wanted a third!—and, indeed, they did have that third. 

I think we saw their private dynamic on display most obviously during the South East Asia tour. The two were in the middle of a successful tour when they were told by staffers one morning at breakfast that a photographer using a long lens had photographed Kate sunbathing naked during a recent trip the couple had taken to the Luberon in France. Worse, the Palace attorneys were not able to block the French papers, and the pictures would be published soon. It is hard to imagine a more horrifying headline or violating content than they were about to face. William was beside himself with rage. The two had a busy day planned, though, and they had to get out the door to their first engagement. William struggled throughout the day, but Kate was cool as a cucumber, and even more interestingly, you could see she was helping to temper his emotions and public response, keeping him calm, and providing the positive forward momentum that got them through that day. It was not just a tribute to her personality, it was a window into who they are as a couple and as team in private. Kate was able to take the lead that day, because she shares leadership in their private life. 

There has long been a very disparaging sub-narrative about Kate that she is uninspired, bland, and submissive. There is a flavor of disdain for her more subtle and deferential approach to her role. I think that stems from our culture of celebrity which says you don’t matter if you aren’t making noise—if you aren’t asserting yourself, you are being walked all over. But, Kate’s approach has been the more natural one, the more diplomatic and strategically smart one (and her patience and resolve to stick to her course is now paying massive dividends). 

So, we can see that privately, there is a different balance between the two than the balance in their public professional roles, where William has unquestionably been the dominate royal. Now, in developing solo projects and building her identity as a royal, Kate has stepped out and quietly, but confidently, taken ownership of her royal status in her own right. Her work (which has been very diplomatic, very role-appropriate (future Queen), and very steady and focused) has evened up her professional position. In doing so, she has made the Cambridges—together—a stronger force within the family. Before, they were superstars for their Cinderella story. But as Kate has stepped forward and joined William at a commensurate level professionally, she has shifted their energy. As wonderful as that season was, these two don’t feel like Prince Charming and Princess Cinderella anymore; they radiate more mature royalty—they feel like a future king and a future queen. Before they were our favorite fairytale; now they are a power couple. 

I started this post planning to do a quick post catching us up on Kate’s fashion from the Cambridges’ Wednesday event, but as is my wont when I write, I started thinking out loud, which resulted in an op-ed rather than a fashion update. So, fashion update is here.

The Cambridges Kick Off 2020 in Yorkshire

This morning I wanted to do a quick post about fashion to get us caught up on Kate. But, I ended up writing an op-ed about the Cambridges, so I broke out our fashion facts to share on a separate post here.  The Cambridges were in Yorkshire last Wednesday, and Kate was looking great.

She debuted a bespoke McQueen coat in a forest green.  Kate sure loves her forest green. :)  This ankle-skimming coat length seems to be making a real splash.  I am surprised, but I really love the length of this coat. It is a streamlined silhouette, and the length gives it a very elegant and stately appearance. My only quibble with this coat is that the fastenings at the neck are visible and the closure in the front didn't seem to stay flat in all the pictures.  That made it look just a little sloppy in a few shots. Emilia Wickstead, as we've discussed, sometimes has these types of tailoring issues, but it is very unusual to see it from Alexander McQueen.

Underneath the coat, Kate was wearing a houndstooth dress from ZARA.  She loves houndstooth and she loves pussy bows these days, but this dress just was not a win for me. I love pussy bows in certain scenarios, generally in the most classic context of a pencil skirt and white silk blouse with a bow. I am less enthused about them with a patterned dress.  I just don't love this.  If the bow were contrasting--all black or all white--that might help, but tip to toe  I might be tiring  of the pussybows on Kate generally. I don't know, but I know this dress is not a win.

Although the dress isn't really scoring for me, the coat, paired with her beautiful Aspinal bag and those Zeen earrings she debuted in the run-up to (and then during) the tour of Pakistan, is a big win!  She looked super gorgeous, and she and William exuded the best of royalty.  More on that in the op-ed here.

Finally, Mr. Security was on the job, which made my day. :)

The Queen’s Contract & Why the Sussexes Didn’t Get What They Wanted

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The question I posed in the last post and the one that has been on everyone's mind as we waited to see the results of the Sandringham Summit, was whether or not the Queen had the grit to do what she needed to do—to deny the Sussexes their plan to “have their cake and eat it, too.” Although I saw no reasonable path she could take to give them both, I was nervous that the Queen might blink here, and, for the love of her grandson, be persuaded that the “world has modernized” and the monarchy can, too.  Ultimately, the Palace couldn’t find a path, and she did not flinch from making the call necessary to preserve the institution. 

This was not a win for the Sussexes. They didn’t go into this expecting to be ex-royals in under a fortnight (technically, this doesn’t go into effect until Spring 2020, but you get the point). 

We know the Sussexes didn’t get what they wanted because they press-released a remarkable explanation of what they wanted when they made their shock announcement.  Their press release said they would relinquish senior royal status but would “carve out a progressive new role within th[e] institution”—i.e. remain active royals, with HRHs, but without all the strings.  They planned to continue to support the Queen, and to “continue to honor [their] duty to the Queen, the Commonwealth, and [their] patronages”—active working royals maintaining their positions and patronages, royal tours, etc. So, they wanted to remain working royals, but spend more time in North America, more time on their own projects, have more freedom to choose their own initiatives, and as we’ve discussed, create private wealth. 

From that very elaborate game-plan, they got only one thing—the opportunity to create private wealth.  Don’t oversimply things to money. Money is a big deal, obviously, but it is only part of what they wanted.  Meghan very much wanted the royal status, and although I think Harry relinquishes it with a bit of naivete (because he doesn’t understand what it means to no longer be royal), this has become a shock week for him, too, as he gives up the life he was born and raised to lead.  People say that Harry never liked royal life, but his greatest passions and pursuits are almost exclusively the result of his position—from his African and conservation initiatives to outreach to young people to his work with veterans—Harry loves plenty of what his royal job entails.  It has been strange to watch them often disparage the roles that gave them the platforms they crave.  Their entire brand has been built on being royal, as their many trademarks and their website highlight. They did to give it all up willingly, and they will both miss it. 

The Queen issued an eminently diplomatic and thoughtful press release that made sure to single out and praise Meghan—the Palace is sensitive to the fact that Meghan is bearing the brunt of the public dissatisfaction with the current turn of events. HM makes clear that the Sussexes are still cherished members of her family, but there is a quintessentially HM matter-of-factness to both press releases. They both use politic-speak—they sound like one thing and they mean another.  The Queen’s press release sounds warm and loving, but its message is ultimately clear—she thanks the couple for their service, which is another way of definitively stating: you are out of the working firm.  

The language of the Palace press release is similarly laced with positive language that veils some pretty clear mandates and red lines. The couple is “required to step back from royal duties,” and even though they will no longer represent the Queen, they will continue to “uphold the values of her majesty.”  That looks more like a pretty straight-forward condition of this quasi-contract.  I suspect there is a framework of behavior and/or accountability that the Sussexes must adhere to, or they lose perks they have hammered out in this “deal.”  I do not think the reports that the couple will have to seek approval for commercial deals with the Lord Chamberlain are accurate.  That rule applies to working royals, which as these statements make clear, Harry and Meghan will no longer be. It is possible there is some other accountability mechanism, or that it has been made clear to the two that they should follow their best judgment and they will be evaluated on those judgments. 

We don’t know all the conditions of “the contract,” but the press release highlights the two critical elements for public perception—the two will no longer carry out any public engagements at all, they are no longer working royals in any capacity; and they will not use their HRH styles, so they are effectively no longer royal. 

The HRH Styling  

As I noted in my earlier post, the key point is, I think, the HRH status, which when I first saw the announcement, threw me off a little.  The Queen did not "strip" the couple of their HRHs, yet they cannot use them. Is that a win for Harry and Meghan? At first I thought yes, but I have since determined no, and here is why. 

People who say that the Queen cannot take away Harry’s and Meghan’s HRHs are wrong.  It would take the Queen issuing new Letters Patent to do it, but issuing Letters Patent is fully within her power.  The fact that she did not officially "strip them" of the title does not mean, though, that she caved. 

HRH is a style, not a title, and in some sense, when they are banned from using the style, it is effectively removing it. She didn’t go to the trouble to issue the Letters, and there may have been other concerns having to do with precedent, or future uncertainties, that counseled against such a formal move. The Queen was likely advised that simply denying them permission to use that styling sufficed, and left her wiggle room. A win-win for her, but not win for H&M.   

Keep in mind that much of how this all works—styles and titles—is not all cut and dry.  There is dispute about certain questions even among experts.  For example, when David, aka Edward VIII, abdicated, some believed he automatically lost his HRH.  Others thought he retained it. The question was mooted, because his brother George VI issued Letters Patent that granted to David the "title, style, or attribute of Royal Highness."  George VI withheld this honor, however, from anyone David married—aka Wallis. Again, there was dispute about whether the commensurate style or title can be withheld from a spouse. I would argue no, but… some people say yes!  George VI thought yes. 

The key is that even David was granted an HRH. Harry and Meghan have been told, no. They may not style themselves HRHs, which if you think about it, is quite a strong statement, and as I argued in an earlier post, very necessary.  The Queen had to draw a clear line. Even though the Queen has not actually issued Letters Patent, denying these two the use of their HRHs is a very strict red line on their royal status, and incredible change for Harry.  

The couple will now go by Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.  If this format looks familiar, it is. This is the way that ex-royals are styled, e.g. Sarah, Duchess of York; Diana, Princess of Wales, and so forth.   

Why Harry and Meghan Didn’t Have the Upper Hand 

Their press release was so confident and authoritative. What went wrong? 

Harry and Meghan made an error.  They did not have the leverage they thought they did. Even if they had, though, it would have been a suicide pact, because the Palace cannot have senior working royals going rogue.  Meghan and Harry wanted to step out of the chain of command and away from oversight, while maintaining their status—and that could never be if the monarchy is going to survive. No matter the pressure, the Queen (if she was still of sound mind and good judgment) could not have approved the plan. They had to choose—in or out. The earlier denial of their own court was the bellwether, but Meghan and Harry didn’t pick up on that clue. 

I suspect this all has left both their heads spinning a little. I don’t think they had a contingency plan, based upon their statement and the extraordinarily detailed website they launched. They didn't have a Plan B. So, they had to make some major decisions with very little time and likely from their perseptive, few options. I doubt the idea of issuing a 180 statement telling the world “never mind, we have to stay in line” was an attractive option.   Instead, it seems they have tried to cut the best deal they could, which is not a very good one, but better than nothing.  

They clearly have a deal in place that sees the Crown continuing to provide benefit to them.  They wanted a lot, but ultimately had to make the concessions to keep what they could. For practical purposes, they lost their HRHs (but they got away with their dignity intact on that one), they will be styled as ex-royals, they ceded their official patronages, but they kept two things—some financial security and the door left open to return to the fold. Both are critical at this turning point. 

The agreement they have says the Sovereign Grant will no longer fund them, but Charles will continue to privately lend them support. I saw an estimate of between £2 million and £5 million. That’s some nice spending money there, and it is possible they will get more—we won’t know. 

Harry and Meghan need money. I don’t know what Harry has privately. It doesn’t really matter. It could be £5 million it could be £30 million. Let’s say it is £30 million.  Get your smelling salts—£30 million isn’t that much money. It is a lot of money, but it isn’t all that much at the level that royals live. When you live in many-multi-million-dollar homes, and travel on private jets, field polo teams, vacation in the most exclusive locales in the world, and spends hundreds of thousands of pounds on your wardrobe every year, you will blow through £30 million pretty quickly.   

The Sussexes don’t have guaranteed income outside the BRF.  They might very well end up massively successful global celebs who regularly ink multi-million dollar deals. Or, they might have trouble forging the financial success of which they dream. Clearly, for the time being, the uncertainty was enough for them to stick with Harry’s family and accept the money, even if they lost on other counts. 

Most interesting is that the door has been left open.  All royal reporters are saying that Harry and Meghan will reconvene with the BRF a year from now to take stock and decide if this will be a permanent arrangement.  I think this underscores how much the Sussexes did not (incredibly!) expect the Palace to take this stance. They didn’t think they were exiting royalty when they issued their statement.  

The Palace could have left the door open for a number of reasons.  One, it gives the couple a year to cool off and maybe get some of their nervous energy out.  If they are reeling from this unexpected outcome, it gives them a way to save face, too. A year from now the Palace could press release about how much the family needs them back and they could return without having to do an immediate about-face.  Even if they want to make it a go away from the family, even without everything they wanted, it is still a frightening step to take with almost no advance planning. Again, very clear they did not think they were cutting themselves off with the public announcement. This has been a real plot twist for them. 

It could also simply be a safety blanket. One year to see if they can make the deals and generate a cash flow. 

Finally, the Queen could have her own reasons, derived from the wisdom of age and experience, for leaving this door open. 

This will be very interesting to watch. I am sure this is a very bittersweet time for Harry and Meghan.  It will be fascinating to see how it all develops.  

Palace Issues Decision on the Sussexes

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Very interesting statement from the Palace today announcing the Queen's decision. I am still working and don't have time to really analyze this right now, but here is a personal statement from the Queen, the statement from the Palace with practical issues, and  a few quick points from me at the bottom.  First Her Majesty The Queen:

And the Palace:

Harry and Meghan are retaining their HRHs, but won't use them.  That's a very interesting compromise.  They will now be styled Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, which is the way a divorced royal is styled, e.g. Sarah Ferguson is Sarah, Duchess of York, she is not HRH The Duchess of York.  More on that later, but as I said in my last post--staying royal was a big deal for Meghan and Harry. 

The couple are giving up all military engagements and all royal charities (but retaining their private charities) and they are remaining president and vice-president of the Queen's Commonwealth Trust. 

Crucially, although the two are repaying the money spent on Frogmore (and will retain it as their U.K. home, paying rent), and they will receive no further funds from the Sovereign Grant, they will still receive funding from Charles privately, which as I have noted in the past, when you are royal and heavily subsidized there really is no such thing as private funding. 

They are free to make commercial deals, but are supposed to "uphold the values" of the Queen. This could mean they have been told they can't get too political, but my bet is they would interpret that broadly and there isn't any oversight on this, according to Rebecca English. [Update--someone telling me that everything must be approved by Lord Chamberlain. If that is the case, it changes things a lot. As I say, full analysis has to wait for later, because I just don't have all the facts yet.]

Do what does all this mean? Based on about the ten minutes I have had to digest the news, I would say that that the Sussexes have probably gotten substantially what they wanted--at least at first blush. 

The Queen is walking an incredibly fine line here.  The Sussexes obviously wanted to stay in the fold as working royals, and the Queen understood that was impossible given what they want. The deal appears to be that the two are maintaining enough ties with the family that they are reaping the benefits of royalty, but it is clear that the compromise was to technically end their status as royal. Technically is the important word there.  They are still royal, which as I noted was a big deal for both, I think.  All overtly royal elements have been removed, though--from the military patronages and engagements, to any charities of which they were patron on behalf of the Queen, to formal roles where they represented the Queen, e.g. Harry is no longer Commonwealth ambassador. Again, they won't use HRH even though they are royal, etc.  This is very surgical.  The Palace has also not commented on their security, but I am hearing (and betting) that will continue to be publicly funded. 

So, at first blush, this is a compromise in which there was give and take.  The Sussexes wanted to officially maintain some status as working royals.  That was impossible, so that had to give that up, but the Queen hasn't left them to fend for themselves with the Hollywood set.  They are still royal even if they are royals in disguise. They will clearly receive financial benefits and prestige benefits (security) of royalty.  Did the Queen stick to her guns? Not entirely, no [unless further facts emerge, like the Lord Chamberlain point above, and are confirmed].  Did the Sussexes get what they wanted? Not entirely, no.  The big question is, will this work? That's the subject of another post. 

Until next time! 

Thoughts on the "Sandringham Summit"

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex on March 8, 2018, on a walkabout in Birmingham

By now you know that the "Sandringham Summit" took place on Monday at 2pm at the Queen's Norfolk estate.  Harry arrived several hours before the meeting, presumably for some private time with his grandmother before things got started.   I am sure they had a heart-to-heart.  Charles flew back from Oman by private jet the night before and was chauffeured to the meet, and William was driven over from Anmer Hall, arriving just before things got rolling at 1:45pm. Reports are that Meghan did not join by phone, which has since been very defensively characterized. There was no immediate report for the public beyond the Queen's statement:

The Queen's statement is, as one reporter noted, the most personal she has issued since the death of Diana. We should not read too much into her use of "Harry and Meghan" rather than their titles.  It is a very personal message, and so she is referring to them in very personal terms. This statement is not a secret code.  It does tell us that Meghan and Harry, after being presented with the facts, have maintained their course to relocate to the United States (ultimately) and pursue private wealth creation and a very public and progressive positions.  I expect that was really the primary point of the meeting for the royals--to very clearly and formally determine if this was the path the couple truly were set on following.  What the statement didn't tell us is whether the Queen will mandate what should be the natural result of the couple's decision, which is that they cannot maintain their HRHs and their status within the royal family. They cannot be royals anymore.  

This is one of the most significant crises of Elizabeth II's reign, and it could very well define it.  It falls to the Queen to tell Harry that he must relinquish his status--that Meghan and Harry cannot be HRHs, maintain his place in the line of succession, or undertake any public engagements on behalf of the Crown. I do not know whether the Queen still has the grit needed to do this. I hope she does.

I have gotten a lot of messages saying that plenty of royals live "normal" lives or have "part-time-royal" roles, like Zara and Mike, or a closer analogy, Eugenie and Beatrice who are HRHs.  But, at the end of the day, those examples are all inapposite. Meghan and Harry are in a category of their own, and half measures cannot work for them.

The Problem with Harry and Meghan Staying Royal

I mentioned this in an earlier post, but think about royalty as a brand.  If you imagine the royal family as a company, they hold the trademark on "royal."  The whole reason the Palace (and I am using "the Palace" to mean the decision-makers generally, like the Queen, Charles, William, senior advisors) told Harry and Meghan months ago that they could not have their own court was because the Palace wanted to protect the brand. The Queen, Charles, and William were uncomfortable giving the Sussexes the autonomy that comes with a separate court. That was the crux of the dispute when they split, and the Palace decided not to give the Sussexes that extra freedom to make decisions that would impact the brand without oversight from the central authority.  So, we've already seen that the Palace understands that Meghan and Harry, without oversight, could damage the brand.

I see this current crisis as Harry and Meghan making a new play.  They want to step back as senior royals (which as I discussed in the earlier post, means very little), and they want to be both working royals and be given the autonomy they were denied when they asked for their own court.  They have simply made a more radical move for the very thing they were denied before, and this time they have been explicit in what they'd do with their autonomy. They want to pursue private wealth and progressive causes.

The problem is that trading on your status as a royal to amass a personal fortune is frowned upon, to put it mildly, and the monarchy cannot survive if it branches out into progressive causes, i.e. political causes, which is what Meghan wants to focus on.  The CEOs of the company can't have employees out in another country determining policy that affects the value of the stock.  Even though the couple has disclaimed "senior royal status," this is next to meaningless. The public won't differentiate; the two remain senior royals so long as they maintain their HRHs.

It Is Hard To Un-Ring the Royal Bell 

The BRF has a problem with Harry and Meghan branching out, even if they are stripped of their HRHs. It is one thing to be a non-"royal" member of the royal family from birth, like Zara Phillips, it is another thing to be one of the most senior members of the royal family, prominent in the public eye, and then attempt to disclaim your royals status.  Harry and Meghan forged very public royal personas before this about-face.  Meghan accepted the trappings of royalty.  The two enjoyed a stunning, televised royal wedding.  They have already undertaken major international tours, accepted high-profile patronages, and shaped their royal status.  

In some sense, at least for as long as the stardust lasts (and as discussed in a previous post, that is the big gamble--no one knows how long it will last), these two are royal with or without the title.  They have the prestige garnered from their royal status, the platform/notoriety, and the leverage.  All because they are (or if the Queen decides, were) royal.  Neither Harry nor Meghan would be anything exceptional (I'd say the same of Kate and William) without their royal status, but once conferred, they have that platform. How long, we don't know.  There is, of course, precedent for this type of change from prominent royal to non-royal public figure, but it isn't Zara or the Yorks.  It is Wallis and David.

Elizabeth II's uncle, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, known as David to his family and to the world, briefly, as Edward VIII, abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson.  He was given the title Duke of Windsor and lived the majority of the rest of his life with Wallis in France. When a very senior member of the company decides to depart, the Palace has to make sure that there is no confusion about the brand's integrity.  Wallis and David were practically exiles, almost never returning to the United Kingdom or joining the royals at public functions. (Yes, there was the Nazi issue, but it was more than just that. The Palace was distinguishing the brand, and making sure there was no parallel British king outside the family.) So, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were essentially outcasts and no one was confused that they were out of the fold and did not represent the "royal brand."

This is why half-measures won't work. Meghan and Harry can't be part-time royals, and they can't technically disclaim their status, but work a deal with their family to have the support and platform of the brand. As much as any single member of the family might want to make that work for the Sussexes' sake, the public won't make the fine distinctions.  The public will continue to consider the two royals, and their actions will reflect on the institution.  If Harry and Meghan want to "forge a new path," the BRF must take affirmative measures to make that distinction between royal and non-royal even more clear.  To maintain the prestige and the neutrality of the monarchy, the Palace has to be very proactive in distancing "royalty" from Meghan and Harry.  

I know this all sounds harsh, but it really is a fight for survival for the monarchy as an institution.  They have to protect the brand, or the public will ultimately reject the whole company.  Harry and Meghan have already shown some astoundingly poor judgment in their behavior and tactics, and they have made unilateral decisions without regard to the blow-back that could weaken the monarchy.  No matter how much Harry's family loves him, they cannot escape the problem the Sussexes pose. You cannot have royals out politicking, or complaining about their lots in life despite their privilege, or warring with the press without permission. It just doesn't work in a world where democracy is the name of the game.

If I had to bet, I would say that the royals will come out on the right side of this.  The Palace already denied Harry and Meghan their own court, and although Harry and Meghan might have thought this move would be the check-mate, I hope we can extrapolate from its earlier denial that the Palace, having understood the danger of giving them their own court in the U.K., will see the even greater catastrophe proposed here.

The Duchess of Sussex on December 18, 2018, at Brinsworth House in London (pregnant with Archie)

Would Meghan and Harry Be Superstars Out of the Royal Fold?

As to whether or not Meghan and Harry can maintain their star power once they leave the fold, I think everyone will be surprised by how quickly they lose their royal luster.  Even as royals, it was my contention that their star would fade as time moved forward.  That would be natural.  That might be something they considered, too, when they made this break for financial autonomy. Outside the fold, though, I think their stock will fall faster than you might think. The magic of royalty truly is special.  The history and tradition, the opulence of the palaces, and luxury of many stately homes, the deference and respect, the public functions, all have a peculiar and unique quality that is hard to quantify and impossible to replicate.  There is a...majesty to monarchy that can't be reproduced.

It is clear to me that Harry and Meghan do not want to give up their HRHs.  Harry has been a royal his whole life, and Meghan clearly loves the star-status of being Her Royal Highness and a Princess of the United Kingdom.  They have trademarked SussexRoyal, too, which will be a real problem if the Queen makes the right call and makes them renounce their HRHs.  I do not know if they see the potential ramifications of losing their HRHs, but my sense is they figure they can go it alone if they have to. I think Harry doesn't understand what it means to not be royal, and Meghan doesn't understand that the star-status stays with the brand.  This is not going to play out à la Diana. She was unique.

We have already seen how their future might play out with that video of Harry chatting up the head of Disney in the receiving line.  It was horrifyingly cringe-worthy, and that is what they are looking at forever now.  If Harry and Meghan cast off the "shackles" of royal-status, and throw themselves back into the world of desperate status-seeking and power climbing, they will be out looking for gigs and trying to make a buck based on former titles.  They will find that a lot of powerful people who welcomed them when they were royals, won't be as keen if they lose their HRHs. This isn't to say I think they won't be successful at maintaining high profiles in the media and on the entertainment/celeb circuit, but they will lose the luster and prestige that royalty currently confers on them. There is something sad about a former royal.  Again, the the Duke and Duchess of Windsor come to mind.  But all of that speculation is the subject of another post.

I think we have hit the word limit, yes? This post is premised on the Crown doing what needs to be done. As we started out with this post, we really have no idea what the Queen is actually planning.  I have a nagging worry she is trying to find middle ground. More to come. If I had more time I would tighten this post up, but I have to get off to work, so pardon any redundancy.  Kate and William were out and about yesterday, and a post on that is "forthcoming. " :) Happy almost Friday...

The Sussexes Have Not Stepped Down From Royal Status...But They May Have To

Thursday, January 9, 2020

There sure are a lot of headlines that say the Sussexes are quitting royal life. Fun headlines, but not accurate. Meghan and Harry have done nothing of the kind. At first blush it might seem the couple is making that move, but if you read the fine print you will see they intend to remain as royal as ever. If you missed it, the Sussexes posted a shock announcement on their Instagram today, and subsequently press-released:

The announcement is worded such that it seems they are leaving the family, or stepping down from some defined position, but that’s not the case. They are making a break for financial autonomy, which they think will free them from the scrutiny they've endured over their private planes, home renovations, and so forth, and crucially, provide them more autonomy from the Royal Family itself.* That second point is as important (if not more so) than the first. Meghan and Harry were denied their own court when they split from Kensington Palace; they have doubtless been reminded often since that they have to toe the line, keep their politics in check, and follow royal rules.  They want autonomy, they want to engage in political activism, and they want to be the primary stars in their sphere.  But, they don’t want to give up their royal titles. They want their cake and to eat it, too. 

I chuckled at their claim they are renouncing "senior royal" status.  It makes me wonder who wrote this blurb?  Senior royal is not a title you relinquish. “Senior royal” is a bit of an amorphous concept that embraces those members of the BRF high in the line of succession and prominent in public life—but there is no official list.  Meghan and Harry aren't giving anything up by "relinquishing" senior royal status. So long as they remain Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and they undertake public roles, rather than living retired lives out of the spotlight, they are senior royals.  Frankly, I'd make an argument that you don't even need that second prong to be considered a senior royal, but it's too late at night to argue about that right now. You get the point that this is not really a thing. 

So, what are they are doing? For a long time now, I have been war-gaming out Meghan's various options to have her cake and eat it, too. It has long been my opinion that Meghan does not want to give up her title.  She likes being a royal.  But, she also wants to be a political activist and, frankly, she wants to be the top star, not second to Kate and William. I can't blame her for those desires, but she signed up for it all when she married “the spare.”  So the royal family is both the platform she craved and needed, and the very institution that limits her ambition—a strange conundrum, indeed.  

One option for Meghan that I have considered a lot is the path I thought the couple had chosen today as I quickly scanned through their announcement.  My thought has been that Meghan would survey the scene, appreciate her massive star power now she has married Harry, and she (and Harry) would, in fact, fully relinquish royal status and break out onto the global scene as a celebrity political activists—like George and Amal or any number of Hollywood couples.  They’d rely on the star status garnered as royals to power their careers as celebs. That would free them to promote the causes they choose and to enjoy the perks of wealthy elites without scrutiny. There are a few problems with that plan.  The first is that I had trouble seeing Harry fully agreeing to walking away from his family like that; second, Meghan loves her royal status, too; and third, it is a gamble. The royal brand has a magic with which simple celebrity-status just cannot compete.  I don't know if Meghan knows that, and you never know in our changed world, she might be able to hold the magic. This kind of move has never been done (Diana is not precedent for this, she was unique).  The question in my mind, and Meghan's if she is strategic enough, has been whether she and Harry really could maintain the magic long-term if they were just Meghan and Harry Windsor-Mountbatten—wealthy global activists. Maybe! Maybe not. Maybe they end like Wallis and David, essentially exiles from Britain, sadly trying to keep up pretenses in LA or Toronto. I don't know where it would go for them, and they can't predict it either. It is a very big gamble, though. If I had to bet one or the other, it would be close, but I'd bet they’d draw the Wallis and David ending. 

As I say, I think Meghan loves being a royal, and Harry is in no hurry to leave his family and royal life so radically, either. So, they’ve tried to do both by ceding something—senior status—that will justify greater autonomy without sacrificing the real deal, their HRH status and titles.   They are trying to say, “we are no longer constrained by the royal strictures, but we are still royals in every sense.” From their titles, to their homes, to their security, to their charity work on behalf of the Queen—even to continuing to accept funding from the Duchy of Cornwall, which actually provides the majority of their funding.  They are renouncing something that isn’t an actual thing, it is a description.   

As striking as the couple’s announcement was, even more jaw-dropping was that they gave Buckingham Palace no advance warning…again. This has been confirmed by a number of outlets, and BP’s statement said as much. Two hours after the Sussexes issued their announcement, BP issued its own statement, essentially saying, this is complicated and nothing has been decided. No kidding it is complicated. 

What Harry and Meghan don’t seem to get is that they cannot go off and be their own royals on their own terms. Royalty is not like a last name. It isn’t yours to take with you and do with as you will.  We have talked about this before, it looks like we will be talking a lot about this in the future.  The monarchy is about the monarch. In our modern world, where monarchies are anachronisms, and democracies are the preferred style of government, monarchies have to be wholly apolitical.  I used the analogy on an earlier post, but Meghan and Harry, as royals, are employees in a company. They are not CEOs, they are not managers, they are employees. The company promotes a single person—the monarch.  If Harry and Meghan want to sell something else, they have to leave the company.  You cannot use the company’s trademark, “British royal,” and sell something else. That dilutes and harms the royal brand. You either are in—you sell the product and fully support the program the CEOs determine—or you are out looking for work at another company. 

That is the problem the BRF is looking at now.  They have to control the brand. They can’t have Meghan and Harry out there as British royals with styles, titles, and all the pomp of royalty, but also doing their own thing—engaging in progressive politics, setting their own policy agendas, and calling their own shots.  The Sussexes can’t go to Canada and set up what would be tantamount to a rival monarchy. They can’t run a parallel royal family in North America. The BRF has a brand to protect, and the monarch controls the brand.     

This will be a bitter pill for the Palace, and I cannot imagine how hard it must be for the Queen, Charles, and even William.  Harry is grandson, son, and brother—he is a loved one, but this is a crisis for the institution. I don’t know if they have the stomach to see it through, but they have to present the clear choice to Harry and Meghan—in or out.  It will be hard to walk this announcement back, and I have the sense that emotionally the couple have crossed the Rubicon.  It is possible the Palace can come up with a solution that enables M&H to gracefully walk it all back, but anything short of fully reversing course would require concessions the BRF was clearly not willing to make just a short time ago. Sending the couple to North America was probably not in the cards, as long as they seemed to be intent on their own purposes and ends.  This announcement just confirms the very fears that would have prompted the Palace to deny the two autonomy to start with. Emily Andrews has noted that Meghan and Harry’s shock announcement may have been a deliberate play to force the Queen’s hand to give them now what they sought before, with the idea that such a public announcement would leave her no choice.  Of course, she has a choice, it is just a hard one, and Meghan and Harry have gambled she won’t make it. 

But, the Palace must make it. Harry and Meghan must be in or out.  If they have chosen out, then they must relinquish their styles and titles, their security, all taxpayer support, all royal residences, and pursue life as normal, uber-wealthy activists. If the Palace does not present that sharp choice, if they try to find some middle ground where Harry and Meghan “distance” themselves from Britain geographically, but remain full-fledged royals who globe-trot and pursue political ambitions, I believe, with a heavy heart, it will be the death knell of the House of Windsor.

The Palace might find a solution, or agree to a solution, but it is hard for me to imagine what compromise they can find that does not weaken the monarchy. 

This is obviously a "developing story." ;)  Stay tuned....

The Sussexes Start Their 2020 with a Strange Return to the Spotlight

Monday, January 6, 2020

The Sussexes have been on private holiday for the past six weeks or so. They formally press released before Thanksgiving that they would not join the BRF at Sandringham for Christmas and would withdraw from the spotlight for private time as a family. Sometime in the last two weeks the news broke that they were enjoying Christmas at a $14million mansion on Vancouver Island. It looked idyllic, and they shared a darling snap of Harry holding Archie as part of their New Year's IG post. The news of their whereabouts was bound to break at some point, and I am a fan of sharing “behind the scenes” snaps for major holidays, so their time away seemed a success for them and an opportunity to hit the reset button on their often rocky relationship with the public. 

Then, today, they press released that they are returning to the spotlight tomorrow with a visit to Canada House, because they want to thank the Canadian High Commissioner “for the warm Canadian hospitality and support they received during their recent stay in Canada.”  

This is more of the same contradictory signals and navel-gazing that got the Sussexes in trouble last year. They have made much of the toll royal life takes on them (not a message that has been sympathetically received by the general public, as one would expect) and how much they crave space and time away from the spotlight. This has drawn criticism, because they seem very keen to manage a very public profile and, in their own words, "grow a global Sussex brand." 

The couple probably didn’t need to even make their pre-Thanksgiving announcement about their break at all, but it was a borderline call, and I don’t fault them for choosing to make the announcement. Although they probably could have simply said they weren’t attending the Sandringham Christmas and just gone dark, they have been off the radar for a long time, and the public would have been asking questions, so just as well to say, ‘we are signing off for the holidays!’

But, it is absolutely bizarre to come back from a super private, super exclusive vacation and make a formal visit to the Canadian embassy to thank “Canada” for its hospitality. The reason it is bizarre is that they were not on tour. It was not a formal visit paid for by the British and Canadian taxpayers. They did not publicly tour the country, greeted as  they went, by throngs of well-wishers (for which a formal thank you would seem gracious). They were acting as private people, taking a private period of weeks away from the public, at a super luxe and very exclusive private home. They were like any other wealthy celebrity couple enjoying the holiday season. 

William and Kate don’t come back from the Seychelles, or Mustique, or Switzerland, or Biarritz (all places they privately holiday, and doubtless experience wonderful service and pleasant interactions with locals) and formally visit the respective country's representative in London to publicly thank them…for I am not even sure what. Again—the Sussexes were traveling privately. This comes across as needless sharing, or at least a signal that is at cross-purposes with their stated need for private lives to balance the burden of their public duties. Even the way they phrased their press release, “thanking Canada for its “warmth” and “support” has shades of their complaints from the catastrophic close to their Africa tour and the subsequent documentary. 

Royals are allowed privacy; they are allowed time "off the clock." Other royals at the Sussexes' level of star-power and above it (the Cambridges) successfully navigate private holidays without a word or an acknowledgement (Biarritz, Switzerland, etc) that they've even gone, thus holding the line on time they want to guard as their own; or even giving the public a little peek without breaking the barrier (think the official ski pictures, or the nod to Mustqiue with George's birthday shot).  They've never scheduled a public engagement to thank the destination countries envoy.

This is a misstep because, as noted at the top, it is a mixed signal. It is drawing their private time into the public sphere. It is highlighting and drawing the public’s attention to the very time they claimed they wanted to hold sacred and secret. It supports the theory that many hold, that while the couple claim they crave privacy, they actually seek the spotlight. Which brings us back around to the uncomfortable reality that they might create the very drama from which they claim they seek escape. 

Not a very fresh start to 2020.

Kate's Birthday House Party in Norfolk

Sunday, January 5, 2020

As anticipated, the Cambridges were pictured at St. Mary Magdalene this morning for the Sunday service.  We can tentatively call this a tradition, since for several years now, the Cambridges have hosted a house party before Kate's birthday with close friends and Kate's family. They always attend the Sunday morning service en masse, which gives us all a chance to join in on the fun. 

I believe that Pippa and James are still on holiday, but Michael and Carole have returned from St. Barth's in time for the festive weekend. Carole was pictured looking warm and chic in this coat she wore most notably to Christmas in Bucklebury back in 2012 (when Kate was feeling unwell while pregnant with George), but which she has also been pictured wearing to Cheltenham. I believe it is Katherine Hooker based upon the design, but I don't know if that has ever been confirmed. 

Kate's birthday weekend this year includes the Marquess and Marchioness of Cholmondeley. That's right, David Rocksavage and his wife Rose Hanbury.  It is nice to see that both couples are just moving along with their lives after the unsubstantiated and vicious rumors swirled about their marriages early last year.  

Also making up the royal party were longtime friends James Meade and his wife Lady Laura Marsham (next to Kate, wearing a green coat and a braided hatband), as well as Thomas Van Straubenzee and his fiancée Lucy Lanigan-O'Keeffe (wearing teal). Lucy is an assistant headteacher at Thomas's Battersea, where both George and Charlotte are students. 

Kate's ensemble is new. She really likes this rusty red for winter coats.  Although I don't gravitate toward this color myself, Kate pulls it off beautifully, and today she put together an exceptional ensemble. She raised the fashion stakes with a very stylish fedora, which Polka Pop on Twitter has IDed as a Hicks & Brown's Suffolk Fedora in navy.  As you can see, it is decorated with pheasant feathers that complement the red and brown of Kate's coat.  I think it is gorgeous. 

Kate appears to be wearing her Stuart Weitzman heeled boots, and from what I can see, I think she is carrying her quilted Jaeger clutch in navy. The coat has yet to be positively IDed, but speculation from several quarters is that it is custom Catherine Walker. [Now confirmed as a Roksanda Ilincic coat!] Everything in this ensemble ties together so beautifully.  The fedora and clutch in navy, the fedora's pheasant feathers tying together the brown boots, the gloves, and the reds in the coat.  It is all an exquisite pairing.  She looks fabulous, and this ensemble is a big win in my book! 

Update on my mom: We did get some positive news about my mom this Christmas.  The cancer has responded to the chemo and has shrunk quite a bit in size. It still needs to change shape, though, for the doctors to be able to cut it out. We are continuing to pray that despite the advanced stage, the cancer has not successfully metastasized and that the cancer continues to be responsive to the chemo. She has to undergo several more rounds of chemo, after which, we hope, the doctors can operate  I just finished another week with my mom at the hospital and am flying back to my home this afternoon. We had a wonderful Christmas and New Years with my family and feel very blessed, albeit tired. I am thinking and praying for all of you who have messaged me about your own or your loved one's cancers.  Thank you for your continued prayers! Sending love... 

Royal Christmas 2019: George and Charlotte Navigating the Walkabout

Friday, January 3, 2020

In mid-December, Emily Andrews scooped the Christmas Day story.  One of her sources told her that the little Cambridges would join their parents for the first time on the annual walk to St. Mary Magdalene for Christmas morning service. Sure enough, George and Charlotte walked between their parents on the 25th and undertook their first Sandringham Christmas walkabout.  It certainly made for an exciting Christmas morning, didn't it?

As has become the norm, the Cambridges skipped the early morning service, but other members of the BRF were spotted in the morning haze making their way to the private service, including Prince Andrew, who walked with his brother Charles. Although the Prince of Wales joined the family for the second, primary service later in the morning, Andrew skipped it and stayed home with his father the Duke of Edinburgh.  Christmas was carefully coordinated for the best optics, and the family pulled it all off flawlessly.  The theme of this Christmas season has clearly been to focus on the Charles, William, and George.  With Andrew staying at the house, and Harry and Meghan conveniently on break from the royal spotlight, the family was ready to showcase its primary superstars that crisp (but not snowy or super cold) Christmas morning.

The Cambridge children did really well, but Charlotte more or less stole the show as she made her way down the line of locals who had gathered.  She was shy at first, but warmed up well, and captured so many hearts when she happily accepted flowers from a little well-wisher.

There was a lot of talk about how traumatizing this event might have been, or perhaps inappropriate it was for the children to be hugging strangers, and I just don't agree that this was a problematic event.  I don't think this walkabout is all that overwhelming for the children. For adults, we see how unusual royal life is, but for George and Charlotte, this is their world. 

They have been standing on the balcony watching exuberant crowds shout and cheer to them all their short lives...

...and have been exposed to banks of photographers calling to them from very tender ages...

They've been driving in and out of Buckingham and Kensington Palace watching the crowds wave and the camera flashes explode.  George has already done the Sandringham walk as an even smaller child...

They've already toured multiple countries, waved to screaming fans, curtsied to foreign dignitaries, and been presented with posies. 

The royal life is not foreign to them, it is their natural habitat.  Does that mean it isn't at times strange or confusing? No, it must certainly be, but I don't think it is all that more strange or confusing than many of our own early encounters with the bustle of the big world outside the walls of our own playrooms and nurseries.

In the Mary Berry Christmas special, William talked about how he chats with his children on school runs or while driving around town, and explains various real-world issues to them, like pointing out homeless people and discussing poverty. In the same easy manner, I am sure they have been introducing the children to their roles as royals--the privilege balanced against the responsibility.  I don't think the walkabout is all that strange or overwhelming. It's a little more targeted than taking your child to a large Christmas party, but since kids aren't as self-conscious, the same basic principles apply. Be polite, say hello, look people in the eyes, thank them if they give you a gift... When they are older they will be more aware of the fact that pictures are being taken, video recorded, papers printing and disseminating their images, and they will be more self-conscious. They will have more of the insecurities that come with age and knowledge, but those hang-ups are blissfully absent at this innocent age.  So, I don't think it is overwhelming for them, and I don't think it is strange or problematic.

On the fashion front, Kate wore a custom Catherine Walker coat.  She told one women that she had planned on a much colder, potentially snowy, day.  Obviously, it wasn't all that frigid Christmas morning.  Although the coat would have worked beautifully for a colder day, I really loved it.  the length was so luxe, and the mohair with the fur was very elegant. The neutral mocha was an unusual choice, but it was a little out of the ordinary, which was fun, and worked really well with the forest green accessories.  I loved this ensemble and it has only grown on me since she debuted it.  That hat is an old favorite of ours. It is a Lock & Co. she first debuted at St. Patrick's Day and recycled fro a Sandringham Christmas.  That was the Christmas I spent in Annapolis and my computer was stolen on the trip home. I had to call the picture agency from which I had licensed those Christmas morning photos and beg them to let me re-download the images without charge, because I had paid for them, but not backed them up yet, and they had disappeared with my computer. Happy memories. :)

Kate completed the look with gorgeous Kiki McDonough drop earrings (repeats) and Emmy London shoes (Josie) and clutch (Natasha).  I really loved this whole look. Huge win in my book, and I hope we see ti again--maybe on tour somewhere snowy!