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Sussexes' Newest Statement: Dissatisfaction & Focus on Review Period

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Friday morning, before all the news broke, I posted some reflections on the Palace’s conundrum over “royal” in the Sussexes’ brand. My final thought was that the developing news was not so much whether the Sussexes would or would not use 'royal' in their branding (they obviously could not), but the seeming shift in focus to this "12-month review" period. At first the 12-month review sounded like an unlikely escape valve the royals included just to be safe, but my thought Friday was that the 12-month review seems to have grown to be the focus.* To my surprise, later in the day Friday the Sussexes’ released further details about their transition, and a number of their comments really strengthened and even confirmed my hypothesis! 

To back up briefly, Rebecca English published an exclusive this last week in which she claimed the Palace had definitively put the kibosh on the Sussexes using 'royal' in their brand. After her story broke, various outlets started spreading another story—that Meghan had told friends she would defy the Queen and use "royal" anyway, and that there was nothing legally blocking the Sussexes from using royal in their brand. I really urge people to take these types of stories with a grain of salt, because often they are exaggerated or false. This one, though, has interesting origins. 

I think there is a grain of truth to that story for the following reasons. Some months ago one of you messaged me to tell me that a well-known reporter—known to be a huge Sussex fan, so much so that many speculate Meghan (or Meghan's team) gives him under the table tips—was floating the argument that the Sussexes had a right to use royal by virtue of, well, being royal. The idea was that Harry was born royal and so he has his own right to use royal—a right that the Queen cannot deny him. That sounds like an argument that would be made by someone who thinks of royalty the way you think about a last name. You own your last name. You get it at birth, and even though it is your father's name, once bestowed it is yours, too. Your father can’t take it away. Whether you love your father deeply and get along with him, or never speak to him throughout your life, you make of your last name what you will—it is yours. To throw in a legal analogy, you could say you have legal title to your last name. Royalty (or at least the trappings of royalty) is more like a license. A license can be rescinded at the will of the license holder. As a royal, you have the right to use "royal" so long as the license is not revoked. But, the Queen is the license holder. She is the font of royalty, and she decides who gets to be really royal. Where am I going with all this? The idea that "royalty" and the right to use "royal" are separate and distinct from the Palace—that royals own royalty the way you own your last name—feels very American to me. Combine that with the fact that the reporter who was floating this theory is widely believed to be a conduit of information from the Sussexes and I think we can reasonably wonder, and maybe go so far as to assume for the sake of argument, that this was the theory that Meghan was pushing internally: Harry is royal by birth, he has a right to use royal whether the other royals like it or not. Very American and very wrong. 

So, I think that those stories that Meghan was going to defy the Queen are probably based on private chatter and earlier negotiations where Meghan and Harry were floating various theories, and this was probably one of them. 

So, I think the Mirror story was based off of old data. That royal reporter shared his theory (which we are guessing was also Meghan's) some time ago. In the interim, I think that the Sussexes accepted that fighting the Palace was a losing proposition. Once the Mirror started running that story, they had to get out and deny it ASAP, because it was doing more damage to the their public profile. 

This led to another hasty internet posting from Harry and Meghan, which came out Friday afternoon. The couple shared a link on their Instagram to their website, where they had compiled an incredible list of bullet points. I won't go through them line by line, but, I will focus in on general themes. 

Meghan and Harry are doubling down on the narrative they have been abused by the press. They are now shifting the focus from their desire to seek financial autonomy, which was a stated and primary purpose originally, to their desire to escape the "public interest" theory that justified what they considered to be press intrusion. This will always be a tack that appeals to a certain sector, but overall, I don't think it is a sympathetic argument to the general public. Only a small percentage of people think the couple are Diana 2.0. Everyone else thinks they are wealthy people who seem very out of touch with the privilege they actually enjoy. Tough love here, kids. 

The most interesting twist, though, is how strongly they work to argue they are still 100% royal, still HRHs, still in line of successions etc, etc, and, that this is a review period. After the Sandringham Summit, the Palace made it sound like the Sussexes were definitely leaving, and the 12-month review period sounded more like it was a small escape clause left open for the remote possibility that the two changed their minds. As I noted in yesterday’s post, I felt like that had shifted. Then the way the Sussexes framed it Friday evening, I would say we have witnessed a full 180 (at least from what we assumed--perhaps the Sussexes I have been banking on the 12-month review from day 1). Now, it sounds like their departure itself is premised as a trial run and even a period to convince the BRF that they can be HRHs who work for the firm and make money. Even if they can’t convince the BRF their plan can work, it paves the way for them to say, “Well, it didn’t work. We will come back into the fold.” It is a very interesting change in position. 

My theory from the start has been that, without royal-status, the Sussexes might find it harder to hack the outside world than most people suppose. From the beginning, that has been the very scary wild card—will they lose their luster, and how quickly? They’ve been quietly working on their next steps for the past few months—giving a trial run speech for JP Morgan, visiting Stanford, and certainly many other collabs they will reveal when they launch in the next month or so. But all this activity has been helping them test the waters and see how they are received. I think they might be finding it harder than they expected. Does that mean they will fail? No. Does it mean they want to hedge their bets even more? Probably. 

My final thought is to repeat something you all are sick of hearing. Harry and Meghan’s plan was never to lose their royal status, to be effectively stripped of their HRHs (as they have been, despite their strongest protestations). This has been a very rough few months, as their emotionally charged statement Friday made clear. They will have to spend the next year deciding whether the autonomy they crave is worth losing the luster of royalty. So far, it seems like they are trending toward no.

*For those who have asked, this review period was not in the press release after the Sandringham Summit, but was told to reporters.  So, reporters usually get more details from the Palace.  That's pretty standard. So, although you may not have read it at the time if you pulled up the press release, it was a detail that was included by the Palace at that time. 

The Palace's Problem with the Sussexes' Royal Brand

Friday, February 21, 2020

Harry and Meghan at the UK Team Trials for the Invictus Games in Bath, UK, Apr. 6, 2018

This week featured some interesting updates on the Sussexes. Rebecca English published an exclusive in which she claims that the Queen has conclusively determined that the Sussexes cannot use the word “royal” in their branding. This seems like it should be an obvious extension of her decision to squash their hopes of creating a “progressive new role” within the institution, but, at the time that the Palace gave details about the Sandringham Summit, there was no decision or guidance given on the status of the Sussexes’ trademark and branding using “Sussex Royal.” I suspect that Harry and Meghan have been lobbying very hard to keep it, for many obvious reasons, but if Rebecca’s story is true, that effort has ended in defeat. She wrote:
The Mail understands that, amid what has been described as a 'complex' situation, the 'fine detail' is still being thrashed out.
However, it is understood the couple have accepted that, as part of their new working arrangements, they will not be able to use the Sussex Royal name as they had hoped.
Shortly after this story broke, a number of other royal reporters were able to share from Palace sources more details about the couple’s upcoming exit. Remember that the Palace made clear at the time of the Summit that Harry and Meghan would slowly transition out, with their complete departure not happening until the spring. So, although some fans were confused that the Sussexes still have engagements on the calendar, this was always the plan. Royal reporters are now telling us that the Palace has told them that March 31st is the final day, and the couple’s Buckingham Palace office will no longer be functioning on the 1st of April. Between then and now, the couple will undertake a number of engagements in the UK. 

There was some particularly interesting new news, though. The Palace also indicated that Harry will maintain his military ranks and his honorary positions for the duration of the “review period” (which, remember, is 12 months), and that although he will not fulfill any engagements in that capacity, he will not be replaced in his roles during the review period. 

Finally, it sounds like the Sussexes’ new foundation will launch later this spring, at which point the new branding will be revealed (the Palace did not confirm or deny that the two cannot use ‘royal’). 

What Does All This Mean?

Part of this new news is not surprising, because permitting the Sussexes to continue to use the royal label was really out of the question. The brand is part and parcel with royalty. The same reasons that compelled the Palace to take the hardline they did and deny Harry and Meghan royal status compels the Palace to also require that the two stop using "royal" in their branding. For me, the official line at the time of the Sandringham Summit (that they were doing everything in their power to "find a way" for Harry and Meghan) has always been a little bit of a head scratcher. I wonder what exactly was floated, because it seems an either/or choice. 

I don't think the Palace could have made any decision but this one, so perhaps the more interesting question is, why this delay in announcing the status of the couple’s brand? 

Although I have seen some fans try to soften what happened with Harry and Meghan's sudden departure, the reports were all but unambiguous. Harry and Meghan did not warn their family they were taking the drastic step that they did (whatever notice they provided—a few hours, a day—was not meaningful). When they announced, the Palace, the press, and the people were left reeling. The Sussexes' shock announcement sparked a dizzying period of meetings and, of course, the tough news for the Sussexes that their plan had a few hitches.

My first suspicion was that the Palace was trying to gauge public opinion on this topic. The Queen had to make a quick decision at the Sandringham Summit, and she made the right one—they couldn't stay royal—but it was a hard and probably not the one she emotionally wanted to make. There is a possibility that a second "have your cake and eat it, too" plan was floated. If the Sussexes kept "royal" in their branding, it would make the Queen's technical ruling effectively null. She may have decided to let the PR shop do some digging and test some polls. Obviously, the public reaction was not positive, and so if this was ever the strategy, it proved up that the Queen had taken the right course and they couldn't have it both ways. This option is remote. With this new news I think the situation comes into much clearer focus. 

The Palace appears to be trying to maintain and mothball as much of Harry and Meghan’s royal life as possible so the two can take it back up again with relative ease. 

Think about it from the BRF's side.  It was just two years ago that we were gearing up for a second spectacular royal wedding. Harry, who had gotten his mental health to a good place, had found the woman who could handle the strain of his public life and join him on that platform, and he was finally set to wed. There was no indication at that time that within two years he would mentally spiral as he has, or that the newly minted Duke and Duchess of Sussex would be relinquishing their royal roles. This was not only not the expectation, but it almost certainly isn’t the best course of action for Harry, and I suspect his family—his father and grandmother especially—know that with a deep visceral certainty. 

We already knew that the Palace was leaving the door open for the Sussexes, but I think this new news (particularly about leaving Harry’s military positions untouched during review) is a more intentional “review process” than we first realized. From the perspective of anyone trying to “mothball” the couple’s royal life, the big hitch is, of course, the branding. It’s not something that can hang in limbo. 

The Sussexes like their brand “Sussex Royal.” Rebranding is both embarrassing and duplicative in terms of cost and effort. If they return to the royal fold in a year, keeping Sussex Royal would be the ideal option. But, it can’t be left in limbo—they can’t conduct business in the interim without a brand and since they might not come back (and even if they do, this next year is off the leash, so to speak) they just can’t use it. They have to rebrand. I think when they launch their foundation in the next month or so, it will be with fresh branding that does not include royal—but maybe something that could transition nicely back into the royal fold? 

To conclude, the most interesting aspect of all this is probably what it hints at with respect to the internal thought-process. The long hesitation from the Palace, and this additional news that Harry’s military roles won’t be filled during the test period, make me wonder… Is the Palace very optimistic that the couple will return? Or are the Sussexes hedging their bets as strongly as possible? Because the real news this week is not so much any individual point—like the Sussexes can’t keep ‘royal’ in their branding—but rather how important this test period actually is. It isn’t an escape clause that has been casually included at the end of the Sandringham Summit agreement as an after-thought, it seems to be (or have become) the centerpiece—the focus.

Kate in McQueen for Engagement with Charles & Camilla

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

I am still planning to write several posts Kate's engagements that I have missed blogging about this month, but today I am just going to jump in on the present.

Today, the Cambridges made a rare joint-public engagement with Charles and Camilla. Obviously, the Cambridges and the Waleses appear at the same events all the time, but today is distinguishable in that it is a “working” engagement as opposed to, say, the four of them all at a State event at Westminster Abbey. Although Kate has done various public outings with Camilla or Charles, and William has done engagements with Charles, the two couples very rarely make this type of joint appearance together. I can’t say for certain, because my memory is faultier and faultier these days, but I think the last time they went out as a foursome was their appearance together at a Gary Barlow concert back in 2011 (below).

There has been a lot of speculation about what prompted this visit at this time. Is this a post Sussex-abdication statement? Some public engagements are months in the planning, but the Palace can whip up public engagements on short notice, too. So, without a tip from the Palace, we can't say whether this was months in the planning, or a recently planned engagement. It could be either. 

The message is clear regardless.  Whether planned recently or some time ago, this event was meant to highlight the line of succession. That is a theme the BRF started developing more aggressively last year. We saw the BRF change gears around the time of the Kensington Palace split. I think the Palace understood it had a problem with Harry and Meghan, and wherever that went—however that problem resolved itself—there was a clear consensus that the upcoming stars needed to get the spotlight in a more intentional and deliberate manner. So, I do think today’s engagement is an extension of a theme we saw developing last year, and which the Palace hammered on quite hard over the Christmas season with the slightly odd (but, I suppose endearing) Christmas pudding photo-shoot and the Queen’s speech. I don’t think we can know, and I don’t think it matters, whether it was a pre or post-Sussex abdication decision. It was a response to the broader turmoil the BRF has been facing in the last year and half. 

Today's engagement had a few moments that were particularly poignant in light of recent events. William was trying to make a basket from a wheelchair, and Charles came up behind him to help.  In that father-son moment, the reality of Harry's absence hung in the air.  Charles truly has lost a son on the public stage. 

Kate was wearing a McQueen coat and skirt in the brand’s signature military style, paired with Ralph Lauren boots and a trendy mini-purse, also from McQueen. That is the Wicca style—Kate has it in several variations. She added sparkle with her Mappin & Webb Empress pendant earrings

I actually love this look. I am a sucker for the buttoned-up military ensembles; I love them as much as Kate does. I think she has such a boyish figure (in a good sense) that she can really carry off these looks very well. Kate has narrow hips, so she can play with looks that draw focus to the waist and hips more than most.  It is a very covered-up look. One of my friends texted me and said she thought Kate could be a nun in this ensemble, since she is covered from her throat to the tip of her toes.   I think the figure-hugging element of this ensemble, because it really is, very closely tailored around her bust and hips, is what saves it from overwhelming her.  She looks very long and lean despite it all.

I love these unusual ensembles on Kate. They are edgy and fun. This is a “look.” It isn’t an off-the-rack midi dress from L.K. Bennett—no offense to L.K. Bennett. To me, these are “royal princess” ensembles that are set apart from the average wardrobe and give royal fashion an extra edge of interest and glamour. I’d rather see Kate experiment with these looks (with regularity) than parade an endless succession of high street dresses and coats. 

For me, this was a big win!

There are so many pictures like this last one. Every time these two show up somewhere Kate gives William this smiley look that seems to say, "You ready to do this royal thing?"  And he is looking back at her with a serious, "Let's go be super-stars, baby." It just makes me laugh.  Happy Tuesday, or Wednesday--whatever day it is. ;)