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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.