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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!