Sun, 4 September 2022 at 7:02 pm
They have barely had a fond word to say about royal life since they left it. Their privacy was invaded, her unhappiness unheeded, his security requests ignored. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, it is said, were all but imprisoned in a golden cage in which men in grey suits stood in their way and their own family was jealous of their success.
So difficult is their relationship that as Prince Harry and Meghan make a rare return to Britain this week, they aren’t even expected to see most of their family.
Instead, they will embark on a short series of visits to the three charities closest to their hearts, with a discussion about gender equality thrown in to boot.
Remarkably, their schedule could have been plucked from their calendar on any given working week before their departure in 2020.
Which begs the question: if royal life was so bad, why does their trip feel so oddly like a royal tour?
The Sussexes, who have built a new team to bring about their vision of “compassion in action” in the US through a series of “activations”, are following a tried-and-tested blueprint originally honed by their aides in the UK.
Even more strikingly, the schedule will see them slot alongside the Royal family as they all get back to work for the first week after their annual summer break.
Replicating the engagement style of their royal relatives, the Sussexes are to deliver speeches, listen to the hopes and fears of young people, and be photographed at an awards ceremony for sick children in which they will bring a sprinkling of magic to struggling families and unsung carers.
The schedule has been designed around three events they have both previously attended: the One Young World summit on Monday, an Invictus Games launch on Tuesday and the WellChild Awards on Thursday.
The happy alignment of the calendar has made the trip worthwhile, as the Duke and Duchess leave their Californian retreat complete with the entwined palm trees representing their love, to the Britain Prince Harry still calls (according to legal papers) “home”.
Cynics have noted that the flurry of activity coincides with the launch of commercial deals, from the Duchess’s podcast to the forthcoming memoir from Prince Harry and at least two Netflix documentaries: one about the Invictus Games and another about the couple’s own “love story” as seen through their work.
Allies of the Sussexes have pointed instead to the desperate need of small charities following the Covid-19 pandemic, and the difference their global profile can bring to awareness and much-needed donations.
The causes, one said, make the trip worthwhile despite an ongoing row over their UK security which their team believe puts them at personal risk.
The trip will allow them to bask in the glowing support of their admirers. You can bet on Meghan’s One Young World speech being met with ear-splitting cheers from watching teens, while Harry’s reception from grateful athletes at the Invictus Games is enough to bring a tear to even the hardiest of veterans’ eyes.
If a smattering of boos were heard from the public during the Platinum Jubilee visit, all possible measures are being taken to control uncertainty this time. Event tickets are tightly controlled, with a ban on standing outside venues and a press conference which Prince Harry will leave before the questions start.
But the most important reason this trip has a distinctly royal feel? Quite simply, it works.
The Royal family may have its faults (order Prince Harry’s upcoming autobiography for further details) but a lifetime in the public eye does give an insight into how best to make a difference.
Although each member does things their own way, all broadly follow the pattern set by the Queen who chooses good causes and good people to honour with a royal visit. A short conversation with the glow of a royal spotlight is enough to make someone’s day, if not change their life.
And the Sussexes, for all the public criticism levied at them, were very good at it.
Since they left the Royal family, moving in the middle of a pandemic that left them working over Zoom, any real-life charisma has been lost in coverage of their work in favour of pronouncements heard as preachy and a string of interviews in which they could not help but complain.
This week’s schedule gives them the opportunity to prove there is more to their new un-royal brand.
As the home diary bursts with its regular mix of formal and family engagements (the Queen on prime minister-appointing duties at Balmoral, Prince Charles and Camilla back to the day job after holiday, and the Cambridge children starting their new school), anything the Sussexes do can only be seen in complement or contrast.
Not privy to the extent of family ructions, as far as the public is concerned it may feel like they never left.
With one major difference, of course. With public and press access strictly limited, if you want to see the full story of who they met and what they said, you may have to tune into Netflix instead.