It all comes down to five letters. Five letters which make up one short word – royal – and yet they are causing so much strife and angst for the Queen and her family.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Queen has decided that Harry and Meghan the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, having flown the Palace coop to set up a new life in North America, would not be allowed to continue using the ‘Sussex Royal’ brand.
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In mid-January, Harry met with his grandmother, Prince Charles, and Prince William to hash out the practical terms of their exit as full time working members of the royal family.
Certain decisions were announced at that time, such as the fact that while the Sussexes would officially retain their styling as His/Her Royal Highnesses, they would not use it.
One thing that was not immediately resolved was whether the couple would be permitted to continue to market themselves to the world as “Sussex Royal”. Today, we have an answer to that particularly thorny question.
So was this the Queen being simply petty? Was this a punitive move after the couple so sensationally quit?
In short, no. Harry and Meghan have been on a collision course with this issue since they announced their intention to become “financially independent”.
Yes, it is a worthy goal (and one that would have had parents of 30-somethings the world over cheering).
But … actually achieving that ambition, ie consorting with big business, was always going to open them up to accusations they were monetising their royal status. And it was inevitable that the Palace was going to have to act.
In only the last couple of weeks Harry and Meghan attended a JP Morgan conference in Miami (with unconfirmed reports alleging that they were paid six to seven figures for their appearance) and flew to prestigious Stanford University to discuss their new charitable foundation. It has also been reported that Harry has been in talks with Goldman Sachs to take part in an (unpaid but very high profile) video series.
The Queen has many jobs – opening parliament, signing bills into law and indifferently puttering around the Chelsea Flower Show – however another one that she clearly takes very seriously is protecting the royal brand.
She knows that carelessly bandying about the designation of “royal” status undermines its value and worth. More importantly she knows that even letting the vaguest suggestion that a royal was profiting off their royal rank via bluntly commercial endeavours could not be allowed to stand.
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The bottom line: Her Majesty would never have acquiesced to them touting themselves as “royal” as they seemingly worked to insert themselves into the highest echelons of the business world.
It is worth pointing out that this is not the first time this particular issue has reared its head in the last month. In January, Buckingham Palace was forced to contend with the fact that another of the Queen’s grandsons, in this instance Princess Anne’s son Peter Phillips, was trading on his royal connections to earn a pay cheque by spruiking milk in a Chinese TV ad. The technical difference here being that while he is a member of the Queen’s family, Peter has never been actually “royal” as his mother refused a title for him at birth.
The question that remains to be answered is how did Harry and Meghan think they could quit royal life yet remain officially royal?
On a pragmatic level, they will now have to undertake a large scale rebranding operation. In April last year they launched their own Instagram account – Sussex Royal – which now has 11.2 million followers while In January they debuted their spiffy new personal website www.sussexroyal.com which, per the Daily Mail, cost tens of thousands of dollars.
These will both likely have to be changed now (pity the social media guru and web developer getting the middle-of-the-night phone calls to sort out this all out quick sticks).
Then there is the fact that last year they applied to trademark “Sussex Royal” across a vast swath of products.
Likewise, their charitable foundation was going to be called Sussex Royal The Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. That too will need a rethink.
Perhaps the bigger issue is to what extent this could affect their bankability. The UK’s Mirror newspaper reported that the World Economic Forum head honchos wanted the couple to attend next year’s billionaires gabfest in Davos Switzerland and that there was a “gold rush” going on among the banking elite to work with the duo.
Denied royal status, will this dull their saleable lustre? Will corporate giants and big business still be as hungry to work with them now they are simply the Sussexes?
One thing we know for sure: Harry and Meghan seem to have a clear vision of where they want to go and what they want to achieve. It is unlikely that their impressive verve, passion and ambition will be diminished by today’s news. You can bank on that.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.