Two beautiful people, beaming at one another as he protected her from a downpour, raindrops like diamonds creating a glittering backdrop.
Boy oh boy – did Harry and Meghan the Duke and Duchess of Sussex know exactly how to stage a doozy of a UK comeback.
The photos of the couple arriving at the Endeavour Awards overnight in London will surely go into the pantheon of iconic shots of the royal family. The love! The glamour! The positively Hollywood-esque perfection of every damn element.
It would have been a powerful image, so resonant with emotion, at any time but the fact that it happened this particular week made it all the more weighty. Last night’s outing marks the start of the couple’s final series of engagements before they officially step down as working members of the royal family on March 31.
Take a look at the shots of Harry and Meghan in the rain. Go on, I’ll wait. Because, the more I look at them, the harder it becomes to imagine a moment that could more aptly sum up just how big a loss their departure is for the Windsors.
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When Lady Diana Spencer joined the royal family in 1981, she thrilled crowds and dramatically rejuvenated not only interest in, but public support of the monarchy.
Nearly 40-years later, her son Harry told the world that – after nearly 35 years and one now infamous roast chicken – he was set to marry and the woman he chose brought that same electric, revivifying force with her.
Here was a woman who totally and wonderfully broke the mould of the sort of woman Windsor blokes have conventionally chosen to conscript into the family – biracial, American, divorced and very successful. Meghan’s acceptance by, and absorption into, a 1000-year-old institution seemed to represent a watershed moment of inclusion and positivity.
When Harry and Meghan married and morphed into Sussexes, they were not only a powerful modernising force they brought something hitherto unheard of to the royal brand – sexiness. I don’t just mean their good looks (though dear god they are both certifiable tens) rather they made a hoary institution seem like a truly attractive and appealing prospect.
That was dazzlingly on show last night.
Meghan wore a figure-hugging $A2649 pencil dress by Victoria Beckham, her hair in the sleekest of ponytails and a much bolder and brighter shade of lipstick than she normally wears. The entire look walked the tightrope between overt sexiness and sophisticated restraint in the most deliciously wonderful way. This was Olympic-level royal dressing.
When Meghan took to the stage to present an award, her glow and smile would have melted the coldest of republican hearts. Likewise, when Harry delivered a speech later in the night, charmingly flubbing his lines and speaking with true passion about supporting veterans, he brought an authenticity and warmth that was reminiscent of his mother.
Contrast that with William and Kate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who are currently on the tail end of their whirlwind three-day tour of Ireland. They went to Galway and tried their hands at Gaelic football and hurling.
Sure, they were very smiley good sports who looked like they were having the jolliest of times! But … there is no getting around the awkward fact that they lack the stardust quality that the Sussexes permanently exude.
No matter that they will one day be King and Queen, the Cambridges somehow fail to generate quite the same feverish excitement. (Consider – more than 50 people stood out in the pouring rain to catch the briefest of glimpses of them.)
While William and Kate bring a certain admirable stoicism and dependability to their roles, they are sadly not exciting. By contrast, Harry and Meghan bring a thrilling vitality to the whole royal enterprise.
And that is why last night’s mind-blowingly flawless shots reflect just how much of a loss their quitting is for the Queen & Co. Short of wearing a frock with the words “Look what you’re missing!” embroidered in sequins, I’m not sure that the duo could have more perfectly communicated this message.
When the resignation of Harry and Meghan comes into affect later this month, there will be only four working members of the royal family under the age of 70 – and two of them are 55-years-old (Prince Edward and Sophie Countess of Wessex). This means that selling the idea of a hereditary monarchy to the next generation of Brits has just gotten that much harder.
While the Queen enjoys widespread adoration there is no guarantee that anywhere near that level of public support will persist once Prince Charles and later a (most likely) middle-aged William take to the throne.
Rather the royal family faces the possibility of growing public indifference, if not resentment, towards the very notion of the monarchy.
While Charles is viewed less and less as a plant-talking loon and far more as a caring father who has shown great foresight in his environmental campaigning, it is highly unlikely he will ever elicit anywhere near the same levels of support as his mother.
Therefore, by the time Wills inherits the throne, just how much less popular will the monarchy be? Will it fall on his shoulders, or even his son Prince George’s, to try and find a way to pull the entire dowdy institution back from the precipice of total apathy and animosity on the part of Brits and the Commonwealth?
While the argument has long been the Sovereign provides valuable checks and balances to the democratic process, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, according to a UK high court decision, was found to have misled Her Majesty over the proroguing of parliament last year.
However, the entire sorry episode just served to highlight the inherent impotence of modern monarchy.
Like religion or the Rolling Stones, the longevity of a hereditary monarchy is dependent on converting new adherents with every generation. Sans the dynamism and allure of the Sussexes, that job has gotten immeasurably harder for the Queen, Charles and William on whose shoulders this responsibility falls.
It might have only taken barely a matter of minutes for Harry and Meghan to make their way from the car to the front door overnight as dozens of photographers snapped away but it could take years, if not decades, to undo the damage their leaving might do to the royal family.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.