There was inordinate speculation whether Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would attend the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations this summer. And when the Duchess of Sussex was spotted laughing and playing with Savannah and Isla Phillips and Mia and Lena Tindall during the Trooping of the Colour on Thursday there was a feeling of deep satisfaction among the couple’s supporters.
Positioned in the General’s Office rather than on the balcony, Meghan and Harry’s status as non-working royals was solidified on day one of the jubilee schedule: ‘The media might try to make them prominent, but in reality they are not going to be playing a prominent role,’ an aide told The Telegraph. ‘A line has been drawn.’
On Friday, the couple stepped out arm in arm (Meghan in a chic Dior Haute Couture coat dress) for their first official royal event in two years – a National Service of Thanksgiving as St Paul's in honour of the Queen’s 70-year reign. They walked together, down the aisle, a carefully choreographed moment amid the pomp and ceremony that seemed to say: ‘Yes, we’re here. Nice to see you too.’
While many of the congregation shot nervous glances towards Meghan and Harry, Kate Middleton simply mouthed ‘wow’ as they made their way to their seats behind the senior Royals and supporters on Twitter gushed: ‘Simply loving and exquisite. I could not be prouder at how they are graciously demonstrating their love and respect for the Queen.’
But the Sussexes’ Jubilee appearance came to an end after the service on Friday where they were reportedly met outside St Paul's Cathedral with a mixture of boos and cheers from the crowd. On Saturday, they stayed inside and watched the Platinum Party Jubilee concert with the Queen and by Sunday, they’d left Frogmore Cottage and landed back in Santa Barbara by 6pm LA time, according to reports.
‘Sussexes head back to California after making just one public appearance at four-day celebration in honour of Queen – and jetting off BEFORE the grand finale pageant even began,’ tabloid headlines screeched, while other outlets described the decision as ‘churlish’ and a ‘snub’.
‘So much for not overshadowing the queen. Would it have killed them to wait a few hours?’ a friend of the royals questioned to the Daily Beast.
But, as was made clear when Meghan and Harry were positioned in the General’s Office rather than the balcony for the Trooping of the Colour, they are not working royals. They were under no obligation to attend any of the Jubilee events and within their rights to come and go as they please as private citizens.
Nobody publicised the supposedly disrespectful timing of the Sussexes exit apart from the outlets and critics that vilified them. And what a vilification it was: ‘Slunk off with their tails between their legs,’ accused one comment online. ‘They know they’re not wanted here,’ added another. ‘The only way [Harry] would ever be accepted back as a working royal would be when his marriage is over,’ claimed a third. ‘[Meghan] has been the most destructive force on his life. Caused his split with his loving family and caused a great deal of trouble in the monarchy,’ they said. ‘She is the reason the Commonwealth states want to leave. She is pure evil.’
Meghan, and by association Harry, has endlessly been held to a higher and unreachable standard than any other royal. This impassioned criticism of the couple for leaving the Jubilee celebrations early is a disproportionate reaction to them missing a parade - and to blame them for the supposed downfall of the Commonwealth is unfounded sensationalism.
Reading only a small sample of the hate-filled public reaction to Meghan and Harry’s early exit, it’s unsurprising that the Sussexes almost refused to come back to England for the Jubilee celebrations without sufficient security. In the end, they chose to keep their children entirely out of the public eye, and the Queen sent two of her own protection officers and a bullet proof car to collect them from the airport.
But what’s most surprising about the backlash to Meghan and Harry taking an early plane home is that anyone is shocked at all. The understanding was always that the couple would have their agency back and being able to leave the party before it’s over is part of that liberty. As Buckingham Palace outlined in their reaction statement to the Sussexes resignation: ‘In stepping away from the work of The Royal Family it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service.’
Meghan and Harry thoughtfully and respectfully showed their love and support for the Queen at her National Service of Thanksgiving, introduced her to her granddaughter Lilibet for the first time at an intimate birthday party, and watched the Jubilee concert with her before they headed home. In any other family’s books, this is far from a ‘snub’.
From business obligations to filming schedules, there’s an extensive list of reasons that could explain why Harry and Meghan couldn’t or didn’t want to stay until the end of the Platinum Jubilee agenda. Yet, we lean on a royal feud as the explanation for everything without validated sources or reasoning.
But with media scrutiny and public hostility still hurled with vigour at Meghan and Harry, you can’t blame them if they did want to skip the parade of fake corgis and Queen holograms to pop home before the bitter end.