With the Duke of Sussex having touched down in the UK today, the first time he has been home since officially quitting as a senior royal, the 36-year-old is now staring down the prospect of Her Majesty punishing him further.
On a summer day in June 2019, as the sun sparkled over London and large crowds of proud Union Jack-waving Brits lined the city’s streets for the Queen’s official birthday celebration, Trooping the Colour, all eyes were on one outfit – the navy Givenchy number that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex was wearing.
After having been lambasted the previous year for donning an off-the-shoulder pink number, second time around the newbie royal risked courting controversy by wearing – deep breath in here, chaps – short sleeves.
However, in hindsight the outfit we should all have been looking at was Prince Harry. What no one knew at the time was that that sunny day would be the last day the retired army captain would ever wear a military uniform in public.
This morning Harry, the sixth in line to the throne, touched down again in the UK ahead of his grandfather Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral on Saturday.
His return is the first time he has set foot on British soil since officially quitting as a working member of the royal family alongside wife Meghan last year. (Meghan, who is heavily pregnant, has stayed at their Montecito home on medical advice.)
His re-emergence on British soil also comes a scant month after the couple took damaging aim at the royal family during their two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey, charging the palace with both cruelty towards Meghan’s when her mental health deteriorated in 2019 and of racism.
During the prime time interview, which was screened globally, Harry said he had felt “really let down by my father” and that Prince Charles and Prince William were trapped by “the system”.
The reverberations and aftershocks set off by their explosive claims are still being felt.
Harry’s return to the gilded bosom of his family will likely be a tense situation, with the Duke of Edinburgh’s passing moving up the timetable for the inevitable family reckoning in the wake of the Sussexes’ TV bombardment.
However the stress and strain this week will carry for Harry goes beyond coming face-to-face with the Windsors. This week, he will have to, for the first time, confront the brutal reality of the consequences of Megxit and just how much he has sacrificed.
Overnight, The Times reported that there is a question mark over whether he will be styled as His Royal Highness in the order of service for the funeral. Last year, as part of the divorce deal hashed out by the Sussexes and Buckingham Palace, it was agreed they would retain but would not use their HRHs.
It will be up to Her Majesty to make the final call over whether her grandson will simply be referred to as “the Duke of Sussex” or whether he will be afforded the same honorific his brother Prince William, sister-in-law Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and cousins Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie will be given.
(Princess Anne’s children Peter Phillips and Zara Tindall have never held titles while Prince Edward and wife Sophie Countess of Wessex chose for their children, Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn, to not be styled as HRHs.)
For Harry, seeing his name in black and white and without those three crucial letters would surely be a painful moment.
If his 94-year-old grandmother did decide to deny Harry the use of his HRH this week it would be a particularly pointed move and would be read as an implicit criticism of he and wife Meghan’s behaviour since flying the royal coop, a cutting demotion of sorts which he would be forced to stoically bear as his family and the world watches on.
It would also be a harsh reminder of just how drastically his circumstances have changed over the last year.
In another blow to Harry, he is expected to attend Saturday’s event in a suit and not full military dress. While his father, brother and uncle Prince Edward will likely don uniforms for the event, Harry now faces attending the first ceremonial event at which he will not be allowed to wear official regalia.
(So too will Prince Andrew, who was forced to step down as a working member of the royal family, wear civilian dress for the occasion.)
In 2017, when Philip retired, Harry took over from his grandfather as Captain General of the Royal Marines, a role which he is said to have prized.
In February this year, it was revealed that the now-California based royal would be stripped of this and a number of other honorary military titles after it was confirmed that the Sussexes’ would not be returning to working royal life.
(The palace’s move prompted unexpected pushback from the couple who put out a statement saying, “We can all live a life of service. Service is universal”, a move which essentially amounted to the Duke and Duchess talking back to the palace.)
The symbolism of Harry appearing in a dark suit amid his relatives in full military dress will be stark, a biting signifier of just how dramatically Harry’s position has changed in just over a year and how much he has given up in his quest for a different sort of life.
Having served two terms on the frontline in Afghanistan, and having made support for veterans a central pillar of his charity career, being forced to oh-so-publicly relinquish this part of his identity will surely be a sad milestone.
No moment could better encapsulate the enormity of what he has renounced and surrendered.
Over the last 12 months, since leaving royal life behind for a glittering new existence on the West Coast, it all been big multimillion-dollar deals and glowing headlines for the Duke in his new, adopted homeland.
That sunny future, however, largely obscured the reality of the price he has had to pay for his ‘freedom’.
Until now, both the loss of his ability to use his HRH and his military titles have largely been theoretical but no longer. This week, the Duke of Sussex will be forced to contend with the ramifications of his exit from royal life.
The ‘bill’ for Megxit has just come due and in the coming days, Harry will have no choice but to pay up.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles