Say what you will about the house of Windsor – they have a few too many relatives who married Nazis tucked away in their family tree for anyone’s liking; they seem to be better at raising champion thoroughbreds than happy children – they have some seriously impressive genes.
The Queen Mother passed away at 101 years of age; the Queen herself is still going strong at nearly 95 years of age, no walking stick required and still logging full days of work. (In fact, she ploughs through her daily red box of governmental briefings and papers 363-a-year.)
And of course there is Prince Philip, who at 99, has managed to defy the odds – again – and is still with us after several days of feverish speculation over whether he was about to shuffle off to the great polo pony yard in the sky.
The nonagenarian – who let’s remember only quit as a working member of the royal family at the ripe old age of 97 – was taken to a central London hospital last week which the palace claimed was simply a “precautionary measure.”
After all, the Duke of Edinburgh was photographed walking into the hospital, wearing a crisp navy suit of course – never must let one’s standards slip, chaps – giving rise to hopes that nothing too serious was afoot.
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That calm was shaken, profoundly, when his son Prince Charles visited him on Saturday afternoon, UK time, and was photographed leaving with what looked like tears in his eyes. What was remarkable about this was not just that the future king had just shown emotion in public for the first time in his 72 years (who knew the man even had tear ducts?) but that never before has a member of the royal family seen fit to visit Phillip during his semi-regular hospital admissions in recent years.
Things started to look particularly dicey however thankfully, at the time of writing, Philip is still with us (see, praying to one’s Princess Margaret candle does work).
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However, the waiting game of recent days over Philip’s health gave rise to a particularly thorny, uncomfortable question: If the inimitable Duke was to pass away, what would Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, do?
Of course they would immediately express their sadness and offer support for the Queen at such a heartbreaking moment but there is an ocean of difference between what gets expressed in a poetically worded press release and what one actually does.
Would they drop everything, bags a private jet and dash back to Windsor? Would only Harry make the trip? And, what would happen to Oprah?
Because over the last seven days, running in parallel to Philip’s hospital drama has been a week of Sussex melodrama that was markedly turbulent and messy, even for the Duke and Duchess – which is really saying something – and which saw Oprah Winfrey somehow join the royal inner circle.
Things started on a high for Harry and Meghan last week when they announced that they are expecting a second baby, albeit via a cringey black and white shot that owed more than a little in the creative department to rom-com Notting Hill.
Then, came the bombshell news that the now Montecito-based duo had agreed to a 90-minute TV interview with Oprah, set to air on March 8 (AEDT). Curtains would undoubtedly be pulled back and the prospect of moist eyes, quivering lips and hearing how gosh darn hard it is becoming a real life Duchess in prime time became a reality.
Before the week was over came the announcement from Buckingham Palace that Harry and Meghan had definitively closed the door on them ever returning to the royal fold and thus they would be (forcibly) relinquishing their remaining official royal roles, namely a number of patronages and honorary military titles.
Three minutes – literally – after that palace press release went out, the Sussexes fired back with a seemingly pre-prepared salvo of their own, sullenly taking a jab at the palace saying, “We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.”
(What was left out here was the obvious ‘nuh nuh neeee nuh nahhhhh’ addendum.)
Then! The weekend brought with it the news that Harry and Meghan had actually already filmed their Oprah sit-down with The Times quoting a royal source as saying it was, “Time [for the royal family] to hide behind the sofa at the palace.”
Then this morning came a report that only a handful of days after the historic TV (maybe) tell-all was in the can, the Sussexes’ TV confessional was set to be re-edited. A source told The Mirror: “When the Duke and Duchess spoke, it was never envisaged they would have their patronages taken away.
“Now, however, other than their titles, they are to have no role in royal life – a point producers know was not discussed when Winfrey spoke to them.” (Well, that sure sounds like a fun conversation to have! No hurt feelings and axes to grind here then …)
Which brings us back to the original question we started with: If, tragically, Philip breathed his last in the coming weeks, what would the Duke and Duchess do? For example, would they, hypothetically speaking, ask CBS to move their Oprah confab which is set to air nearly one year to the day since their final official royal engagement?
While this might all live very much in the realm of the theoretical, for now, what this situation highlights is the inevitability of junctures in the near future where Harry will be forced to prioritise, in the full glare of public view, between his sparkling US future and British family.
In the last year, since moving to the land of sunshine and kale smoothies, Harry has simultaneously started a shiny new life but while increasingly being at highly public odds with his former one.
There have been the various comments made during Zoom appearances about the Commonwealth and racism, his controversial wading into US politics and then inking a massively lucrative deal with the same company who had commercialised his family’s history for profit.
What is worth noting is that Harry and Meghan, over the last 12 months and change, have become thorns in the side of the palace, despite the fact that surely they must realise that the day will come when their remaining family ties exert their pull from across the Atlantic.
What Harry has accidentally set up for the future is an inevitable collision course between the first 35-year chapter of his life – Harry the prince – and the second chapter – the Montecito years. What happens when these two worlds collide and he is forced to choose between them?
For example, if Philip was to pass away around the time of the air date of their Oprah gabfest?
Or for example, come June this year which will hopefully see Philip hit the big 1-0-0 on June 10 and then two days later Trooping the Colour will be staged for the first time since the pandemic began.
The Queen is said to be keen on getting back to the “balcony business” that is, getting the royal show back on the road.
Therefore, this year’s Trooping the Colour will be a symbolic moment both for Her Majesty and Brits who have faced rolling lockdowns and a horrifying death toll. If Harry was to attend, it would also be the first time he has actually seen his family since March, 2020.
Here’s the rub: These significant Windsor events which Harry would surely want to be a part of will all be happening towards the end of Meghan’s pregnancy and potentially around her due date. So what will Harry do? Stay devotedly by his wife and son’s side or zip back to the UK in a striking show of public support for his grandmother?
Ditto July 1. That day is Diana, Princess of Wales’ birthday and this year’s celebration would have seen her turn 60 years old. To mark the event, William and Harry, prior to Megxit, commissioned a statue in her honour for Kensington Palace and the beauty will be unveiled on July 1 this year.
Again, how will Harry choose between honouring his beloved mother and supporting his very own young family?
This thrumming, constant tension is not only of personal consequence. This fraught dichotomy between his US and UK selves will also be tested when in terms of Harry as a public figure. When push comes to shove, will his allegiance lie with his transplanted stars’n’stripes homeland or to the country he actually went to war for? (Twice in fact.) It would seem he is trying to keep a foot on both continents but how realistic is that?
What seems heartbreakingly inescapable is that time and again in the future, the Duke will have to answer these prickly, difficult questions.
If there is one thing we know about Harry it is that he is a man driven by love: Love for his nation, love for his mother and in recent years, unwavering love for his wife and son. Last year during the debut, and so far only, outing of their very own Spotify podcast, the Sussexes declared that “love wins”.
As a guiding principle it might sound wonderfully right but in reality it would seem that following this doctrine is a much, much more complicated undertaking.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.