Between #Megxit and #Harryverderci: The Reality of Royalty or Life In a Goldfish Bowl

The reality of royalty isn’t all fun and games and ball gowns and tiaras, as much as we like to think that. The announcement of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to step down as senior royals has sent shockwaves around the world. Some applaud their decision while others are skeptical about how it will work. Count me among the latter group.

Many, including yours truly, couldn’t shake the feeling over the past couple of months that royal life simply wasn’t the life for Harry and Meghan. Royal life, especially within the British royal family, is life in a goldfish bowl. Every move, every smile, every seemingly unhappy face will make a headline. With online and social media, the magnifying glass on that goldfish bowl has grown only larger and larger. In short: It’s not a life to envy. Harry and especially Meghan were the latest addition to that goldfish bowl and the most shiny and sparkly one at that. He, the longtime bad boy prince charming, and she, the mixed-race American actress. As pretty much everyone else in that goldfish bowl had been around for a decade or longer, they were the ones the media’s and world’s attention, really, focused on.

Pretty much ever since their wedding, there have also been accusations that the media’s interest in Harry and Meghan is mainly fueled by racism. While I am certain that there are certain parts in both the media and society that are racist and hate the fact that the grandson of the head of perhaps the most archaic institution surviving in today’s society married a woman of mixed race, I also cannot help but shake the feeling that the general accusation comes from people who only entered the royal watching community when Meghan came onto the scene. Of course there have always been newbies on the scene. Heck, I was once one. But what was new with this crowd was that they seemingly didn’t want to learn about the way the monarchy works. One of the most important lessons of all of it: The monarchy will not be radically changed by the number sixth in line to the throne. The monarchy is a top to bottom system if there ever was one. But there was Diana, some will say. Yes, there was, but a) she was the wife of the heir, not the spare, and b) if you really think about it, she made the royal family change but mostly after her separation and following her tragic death. 

Personally, I think that the existence of online and social media play a much more important factor in the media’s handling of Harry and Meghan – and everyone who reads or uses online and social media plays a role in it, too. No matter where you look, all areas of news reporting have seen a scandalisation of headlines over the past couple of years. It is not something that is exclusive to the British royal family. Meghan simply was the first new member of the family to come along in the age of social media. 

Can you imagine what would have happened if online and social media would have been around during the 1990’s and the War of the Wales’? I shudder to think how much faster if could all have been spun. There has been no new member who married into the main line of the family, especially the women, over the past couple of decades, who wasn’t faced with media intrusion. Be it Diana, Sarah, Sophie, Camilla, Catherine or Meghan. When Kate came onto the scene, online media still was in its baby shoes really and so she “only” had to worry about the next day’s headline. Still, it wasn’t pretty. Anyone remember the videos of her stalked by paparazzi outside her flat? All the stories about her being a social climber and how her family dared to make a fortune and consequently send their kids to good schools? The Waity Katie stories? And probably heaps more I cannot recall right now. That’s not to say that we should stack up negative headlines new royals have received over the years against each other, but if you want to know how to play the long game, ask Camilla. She has come a long way from being the most hated woman in Great Britain and probably the world. 

However, everyone who came along before Meghan had one great advantage: They didn’t enter the royal family during a time when every person was their own media outlet and could easily voice their opinion to the whole world via social media. This is much bigger than just Harry and Meghan or the British or any royal family but over the past couple of years, media changed. Headlines are spun ever faster. To stay relevant and get clicks, which in turn makes money and thus pays the bills, journalists have to keep up with an insane speed. You can see that instead of one article about every matter or event, the stories are spun into various articles. Why? Because every new click will generate new income. And that’s where we all play a role. A lot of what the media does is simply an answer to what we consumers read and want. So in everything that happens, we are all accomplices.

With the public scrutiny and ever faster spinning news cycles, it’s not surprising that Meghan found it especially hard to deal with her new life. I must admit that at the time of their engagement announcement, I did wonder whether her and Harry’s relationship did go a little too fast. I don’t doubt that they are in love and I understand that cross-continental relationships tend to move faster as one of the two people involved needs to leave their known life behind and Meghan could hardly start working in her previous job in Great Britain. However, I also think that she wasn’t fully aware of just what she was getting herself into when she didn’t just marry the man she loved but also into perhaps the most high-profile family this world knows. 

At the same time, she didn’t have the same well-established support system in Britain others who married into the royal family over more recent years had. That’s not to imply that the royal family didn’t welcome Meghan, after all Harry once said that she would now get the family she never had when they married. But still many of her friends and her mother were a wide ocean away when she had to deal with a lot of changes in her life while others in her family tried to cash in on her major life changes. In retrospect you start to wonder whether a more gentle introduction into the goldfish bowl that is royal life maybe wouldn’t have made things necessarily easier but at least given Meghan a better idea of what it would be like. Both life within the royal family as well as the scrutiny that comes with it. To imagine that there were some culture clashes between an Los Angeles born and raised actress and the famously stiff upper lipped British aristocracy isn't too hard to imagine either. Add in the fairly obviously unresolved trauma suffered by Harry following his mother's death that seems to have come to the surface over recent months and combine all that, it is all too understandable that the couple have struggled. However, it shouldn't mean that people cannot be critical of the choices they make. 

Still, it certainly is not an enviable position Harry and Meghan are in and I have said for quite some time that if they want to get out of ‘The Firm’, they should do it. Last night, they made the announcement though it seems quite contradictory at times. While they "intend to step back as 'senior' members of the Royal Family", they also want to "carve out a progressive new role within the institution". They want to become "financially independent", yet do that by being funded by the Duchy of Cornwall and live off favors by the Queen including a home at Windsor. That’s not really what your average Jane and Joe would consider "financially independent", is it? It’s neither financially independent from the family nor the institution of monarchy. Because let’s face it, Harry’s family wouldn’t have amassed such a ‘private’ wealth had his ancestors not ruled millions and billions of people over the past couple of hundred years. Unless he plans to re-enter the military or Meghan goes back to acting or them living off the money and funding all their ventures with the money Harry inherited from his mother and great-grandmother, I can’t see them financially supporting themselves because I sure do not hope they want to do so by cashing in on their royal connections with book deals, speaking engagements and whatever else that path has to offer.

Navigating seemingly non-royal life as a royal will be a tough act for sure. Being a royal in a reigning monarchy doesn't just come with perks but also duties. It is pretty much a public office. Trying to cash in on the title as private individuals is a recipe for disaster. Ask pretty much anyone in the immediate royal family who ever tried to earn their living. That’s not to say there is no way out for them. Or that the royal family shouldn’t start to carve out a way for people who have a style, title and public profile but aren’t expected to play a role after downsizing the monarchy. One way to go: Use official titles on official business, use your last name when not on official business. But it seems that is not the way Harry and Meghan plan on going. They want to go through life as Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Sussex because they know that that title is what will bring them money. So right now it looks more like they want to continue with the perks of having the title without the duty and public scrutiny it comes with. If Harry and Meghan think that there will be less scrutiny on them in the months to come, I'm afraid they are dreaming. There will be more speculation and a big focus on all their financial and personal dealings. By all means, go and be Mr and Mrs Mountbatten-Windsor, lead the life that you want to live and makes you happy wherever you like. But make a clear cut. It's always been a disaster when royals tried to have it both ways.

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