Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had big plans for their future – but the Queen had other ideas, and a new report has claimed she didn’t hold back.
Take a look at photos of the Queen with her extended family during times when coming within six feet of the sovereign did not constitute a threat to national security and one thing is clear: The Queen looks tiny. Nearly Lilliputian in fact.
In shot after shot, she is dwarfed by her children, grandchildren and soon, great-grandchildren, a diminutive figure whose trademark expression can best be described as grim forbearance.
But her stature belies the power she not only holds but still very much cunningly wields as monarch and as the head of the house of Windsor. Now, a new report has quashed any lingering doubts over her continued iron grip and authority over the titled lot of them, revealing the powerful role the diminutive 94-year-old played in the historic events around Megxit.
This Friday marks one year since Harry and Meghan Duke and Duchess of Sussex shocked the world by taking to Instagram to announce that they wanted out as full-time working members of the royal family. It was a bombshell announcement which allegedly blindsided the Queen and Prince Charles who had only been given mere moments warning of the earthquake that was about to rock the monarchy.
The palace quickly moved to reassume control, with it being reported that Her Majesty had firmly told the various households involved to find “workable solutions” in “days not weeks.” Five days later, Harry met with grandmother, father and brother at the Queen’s Norfolk home Sandringham. In only a matter of hours, one of the most consequential royal decisions to be made in decades (if not a century) had been reached: Harry and Meghan would quit wholesale as official representatives of the Queen in favour of charting their own course.
Now a report by the Daily Mail’s royal editor Rebecca English has, for the first time, painted an unflinching picture of just the crucial role Her Majesty played as she faced one of the biggest crises to buffet the palace during her 68-year reign.
In English’s telling, when presented with the half-in, half-heart model her grandson and granddaughter-in-law had initially devised, a model that would have seen them pursue money-making plans while also still undertaking some official royal duties, the Queen acted decisively, adopting a hard-line stance.
In short, no way Jose.
English writes: “As head of The Firm, [Her Majesty] put aside her genuine fondness for her grandson and the deep personal hurt she felt at his actions.
“And she moved quickly to put Harry straight on his notion that he and Meghan could enjoy the best of both worlds, making their fortunes in LA while ‘supporting’ her as part-time royals from 6,000 miles away.”
RELATED: Harry follows Meghan’s ‘woke’ ways
A royal source told English: “Harry was told very clearly in January by his grandmother that ‘you work for the monarchy, the monarchy doesn’t work for you’. And if you can’t accept that, then you need to walk away. Her Majesty was remarkably clear and decisive on that point and has never deviated from it, not once.”
Another source is quoted as saying: “The Queen is very firmly of the opinion that you can’t pick and choose what you do when it comes to the institution. Either you are in — or you are out.”
Overall, the picture that this story paints is of Her Majesty swiftly taking a steadfast position about the Sussexes’ desire to mix HRH-dom with paying jobs and never wavering since.
You only have to rewind to the early aughties to understand why the Queen has taken such a firm stance. After Prince Edward and Sophie Countess of Wessex wed in 1999, the couple tried to keep their commercial ambitions afloat (he had a TV production company, she ran a moderately successful PR firm) while still repping Her Majesty. As 2000 rolled around, Sophie especially was held up as a model of new millennium royalty as she and her bulky Motorola mobile made deals, no lolling around and spending her days reading Horse and Hound and debating the merits of grouse over pheasant.
RELATED: Insider reveals Meghan’s next move
That impressive dream collided painfully with cold, hard reality ultimately proving that senior members of the royal family can’t assume totally normal working lives no matter how much they might set their Armani- suit clad hearts on it.
In 2001, the so-called ‘Sophie tapes’ hit the press, after the Countess and her business partner were fooled by a reporter posing as Middle Eastern Sheik’s assistant. In a transcript of the tapes the royal was caught making disparaging comments about Prince Charles and his then partner (now wife) Camilla. Sophie’s partner in the PR firm was recorded saying that “he could arrange for the countess and her husband Prince Edward to endorse various business deals which the fake sheikh pretended he was trying to establish,” per reporting from the time.
It was deeply embarrassing for both Sophie and the royal family and she not long after shuttered her business and assumed full-time royal duties.
In 2002, Edward stepped down from running his company after one of their film crews was caught trying to shoot Prince William at university in Scotland, in contravention of palace privacy guidelines.
All of this happened while the Wessexes were still trying to wave the flag for Queen and country. You see the rub right?
Both of their attempts largely crashed and burned, a painful and embarrassing lesson about what happens when Windsors try to keep a foot in both in the royal camp and the commercial world. Ultimately both Sophie and Edward realised they could not have their cake and eat it too.
For the Queen, I wonder if there was a sense of deja vu when this time last year, another young newlywed Windsor duo presented her with their clever clogs idea to combine paying jobs and monarchical duties.
RELATED: Why the Queen will never step down
The Wessex disaster might explain why, in January, when faced with the Sussexes’ DIY blueprint, the Queen acted swiftly and categorically to protect the Crown, reportedly presenting Harry with a choice between accepting the status quo or leaving entirely to pursue their professional and money-making plans.
There is a certain irony that dosh has reportedly played such a role in this messy chapter in royal history given Her Majesty famously doesn’t ever carry any cash around with her, after all, it’s not as if she ever needs change for a quick Pret-A-Manger sausage roll when she’s on the go.
“It was their choice to leave and seek their fortunes elsewhere. No one exiled them. Indeed, the Queen made clear she didn’t want Harry and Meghan to go and that they are still very much-loved members of her family and have her support,” an insider told English.
“The deals they have done since moving to California clearly show the truth of it: they simply had ambitions that were completely incompatible with being members of the Royal Family.”
(Similarly in Finding Freedom, authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durnad quote a “source familiar with the negotiations” that took place after the Sandringham Summit to hammer out the nitty gritty of the Sussexes’ exit as saying: “The biggest row was over money, because it always is.”)
After the drama, sadness and tumult of 2020, it would be easy to start to see the Queen as a shrunken figure, especially as Prince Charles and Prince William step to the fore and assume more official, regal duties. Sequestered away inside Windsor Castle, there is something a bit diminished about her regal presence; Her Majesty’s face squished into a Zoom window as she gamely undertakes an official video hardly carries the same gravitas as the sovereign in her fur-fringed ceremonial robes, the Imperial State Crown towering atp her head, as she opens parliament.
However, lost in that image, and supported by this Daily Mail story, is the fact that nonagenarian sovereign (who hits the big 9-5 in April this year) is still firmly in charge as CEO of ‘The Firm.’
When push came to shove, when she was forced to choose to be acting as a grandmother and as Queen, there was no dallying or confusion.
The Crown came first.
After ascending to the throne in 1952, the Queen was forced to choose between giving Princess Margaret permission to marry a divorced man, despite the damage many felt it would do given the wounds of Edward VIII’s abdication were still very raw and protecting the Crown but crushing her beloved sister’s happiness.
During Megxit, from what we know, a similar dynamic played out. As a (truly) loving grandmother, she would have been driven to help Harry and Meghan to find the happiness and peace they craved.
However, as Queen, she had no such latitude.
And that is the inherent, often overlooked, tragedy of being Queen (or King). It is a job that pits filial love against duty; of the emotional tug of family against the rectitude of ruling. The sh***y duality of being on the throne is that it requires a person to be a hard-nosed, iron-backed leader who will assume a single minded focus on preserving an institution that dates back more than a millennia, no matter the cost to those you love the most.
There is something deeply poignant about the Queen’s reign being bookended by the same tug of war between family and duty.
As we start 2021, the more things change, the more things stay the same.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.