Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s plans collapsed after the Queen’s death

Royal history is usually divided into periods of reign, but there are other, more personal events that complete different chapters. Take before and after Prince Charles looked at teen Lady Diana Spencer, or before and after Prince Andrew started hanging out with his new pal Jeffrey Epstein.

In January 2020, royal history went off the rails when Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, suddenly took a break in an almost imaginable plot twist.

You know what’s happened since then: $200 million deals, their appeal to prime-time confessor Oprah Winfrey, a chicken coop designer.

Over the years this saga has evolved in a rather predictable way, but over the past 24 hours one thought has been growing in my head: are we witnessing the beginning of the end of their dream of Megxit?

Oh, I don’t mean that the couple may suddenly want to return to the royal fold, to the long gray winters and to a country that has not yet fully embraced the power of crystal clear baths.

I also don’t mean that the royal family could suddenly decide all is forgiven and encourage them to move their collection of Diptyque candles back to their British home, Frogmore Cottage.

Rather, the royal landscape has changed drastically in the past three days since the death of his grandmother, the Queen, and it is now questionable where exactly the Sussex chips could fall.

Fast forward to 2020, when the world has recovered a bit from the fact that two members of the royal family got sick of opening bridges and rushed forward to make the American dream come true. For a while it seemed that the Sussexes had just performed a most skillful pas de deux. No more boring royal receptions and the need to make small talk with visiting Albanian trade delegations; no more sitting and watching a former Little Mix member sing the national anthem during endless official church services; no more hours spent in the sun at Buckingham Palace garden parties.

The couple staked their new post-royal identity on them as brave fugitives who were willing to blab about how screwed up the monarchy really was. And it’s a game that worked to some extent, as it kept them in the headlines.

Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to sell the “us vs. them” narrative when they can pose as two brave souls ready to share their pain with Oprah in the face of the looming, unyielding building of the Palace.

Instead, what has happened in recent days is that the Queen’s death has humanized the royal family in a truly unprecedented way, with her children and grandchildren expressing their grief publicly and to the masses without remorse.

Suddenly, not only sympathy arises, but, even more interestingly, a real understanding of the Windsors, of their entire imperfect set.

This feeling spreads across the pond. The United States may have ousted the king in 1783, but the backlash in the States was unexpectedly violent. The New York Stock Exchange held a moment of silence, Her Majesty’s face was projected onto the Empire State Building, and the news of her passing caused television networks to switch to continuous coverage.

That is, will Harry and Meghan return to their home in Montecito at the end of this month and find that the situation has changed? And has the wind changed only temporarily, or is there a longer tectonic shift in terms of public opinion?

The implications of this obviously go far beyond their ability to find the ear of a sympathetic broadcaster, but extend to their competitiveness as well. Netflix, Spotify and Penguin Random House, among others, struck big deals with the Duke and Duchess, who saddled themselves with $13.8 million in mortgages shortly after arriving in the United States.

If Harry and Meghan’s signature style of anti-Palace rhetoric suddenly starts to sound a little nasty and goes against public opinion, what implications might that have for their commercial prospects?

Something else drew attention as events unfolded after Her Majesty’s death, namely how empty life for the Sussexes in the US seems to be. Of course, they talk about their intention to do good, but all these ambitions never seem to translate into continuous action. Somehow the glitz and glamor and pallor with Oprah masked the emptiness of it all.

Now the pointlessness of their new career is getting more painful.

In February 2021, after their year-long cooling off period after Megxit, the Palace stripped him of his military ranks and both of them of their royal patronage, with the Palace releasing a statement mentioning “a life in public service”.

Four minutes later, the couple’s spokesman responded with a statement that ended with a snap: “The service is universal.”

As loud as their statement was, they were right. Each of us can do a really good job in this world, but it takes commitment, perseverance, and work even when the cameras are off.

But unfortunately, Harry and Meghan are very good at talking, not doing.

In the 21 months since that line of service, the couple have failed to accomplish anything meaningful or noteworthy on the charity front other than issuing smug press releases with the enthusiasm of two people who have a surplus of A4 people to get through.

Monarchy can be a ridiculously outdated institution; the very concept of a man who only by accidental birth becomes the ruler of nations is simply absurd; but today’s royal family is really making a positive contribution. The causes that take up most of their time – climate change, mental health and domestic violence, to name but a few – are some of the most pressing issues of our time, and the Palace has done an admirable job of making the Crown a stronger and more dynamic prospect.

On the contrary, the Sussexes’ efforts appear to be a never-ending stream of image management exercises, a constant stoking of celebrity status. Look at Meghan’s 40th birthday initiative, which almost immediately faded from view, and their haphazard meddling in issues ranging from paid parental leave to disinformation, just to name a few. These are all important reasons, but the couple’s hype never seems to lead to any consequences.

That’s why I’m wondering when Harry and Meghan joined William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales on their walk outside Windsor Castle yesterday, did they remember what it’s like to be part of something bigger? Something with real meaning and purpose?

The motto of the Prince of Wales Ich Dien (or “I serve” in German) dates back to 1346 and Edward the Black Prince. While they probably shouldn’t print this on their stationery, if ever there was something that belonged to William and Kate that the Sussexes had to permanently borrow, it was this.

Daniela Elzer is a royal expert and writer with over 15 years of experience working with a range of leading Australian media outlets.

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