After 48 hours of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex dominating the headlines, William and Kate face a difficult new reality.
Of all the iconic photo backdrops in the royal pantheon – Buckingham Palace balconies, Kensington Palace Drowning Gardens, St Mary Magdalene Church on the Sandringham estate – none has played such a central role in what has become a royal soap opera in recent years than a simple stretch of road. to St George’s Chapel in Windsor.
It was there, in 2018, the world saw so many Hollywood A and B-list artists walk into church to watch one of their own – a former cable TV actress – morph into a real princess.
Then in 2021, the whole world’s eyes are set on the exact same bland stretch of road as Prince Harry, the royal fugitive, briefly returning to the stables just weeks after appearing on TV screens around the world to denounce his family’s treatment of him and his wife.
In much the same place where, just three years before Oprah Winfrey waved to the crowd, millions watched with bated breath as Kate, Duchess of Cambridge became the first Windsor to speak publicly to HRH who was turned into a permanent scapegoat.
And now? Well, that same path just provided the backdrop for the new palace’s largely unnoticed defeat.
Yesterday, the younger generation of the Queen’s family turned to St George’s Chapel for the usual Easter Sunday service with William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arriving in the same colors as their two eldest children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
If ever there was a picture of the perfection of the great kingdom, this is it. Sunlight! Happy family! Photogenic little boy!
It’s the kind of photo that should have image editors along and wide Fleet Street eagerly barking into the phone to scream about the front page and the kind of photo that should make the Queen’s most senior courtiers heave a sigh of relief to their afternoon Horlick.
There’s only one royal show that anyone is interested in this weekend and that takes place with just a ferry ride in the Netherlands, starring none other than our aforementioned little screen star, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
Last week she and her husband Prince Harry returned the deux to England, the first time the two had been in Blighty together since the histrionics of 2020. The Sussexes, in the words of their spokesperson, “stopped in England” to see “Grandmother Duke”, where they were also met his father, Prince Charles, in a statement that surprisingly missed anything resembling a regal courtesy.
And then went to The Hague in the Netherlands for the Invictus Games, the sports championship for wounded, wounded and sick soldiers, both serving and veterans, which Harry founded in 2014.
Every two-bit news channel, website, blog and community newspaper from London to Luanda has now spent the last 48 hours breathlessly covering the pair’s return to the limelight that has featured more dress changes than Coachella’s mainstage performance.
If there was some kind of alarm bell inside Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, perhaps some kind of hand-painted porcelain number they took from their Hanoverian relatives and which was usually reserved for calling footmen, then today was the day to start ringing it urgently.
Because what we have just witnessed is the shape of things to come and the news for the Windsor family is all bad.
The royal family, like the world, has been on a defensive pattern since March 2020. The pandemic has put all our plans, hopes and dreams into place as we stockpile toilet paper and throw away the failed sourdough starter. It also means that any grand plans for post-palace world domination that Harry and Meghan might be hiding have been largely frozen.
What just happened in The Hague this weekend has been our first real taste of what post-Megxit life is really like and its harrowing picture for the Queen, the loyal monarch and Kensington Palace communications staff.
Thanks to these clashing events, Easter Sunday services and the Invictus Games, for the first time we’ve actually seen a couple go head-to-head due to circumstances – and William and Kate have been completely and utterly knocked out of the water by the made-for-TV Sussexes. program.
For proof, look no further than pro-palace hardcore Sun today’s newspaper cover. Kate, a certifiable beauty in her Emilia Wickstead number, has been relegated to what seems like a cursory, sleek nod (with William, George and Charlotte completely cut from the frame) while the Sussex soap opera monopolizes much of the estate’s prized front yard.
Instead of the British newspapers enthusiastically raving about the Cambridges today, or the fact that the Windsor cousins put on an impressive show of union, everyone wants to talk or read about megawatt Harry and Meghan, the show that took center stage at the Invictus Games.
Every outfit, wink and word of the Duchess has been covered with the same microscopic and obsessive detail as the second coming, only with a much improved blow dry. (Jesus never really did much with his beautiful keys, did he?)
(It is very fitting that the great Sussex resurrection took place at exactly the same time that Christians celebrated the resurrection of Nazareth’s most famous carpenter from the dead.)
What we’ve just seen is the palace’s worst fears about Harry and Meghan manifested in high-definition close-ups: That the Sussexes will completely and completely monopolize the world’s attention and interest and nothing less than Kate rocking into St George’s Chapel in a see-through gown that it’s a trend that showing off One’s Knickers could almost overthrow Sussex dominance.
Let’s get one thing straight here: We’re not talking about the cheesy popularity contests that striped palace staff can rigidly dismiss as under them.
Public attention is the commodity that powers the monarchy. Buckingham Palace needs the British and those of us across the Commonwealth to pay attention to what HRH is doing to maintain support for the institution. To ensure survival, palaces must be seen as relevant and a force for good in contemporary society, a message they can only convey if we, the public, pay attention.
Because if a climate change project is announced in the jungle and no one is watching, does it really make a sound?
William and Kate are on increasingly shaky ground here and I’m not sure they fully know how to play this game. Right now, the Windsors look like they’re at sea on how to compete in this new royal arms race.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that the Cambridges’ (really interesting and innovative) program of good work can’t compete when Harry and Meghan look stunning and roll it all up to 11. Two innately charismatic people, freed from any palace restrictions and with the tenacity of Netflix’s budget. behind them, will always prove to be far more compulsively watchable than the two well-meaning hardworking types who competently get things going.
And this is all before we actually get to watch the Sussexes at work. There are 30 TV crews in the Netherlands right now, filming the couple and Invictus Games for an upcoming documentary for their streaming masters and masters, Netflix. I don’t think there’s much doubt that when we finally get to see this offering, we’ll finally be watching Harry and Meghan’s canonization on screen.
What William and Kate need to do, and sharp one, is figure out how to reclaim control of at least some of the spotlight.
Harry and Meghan have been released and currently, they are the only show anyone would be interested in overeating.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with over 15 years of experience working with some of Australia’s leading media titles