Why Queen Elizabeth’s plan to send Harry and Meghan to live in Africa was one of the worst strategies I’ve ever seen
Since I started writing this blog, I keep meaning to dig into royal situations from the recent past. It’s always been a goal of mine. However, with all of the breaking news coming from London and Windsor and California, I haven’t really been able to touch it. Today, while we have a brief reprieve from breaking royal news, let’s talk about one of the most tone-deaf strategies I’ve seen the Queen (or, more specifically, her advisors) try to execute: banishing Harry and Meghan to Africa for a few years.
This news came from a Sunday Times article in April of 2019 claiming that “courtiers have drawn up plans” to give Harry and Meghan a semi-official royal role in Africa that would combine promoting Britain overseas and becoming semi-official roving ambassadors for the Commonwealth.
Here is the gist of the plan:
- It was crafted by Buckingham Palace staff, with help from Queen Elizabeth’s former private secretary Christopher Geidt and David Manning, “former British ambassador to the US and special adviser on constitutional and international affairs to the two princes.”
- The plan was also approved by Queen Elizabeth herself. She felt that sending the couple to live in Africa for a few years would do two things:
- It would give Harry and Meghan and their (not born yet) baby time out of the spotlight, which is something that Meghan had said she’d desperately wanted; and
- Elizabeth apparently thought that this proposed project would be reminiscent of Elizabeth’s time living with Prince Philip in Malta in the early years of their marriage. Elizabeth was able to spend time with Philip, who was stationed with the Navy in Malta. She was able to live as a (somewhat) normal navy wife and enjoyed the quiet life she got to lead there. She got to go to the grocery store! By herself! Behold, pics of Elizabeth and Philip in Malta:
It isn’t said in the article, but this plan also seems to contain a certain sentiment of “we need these two out of our hair if we want anything we do not to be overshadowed.” One of BuckPal’s constant goals is to ensure that the monarch and their heirs apparent enjoy public approval. Anything or anyone that gets in the way of that needs to be carefully dealt with, and there’s a hint of that here with Meghan and Harry.
Normally, when asked about something like this, BuckPal either wouldn’t comment or would shut the rumour down immediately. However, when asked about the Sunday Times article, Buckingham Palace didn’t even really try to refute it. They said: “Any future plans for The Duke and Duchess are speculative at this stage. No decisions have been taken about future roles.” Buckingham Palace continued, “The Duke will continue to fulfil his role as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador.”
So…the story was true.
Why it’s terrible strategy
I can’t believe that I have to say this. I can’t believe that it was put forth by members of Queen Elizabeth’s staff as an option. But for the record, let me say why this strategy is so bad:
Suggesting that the British Royal Family’s first member of African descent, for all intents and purposes, “be sent back to Africa” is INCREDIBLY tone-deaf/ignorant if you want to assume Buckingham had the best of intentions, and actively racist and degrading if you want to assume the worst.
Maybe Queen Elizabeth really did hope that a few years out of the spotlight would do Harry and Meghan some good. Maybe it would have. But as much as they said it, Harry and Meghan didn’t want to leave the spotlight. They wanted to continue to be in the spotlight for as long as possible. They just didn’t want to follow Buckingham Palace’s rules. There is a difference.
And maybe the palace advisors and aides really did craft this plan with the hope that Harry and particularly Meghan could make an enormous difference in the lives of disenfranchised people in Africa.
But, even if we want to assume the best of intentions, no one at the palace decided to look at this from a lens of race or privilege. Or, if anyone did, they were likely a person of a nonwhite racial background, likely female, and likely on the bottom of the food chain and therefore probably either 1) too afraid to speak up in such a situation or 2) a person who did speak up and then was overruled by more senior old white men in suits.
And then, putting this proposal forward, and LEAKING IT TO THE SUNDAY TIMES SO MEGHAN AND HARRY WOULD FEEL TRAPPED INTO DOING IT, is hideous.
Why it’s possibly very cruel
The only other royals in the BRF who had an equivalent type of glamorous job/banishment to a Commonwealth state were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Super quick background on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Prince David was heir to the British throne. His dad died in 1936 and David became King (King Edward, because nothing in the monarchy is sensical). But he lasted for less than a year because he wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American woman. This caused a constitutional crisis, David abdicated the throne to marry Wallis, and they became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Also King Edward went back to being called David, his given birth name. Confusing, I know. This abdication is what caused Prince Albert to become King (King George, I told you it was nonsensical) and his eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, later became Queen Elizabeth. Still with me?
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were politely sent away to the Bahamas (Prince David, Duke of Windsor was installed as Governor of the Bahamas) in the middle of World War Two because they were both Nazi sympathizers. Yep, that’s right. A former King of the United Kingdom was a big fan of Adolf Hitler and the plans that he had. Here are David and Wallis meeting Hitler shortly after he abdicated:
In the BRF, then, if you get sent on a “long diplomatic mission abroad”, there’s sort of a connotation that you’re a problem that needs to be sent away so you won’t endanger yourself or others.
So if you’re Meghan and Harry, here’s what has just happened:
- You’re enjoying a ton of fame and goodwill from the UK and the world at large. Some people say you’re overshadowing Will and Kate and even the Queen, but that’s silly – isn’t good press for us good press for the whole family?
- Buckingham Palace puts out a statement without your permission saying that you’re really interested in living somewhere in Africa for a few years, both because Meghan is so loved there (and we all know why, wink nudge) and because we “need some time to cool down from being in the spotlight”.
- You also know that your great-uncle David and his wife Wallis were pretty big fans of the Nazis and were allegedly giving information to the Germans during WW2, and their punishment was to be sent away and placed in nominal ambassador-type roles until the dust settled. So by leaking out this article to the Sunday Times, the family has gotten pretty close to equating us with at best people who are silly and ignorant and shouldn’t be allowed at the adult table, and at worst active Nazi sympathizers and allies.
I’d be pretty mad if I were Harry and Meghan, wouldn’t you?
Harry and Meghan’s response
Here is How Harry and Meghan responded to the Africa Plan: they did exactly what QEII’s staff did. They leaked their feelings on it to a friendly media organization. At first, the idea of moving somewhere was taken down from several years to six months, per sources close to Daily Mail royal editor Rebecca English. Then, a day or two later, Harry and Meghan’s favourite royal reporter, Omid Scobie, published an article on Harper’s Bazaar titled:
Inside Prince Harry & Duchess Meghan’s Plans to Work—Not Move—Abroad: The Sussexes have long hoped to take on projects overseas, but leaving their home in the U.K. is not quite part of the plan.
The article is as close to a version of this gif as a member of a royal family could get:
Some notable quotes from the “Harry and Meghan are not moving to Africa and BuckPal can’t make them” article:
But while reports claim their work will tie in with a move abroad lasting up to three years, those close to Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan tell a different story. “Britain is their home and where they want to raise their family,” says a friend of the couple. “If they are to work abroad it would be a short stint.”
The source continues, “Let’s not forget that they are already committed to a number of charitable projects and patronages domestically. As well as being their home, the U.K. is still somewhere they have responsibilities they wouldn’t neglect.”
But this is my personal favourite:
Adds the Sussex friend, “Let’s be clear about one thing: Any decision the couple make about their future will be made by themselves for themselves. Harry and Meghan have always wanted to reach people on a global level and that is the only thing that’s motivating them. Aside from the Queen and Prince Charles, they’re not looking to other family members, or their teams, for guidance.”
In other words:
This whole kerfuffle had to have factored into Harry and Meghan’s decision to leave the BRF. It happened in the Spring of 2019, just as Meghan was about to deliver Archie, and BuckPal put out their leaked plans thinking that Harry and Meghan wouldn’t be able to respond to it. They did. Then they really did in January 2020 when they decided to leave.
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