The problem with Kate’s glam new look

Kate moment that Meghan would‘ve hated

COMMENT

A whopping part of royal life, when you really look at it, comes down to one simple thing: Standing Around. Standing Around at diplomatic dos, Standing Around on the Buckingham Palace balcony, Standing Around at Ascot and pretending to be interested when Princess Anne is droning on about the form guide and Standing Around meeting Brits in regional rec centres.

It's a job that requires sturdy shoes and an even sturdier ability to not look fatally bored while doing all the aforementioned, thoroughly dull standing.

High on the list of Standing Around functions is Remembrance Day which sees the royal family don black, a colour usually reserved to mark funerals and the death of a dorgi, to pay their respects to the millions of men and women of the Commonwealth who died in armed conflict.

This year, thanks to the spread of COVID, things will look particularly different at the cenotaph, however, in previous years, things go by rote. Princes Charles, William, Harry and Andrew - all decked out in their military finery - lay wreaths at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. (Charles took over this particular duty from the Queen in 2017.) Meanwhile, Her Majesty watches proceedings from a nearby balcony at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office building with the royal plus-ones by her side.

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But even Standing Around On A Balcony involves scrupulous adherence to the pecking order. (For example, ever wondered why Princess Anne always ends up lodged halfway behind a pillar during Trooping the Colour?)

The viewing spots at Foreign & Commonwealth Office building were evidently not designed to hold a small horde of hatted HRHs, thus the Windsors spread out across two, with the order of precedence on dull, devastating display.

Therefore, thanks to the comparatively tiddly size of the building's balconies, on Remembrance Day, following hierarchy does not simply mean lowlier members are shunted to the back to be obscured by whatever vertiginous, four-figure fascinator Kate Duchess of Cambridge has chosen - but they are in fact relegated to stand on a whole other balcony.

In 2018, Meghan Duchess of Sussex took her place on the second balcony with the German First Lady, Elke Büdenbender, while Kate enjoyed a primo spot alongside the Queen and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall.

The following year saw something of a repeat, only this time Meghan was wedged between Prince Edward's wife, Sophie the Countess of Wessex, and Princess Anne's husband, Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence. (Basically, they were a balcony of royal plus-ones.)

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At last year’s Remembrance Day service, Kate shared a balcony with the Queen and Camilla while Meghan was relegated to stand between Sophie and Tim. Picture: James Veysey/Shutterstock
At last year’s Remembrance Day service, Kate shared a balcony with the Queen and Camilla while Meghan was relegated to stand between Sophie and Tim. Picture: James Veysey/Shutterstock

There might be no better image to illustrate the cold, hard reality of royal life than the shots of these events; in-your-face proof that hard work, commitment and drive will always, always pale in importance in the royal scheme of things and that the line of succession trumps everything.

On the day that the 2019 shot was taken, Harry and Meghan were the most dazzling members of the royal family and yet despite that, there she was (sorry Sophie and Tim) stuck alongside the house of Windsor's second string players, with the Queen and two future Queens together at a distance.

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The lesson that Meghan was forced to learn again and again in 2018 and 2019 was that even if you labour away tirelessly at your duties, even wake up at 5am to throw yourself into your chosen causes, even if you change religions, move countries and produce an adorable heir, you will still never, ever end up on top.

In the royal context, all that hard work and sacrifice is not laudable, it's expected; Expected that you will get on with it all without any need of reward or ever being on the receiving end of an occasional prim 'well done'.

Time and time again, Harry and Meghan have been forced to confront their rank, despite the fact they were by far and away the Firm's most dazzling members. In this context, according to the recent Sussex biography Finding Freedom, the public adoration they generated not only did not buoy their royal standing but was viewed as something of a threat.

Freedom's authors write: "In the short period of time since their fairytale wedding, Harry and Meghan were already propelling the monarchy to new heights around the world. The Sussexes had made the monarchy more relatable to those who had never before felt a connection. However, there were concerns that the couple should be brought into the fold; otherwise, if left as they were, the establishment feared their popularity might eclipse that of the royal family itself.

"As their popularity continued to grow, so did Harry and Meghan's difficulty in understanding why so few were looking out for their interests inside the Palace."

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In December 2019, Buckingham Palace released an official photo of the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George taken in the throne room, a very blunt reminder of who really matters in the house of Windsor.

According to the recently published Battle Of Brothers by Robert Lacey, "Palace sources have also let it be known that the plan of depicting the direct line of royal succession was enthusiastically supported by Prince William, who was not saying anything for the record - but who wanted to send his younger brother a message."

A subtle putting-in-place, this was not.

On March 9 this year, Harry and Meghan attended the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey, their last official outing as working members of the royal family. While in previous years, both the Cambridges and the Sussexes had taken part in the royal procession ahead of the service, in 2019 had been decided by the palace that only the senior members of the family - the Queen, Charles, Camilla, William and Kate - would take part. The 'junior' royals - Harry, Meghan, Edward and Sophie - would have to simply take their seats ahead of the service.

As Lacey writes, "The subservience of a 'spare' - one of the basic reasons for this very sad parting of the ways - could not have been more strikingly illustrated."

While William ultimately interceded and he and Kate joined the 'junior' members and did not take part in the official procession, this incident perfectly illustrates the many, many minor humiliations the 'spare' is expected to politely swallow in the name of duty.

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If Harry and Meghan had stayed put rather than quitting as full-time working royals and waltzing off into the Californian sunset, it would have meant knowingly accepting a lifetime of these sorts of indignities and constant reminders of their inferior standing again and again and again.

Even the most robust of egos would have struggled under the weight of such constant reminders of Harry's second-class status.

In fact, you don't have to look any further than the lives of Princess Margaret and Prince Andrew, the most famous 'spares' of the last century, to clearly see the miserable, if not ignominious, fates that await the younger siblings of a sovereign.

 

Is it any surprise then, that Harry and Meghan wanted out? To live a life where their talents, hard work and passion could be acknowledged and where they did not face being repeatedly shoved aside to let William and Kate bask in the spotlight, a position they occupy simply through dint of birth?

In a TV interview last year, Meghan told ITV's Tom Bradby, "I never thought that this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair." While the Duchess was talking about the media and the regular press maulings she had faced over the last several years, her words are equally applicable to royal life.

Despite the wild luxury and the privilege, it wasn't easy and it certainly never has and never will be a fair institution. To join it requires a tacit understanding that royalty has absolutely nothing to do with equitableness or merit.

Because, when it comes to being royal, fair has nothing to do with it at all.

So, maybe I got it wrong. Being royal isn't just about Standing Around - instead, for the vast majority of the house of Windsor, to be royal involves Standing Around and Accepting You Will Never Come First.

And Harry and Meghan? In their new lives in Santa Barbara, there is no Standing Around required at all.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.

Originally published as Kate moment that Meghan would've hated


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