Friends, readers, those of you who have accidentally clicked on this story while trying to get a MAFS update – we have arrived at a strange, new and unexpected place – pity.
Pity, that is, for Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
These two might have their robust chia seed-fuelled health, a Californian home just begging for its own Real Housewives shoot, tens of millions of dollars and Oprah’s second-most private mobile phone number, but the Sussexes have become something I never thought they would be: A bit wretched. Lamentable. Just … sad.
The tipping point here came on Thursday morning when those hard boiled journalist sorts over at the Daily Mail revealed that last year, after the funeral of Her late Majesty, the Sussexes asked US President Joe Biden and his wife Dr Jill Biden if they “could get a ride back to the United States on Air Force One”.
“It would have been a grand photo-op: Harry and Meghan climbing the steps of the famous blue-and-white 747 to wave alongside the President and First Lady of the United States,” the article stated.
Just let that sink in for a moment.
This is not a drill, a prank or some elaborate joke being played on us by a rebooted, culture wars-stoked version of Punk’d.
If this Mail story is correct, then the Sussexes (so often the 21st century answer to the question, what if Fergie understood how to use a ring light) thought that the most powerful man in the world wouldn’t mind letting them hitch a lift back to the US with him.
Despite no longer being on-the-books representatives of the crown, the duke and duchess allegedly believed that the President might be happy to share his in-flight nuts with two people with zero official or diplomatic status; that Biden would let the office of the President be co-opted into giving Brand Sussex a boost.
To some degree, this fits with the Air Force One story sounding like an original recipe, full-
fat Sussex ploy.
If there is one ongoing motif with this duo, it would be them regularly exhibiting a sense of exceptionalism. They might have flown the royal coop, but they still seem to think they should be entitled to the beneficial, shiny bits of official royal working life.
Take their security situation, which redefines “mess”.
On one hand, only a few of the most senior royal family members have full-time security with, say, Princess Anne only getting Met Officers when she is undertaking official engagements. However Anne is also unlikely to face the same “disgusting and very real” threats that Meghan has, as the former head of counter-terrorism policing revealed during a TV interview last year.
And yet … the duke and duchess seem to have assumed that the standards and criteria applied to other non-working members of the royal family would not apply to them, even when they had forsaken royal duties to be on the same bin run as Orlando Bloom.
Did the Sussexes really think that they could expect 10 Downing Street to keep footing the bill for their security when they lived on another continent and had the same diplomatic status as the cast of Corrie?
Since 2022, Harry has been waging a legal stoush over the decision by the Home Office’s Executive Committee for the Protection of Royalty and Public Figures, known as Ravec, to withdraw the family’s full-time protection.
Time and again Harry has butted up against rules and has seemed to have been befuddled when finding out said rules applied to him too, like in November 2020, when his request that a wreath be laid on his behalf on Remembrance Day was denied by Queen Elizabeth.
This was not some annual Windsor family day out but an official event – therefore just being genetically related to the sovereign didn’t warrant automatic inclusion.
Or there was the late Queen’s decision in 2021 to remove the duke and duchess’ remaining official patronages and Harry’s honorary military roles. Again, did they really think that Buckingham Palace would let them continue to hold symbolically important positions when they a) lived a ten-hour flight away and b) had very publicly rejected said Palace?
What it looks like from this distance is that back in early 2020, Harry and Meghan were desperate for the freedom of life outside the royal cage, an entirely understandable position, but they do not seem to have spent much if any time contemplating what the consequences of handing in their resignation letters might be.
Consequences like the White House baulking at handing out presidential plane rides like sweeties to two people who are fledgling Hollywood content creators with titles.
Thursday’s Mail story only adds to the sense of their exceptionalism.
If this was another point in time, this Air Force One story would be embarrassing, a sort of entitlement hangover, but instead, it comes after two months of a drip, drip, drip of bad news for Harry and Meghan.
Their brands and careers have taken a hiding of late. Their Spotify deal has gone the way of a bottle of Bacardi left next to Princess Margaret, i.e. gone in the blink of an eye, and there have been reports suggesting that Netflix will follow suit and delete their number once their current contract is up.
The Wall Street Journal has described the couple’s “Hollywood foray” as “looking like a flop” and the Journal also reported: “Archewell employees and associates say the company often lacks direction, and that its founders at times seem surprised by the work required to finish entertainment projects”.
Last month, an industry insider told Page Six that the duke and duchess “have come off as being lazy and difficult”. (I could throw in Spotify’s Bill Simmons’ line about them being “f**king grifters” here, but we’ve all heard it so many times now …)
The maraschino cherry on this bad news sundae are the highly speculative reports alleging that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex might be currently going through a rocky patch in their marriage. However, an insider close to the couple has denied the claim, telling Page Six, “It’s not true. It’s literally made up”.
Thus we get to this brave new place – pity.
These two just can’t seem to catch a break. The business press is now covering their failures and failings, the Emmys have passed them over, their podcasting dreams have been dashed, their charitable careers can be most sympathetically described as middling and they have failed to win widespread US public support or acclaim.
The cruellest cut: Harry and Meghan ending up flying back to the West Coast on a commercial airline.
But at least things haven’t gotten as bad for them as they have for Their Royal Highnesses Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. Their daughter Lady Ella Windsor’s former boyfriend Aatish Taseer has said of travelling with the HRHs: “On the flight back from Sardinia, a velvet rope cordoned off the first row alone … A moment of silence ensued, then there was a dull roar on the Jetway, and a planeload of lobster-red British tourists poured onto the flight, muttering, ‘Wot’s this, wot’s this?’ as they rushed past the grandson of George V.”
Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.