Meghan dilemma Harry can’t escape
When Harry and Meghan the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made their shock announcement to the world in January that they wanted to quit as senior members of the royal family, there was one figure in Windsor history who was immediately dredged up and referenced ad nauseam: Wallis Simspon. The thinking went, here again was a divorced American who had dazzled a British Prince; here again was a couple willing to give up a position in the royal family to have the sort of personal lives they craved.
Six months on from the Sussexes 'abdication', I think that the figure most analogous here is not Wallis but Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor. (Or as he was known for 326 days in 1936, King Edward VIII.) Edward was destined to be King from the day he was born, a man whose life (like Princes Charles and William now) was defined by dutiful patience in the wait for a job he had never asked for.
RELATED: Awkward Meghan moment we missed
After less than a year on the throne, on December 11, 1936 Edward abdicated, marrying Wallis six months later. While the Windsors had each other, their new lives were a largely aimless existence of being feted by European society while having to find a way to make ends meet.
First they were exiled to live in France in a house provided for them by the French government, then when war broke out the Windsors were dispatched to the Bahamas where the Duke was to serve as Governor.
For the rest of Edward's life, his was a desultory existence without focus and without any defined role. Most historians and biographers agree: For this, and other reasons, he was deeply unhappy.
Not quite a century later, there is a certain sense of deja vu. A Prince and his adored wife have left the United Kingdom to build a new life overseas. And, according to a number of recent reports, again we have a British Prince who, after a lifetime of duty and toeing the line, has found himself somewhat lost.
Arthur Edwards is The Sun's veteran royal photographer, having accompanied members of the house of Windsor on tours of 43 Commonwealth nations over a 40-year career. Last week he wrote a piece, saying he thought the duke had "lost the plot" after the royal said during an official Queen's Commonwealth Trust roundtable that the "uncomfortable" history of the Commonwealth needed to be addressed.
Edwards is not the only person venturing this sort of opinion. Over the weekend royal biographer Tom Quinn said that, according to people who are in touch with the Sussexes, the 35-year-old Prince is now feeling "slightly lost" and that he is "now experiencing in America what Meghan was experiencing [in Britain]".
"Harry is really struggling with it, because what's he going to do in LA? What's he going to do anywhere?," Quinn has said.
"I'm not saying Harry absolutely hates it in America … But having got there, Harry does feel slightly lost because he is now experiencing in America what Meghan was experiencing here.
"What's his role? He can't take the labrador for a walk every day for the rest of his life. He can't get a job in McDonald's or for an investment bank, what's he going to do?
Even those close to the couple were expressing similar views. Conservationist Jane Goodall, who visited the couple at home only months after their son Archie was born last year, said in an interview in April this year that she had been in touch with them since they moved to North America. "I think he's finding life a bit challenging right now … I don't know how his career is going to map out," Goodall told the Radio Times.
Harry, like Edward 70 years before him, seems to be finding out just how challenging it is to be what one British columnist recently termed "a Prince without a portfolio." Up until recently, Harry's life, and identity, have been clearly defined by duty: as a representative of the Queen, a soldier, and a leader committed to helping veterans. Currently, only the last item on that list remains true.
While the Sussexes are gearing up to launch their new charity Archewell in 2021, these recent accounts paint a picture of the 35-year-old father as something of a lost soul, distanced from the people and institutions who played such a crucial role in helping him forge his identity as an adult after a traumatic adolescence.
It is clear that both Harry and Meghan are people compelled to use their voices and platform to build something meaningful and inspirational. However, surely Archewell will take time to build and gain traction, especially in a country battered by the rampant march of COVID-19 and the associated economic havoc.
In June, it was announced that Harry and Meghan had signed on as clients of Harry Walker Agency, the pre-eminent A-list speakers bureau who also boasts people such as the Obamas and the Clintons on their books. Assuming that life does gradually return to normal and that commercial opportunities such as this will eventuate for the Sussexes, the question is, will this give him what he needs?
Everyone who has met or worked with Harry talks about his compassion, his zeal and his humanity and there can be no question that he is a man driven to make a difference. Given that, will speaking to roomfuls of wealthy bankers or gaggles of tech bros in co-ordinating puffer vests about conservation or mental health really fill that particular void?
For Meghan and Harry, like the rest of the world, the coming months and years are going to be marked by uncertainty and some level of chaos. For the duke, a man whose sense of duty is such he voluntarily served two tours on the frontline in Afghanistan, he now faces a new, potentially lengthy, battle: To carve out a role that truly satisfies and to build a sense of identity in this brave new world.
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 Meghan dilemma Harry can't escape