Queen’s total Sussex slap down revealed
167,000 likes. In a scant six weeks (or 49 days if you want to be precise) the post shared by Harry and Meghan the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on January 9 has racked up more comments than anything else they have ever posted to Instagram. Little wonder. In 201 words they breathtakingly revealed that they were stepping back as full-time working members of the royal family to "to carve out a progressive new role within this institution" and that they would now be "collaborating" with the Queen. All of which was an "exciting next step".
The reaction - by the British press and the world at large - was immediate, raucous and downright chaotic. They were making a brave dash for freedom! They were selfish Millennials who were turning their backs on the Queen!
Buckingham Palace, in turn, released a remarkably terse press release: "Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage … these are complicated issues that will take time to work through." (In total: 34 words.)
That purse-lipped approach did not last long. Within the week, the Queen had convened her renegade grandson along with Prince Charles and Prince William for what became known as the Sandringham Summit. Details of the Sussexes' exit terms were released immediately afterwards. The consensus was that Her Majesty has essentially given the couple a simple choice - you can be in or out of the royal family but you cannot occupy some nebulous grey area of your own choosing in between. They chose out.
It was a decision they had clearly not wanted to make. Days later, Harry delivered a remarkably personal speech saying: "It brings me great sadness that it has come to this."
And so like that, the Sussexes were gone. Since then they have been tucked away in a borrowed $20 million mansion on Vancouver Island whose ownership remains a mystery while the world watches and waits for their next move.
However, looking back and reading that January statement the question it becomes apparent just how little their new life resembles the one they had envisaged for themselves.
The initial model that the Sussexes had proposed was a sort of Frankenstein mishmash of monarchical duty and globetrotting celebrity. They would still be royal - but could also make money. They would be less bound by the inherent strictures of royal life yet would retain the regal status. They could roam the globe armed with ample 4G and build a charitable powerhouse at the same time as pulling in a pay cheque.
That life has largely been denied to them.
All of which, in hindsight, looks like this was an ill-conceived plan from the outset and that their vision was never going to fly with Her Majesty (had the Queen given the couple permission to follow through on this, it would have looked like Harry and Meghan were blatantly profiting off their royal status).
Instead of getting the hybrid life they fancied, they have been entirely relieved of royal responsibility leaving them in a sort of peculiar wilderness that brings to mind the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's peripatetic, aimless global existence.
Gone is the ability to brand themselves as "Sussex Royal" (thanks to British law rather than Queenly malice) meaning their Instagram account and snazzy new personal website will both need a revamp post haste.
They wanted to live in both the UK and North America. Given that their Buckingham Palace office has been disbanded that looks less and less like it will come to pass.
While last year the couple started the paperwork to establish the "Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex," over the weekend in another lengthy statement, it was revealed they were instead going "to develop a new way to effect change" … and would establish a "non-profit entity".
Days after arriving back in Canada in January, Meghan visited a Vancouver women's shelter and the Justice for Girls organisation. Their post-royal direction seemed clear - they would nail their altruistic colours to the mast post haste to emphasise the point that they might have left the royal family but they were just as focused on charity work as ever. Instead, in the weeks since then they have managed to have dinner with JLo and allegedly pick up a cheque for giving a speech to a roomful of investment bankers.
There is every chance that this period has been an anomaly and that unbeknown to the world they are beavering away behind closed doors on an awe-inspiring, grand philanthropic endeavour that will be game-changer.
However, in the meantime they have inadvertently given credence to criticism from some quarters that they are more interested in gadding about with A-listers and earning dosh than doing good things.
The pressure and burden of being a member of the royal family must be overwhelming in the extreme. For a couple with a young baby to want to relieve some of that strain is completely understandable if not the only sane option. Likewise, prioritising family and mental health are choices that should be lauded.
Where things started to get sticky for Harry and Meghan is when they told the world that they wanted exactly that space and breathing room - while also simultaneously looking like they wanted to Beyonce-ify their royal lives.
Way back in January - yes, it does feel like that was an age ago - nearly every story about their withdrawal from working royal life included a trite Marie Antoinette reference while "having your cake" references were bandied about with glee. As the Sussexes gear up to return to London for their final round of official engagements later this month, it has become apparent they have not ended up with any of the cake they wanted and would never have been allowed to eat it in the first place.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.