Meghan and Harry’s terrible start to 2021

Imagine if we could get our hands on a time machine and could travel back to exactly one year ago today: Buy loo paper in bulk, we would cry, and invest in stock in tracksuit makers!

Also, as by the end of 2020 we'd add, Oprah will be spruiking a vegan latte brand backed by Meghan Duchess of Sussex and Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor's first public words will be broadcast as part of a $52 million deal with Spotify

Old us would think we'd gone mad and gotten into the cooking sherry far too early in the morning. It would have seemed just too preposterous and simply too wild to even consider for a moment that two frontline members of the house of Windsor would trade in their lofty positions to move to California to become "content creators" living down the road from Ellen.

But that was 2020: An extraordinary year of extraordinary events interspersed with us all stockpiling pasta.

As 2021 slowly grinds into gear, the Sussexes are firmly ensconced in their $20 million Montecito mansion, their new brand Archewell is up and running and they have inked a rumoured $180 million plus in headline-grabbing deals. The future should be bright, if not sparkling - vegan lattes for everyone!

But as this year begins, the picture is far more complex and not necessarily quite so rosy for the royal duo who have maintained their innate capacity to make waves.

First, came the debut of Archewell Audio, their podcasting endeavour, in late December. Their first episode featured a clutch of celebrities including Elton John and James Corden however the true star of the 33-minute outing was none other than their 18-month-old son Archie who uttered his first public words.

Adorable? Absolutely. Controversial? Hugely.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s 2020 Christmas card featured them and their young son Archie. Picture: Supplied
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s 2020 Christmas card featured them and their young son Archie. Picture: Supplied

Since the little boy's birth in 2019, Harry and Meghan have fiercely guarded the bub's privacy, only allowing strictly controlled media access to their first child. Since moving to North America, the couple has twice gone to court to take legal action to protect him from the intrusive long lenses of the paparazzi.

Which is why their decision to broadcast his first words via a commercial venture is so contentious. Cries of hypocrisy went up on social media; if they are so vigilant when it comes to their son's privacy, why share even a smidgen of him with the world? Or, as perennially savage Sussex critic Piers Morgan so bluntly put it, "They use him to flog their podcast".

Nor did their inaugural outing set the podcast world on fire, managing to only hit the seventh spot on the Spotify charts in the US after its launch despite an avalanche of publicity. At the time of writing it is ranking at number 10 in the states and fifth in Australia.

Given that Meghan is one of the most famous women in the world - if not the most famous woman - right now, and the opportunity to listen to the world's most famous couple banter is truly tantalising, one would have thought their first podcast would make much more of a splash.

 

Next up, we come to the unveiling of Archewell, the couple's long ballyhooed charitable entity. In late December, the website was unveiled, an amateurish, arty exercise in black and white and which offered up "A letter for 2021" which began "I am my mother's son. And I am our son's mother" set against images of a young Harry with Diana and a young Meghan with her mother Doria Ragland.

The sentiment was touching and clearly genuine however the execution, like many things Sussex-related, has only ended up ruffling feathers. Where in all of this was Harry's father Prince Charles? Where was the touching ode to his parenting and support?

Likewise, the prominent use of an image of their late mother also raised eyebrows with royal biographer Phil Dampier telling the Daily Mail: "I think William will be slightly worried if Harry uses Diana for any of his charitable or commercial ventures without consulting him, and I don't think he would be happy if Harry appears to be exploiting his mother's iconic status."

So what of Archewell? Denied the chance to use the "Sussex Royal" moniker as part of their Megxit deal with the Queen, news of this new name and brand was first revealed in February last year and now the world has gotten its first proper look at what nitty gritty of the endeavour.

 

 

As their website explains it, there are three arms to the brand: Archewell Foundation, Archewell Audio and Archewell Productions. What is interesting about this is that the Foundation arm is clearly identified as a "non-profit" while the Audio and Productions wings are the bodies attached to their megabucks Spotify and Netflix deals.

While there is every chance that Harry and Meghan intend to invest vast swathes of the revenue from their huge business deals into the philanthropic side of Archewell (which would make sense given they have repeatedly made donations over the last year to non-profit organisations close to their hearts) it is curious they have not adopted more of a church and state division between their charitable and commercial projects.

The wisdom of cobbling together their ambitious (and exciting) do-goodery and their money-making endeavours under the same umbrella brand remains to be proven.

Then we get to Sussex courtroom drama part 674. On Monday, UK time, a judge in London will decide whether to grant Meghan her request for a summary judgment in her lawsuit against the Daily Mail for allegedly breaching her privacy. If her application is successful, it would stave off a courtroom showdown and a ruling would be made on the case soon.

If her legal request is denied, it raises the possibility of Meghan facing off against her estranged father Thomas Markle in an Old Bailey courtroom in October or November this year. The emotional and financial costs could be significant and a drawn out family saga on full, messy public display would not be a thrilling prospect for anyone involved. A senior royal source has told the Times "A trial would be traumatic for Meghan and Harry, it will expose palace operations, members of staff would be dragged into it on the witness stands … it would be deeply uncomfortable for the institution."

 

Lastly, this week marks the first anniversary of Megxit. The coming days are likely to see a deluge of post-mortems and think pieces and it seems unlikely that Fleet Street will be particularly gentle towards the duo.

However, if there is one thing 2020 has taught us about the Sussexes is that they are not only resilient but tenacious and single minded in their pursuit of what they think is right. Similarly, are no two public figures more naturally adept at defying odds, expectations, convention and established wisdom.

So, if we had that handy time machine, I wonder where things would stand on this day in 2022 … Are Harry and Meghan working with SpaceX to colonise Mars? Is the duchess planning a tilt at the White House? Does Archie have his own line of vegan playdoh?

If we have learnt one thing from the wild, wild ride that was 2020, when it comes to the Sussexes, anything is possible.

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 and Harry's terrible start to 2021



Bryan’s lifelong passion for basketball honoured

Premium Content Bryan’s lifelong passion for basketball honoured

Bryan Robins’ passion for basketball has been immortalised with a life membership...

Council responds to Yamba roundabout work traffic delays

Premium Content Council responds to Yamba roundabout work traffic delays

The contractor involved in constructing two roundabouts on Yamba Rd has been taken...

Grafton golfers ready to tee up for The Longest Day

Premium Content Grafton golfers ready to tee up for The Longest Day

Next week golfers will pick up their clubs at take to Grafton District Golf Club...