Maybe they were out of letterhead at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday. Or maybe it was the junior courtier is in charge of the press release’s day off. Or maybe King Charles had forgotten to inform his aides of this development because he was too busy re-alphabetising his collection of books on Sufi mysticism or reorganising his rock collection. (Even Kings need days off, after all.)
How else to explain one of the oddest series events in recent royal history?
I’m talking of course about the very strange rollout of the news that Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have christened their daughter, announcing her as Princess Lilibet, thus making her the only Californian toddler who could have her own cypher. (Likewise their son Archie, 3, could now, should he choose, have ‘prince’ slapped on his Paw Patrol lunch box.)
What’s all so strange here is not that the Sussex little ‘uns are now officially a prince and princess, titles to which they were entitled from the second that grandpa Charles acceded to the throne last year, but how all of this unfolded.
See, the World did not hear of this development via the cut glass vowels of a Palace spokesperson or via a crisp official statement, but courtesy of People magazine.
Never before, as far as I’m aware, has an announcement regarding titles come from anywhere but the Palace and certainly never before via a celebrity mag that is generally more concerned with breaking bit stories like the Clooneys announcing they have a new rescue kitten or for some America’s Got Talent star revealing they have gotten bangs.
Royal title news coming via an American celebrity rag is about as normal as the King choosing the West Barry Bugle to announce the next State visit or Princess Anne actually taking a day off. (Now there’s a woman who has never ever known the pleasure of an all-inclusive getaway to the Costa Brava.)
People’s scoop would seem to have caught both royal reporters and The Firm on the hop.
While a royal source told the Mirror’s Russell Myers that “appropriate conversations” between the Palace and Montecito had “taken place ahead of today’s news,” confusion still seemed to reign in London. At just after 12pm, London-time, the People story hit the internet, leaving the small cadre of highly credible royal reporters who cover Charles & co. seemingly scrambling.
At 12.12pm the Daily Mail’s veteran royal editor Rebecca English tweeted about it before adding at 12.19pm, “I’m awaiting clarification about this from Buckingham Palace,” and it was nearly half an hour later, at 12.55pm, that confirmation seemed to come through, with her posting that “the Sussexes have now chosen” to use the titles for their children.
It would take a number of hours for the full picture of what has been going on behind the scenes at the Palace and in Montecito to come out.
The thing to not lose sight of here is not what’s being said and done but what’s not. Not a single word of support or happiness has passed the very thin lips of anyone speaking officially on behalf of the King that his grandchildren will now be known as prince and princess or about Lilibet’s christening.
Nor was the Honiton royal christening gown (well, the replica they have been using since the Victorian era) was shipped over from the UK, the same frilly number used for all royal babies or any of the holy water sourced from the River Jordan normally used for these moments FedEx-ed to the Sussexes.
Just might the Sussexes have been trying to engineer some sort of checkmate here?
The timing of Lilibet’s christening is particularly interesting. While son Archie was dunked at about two-months-old, why the duke and duchess might have waited until their daughter is just several months shy of her second birthday is a bit of a mystery.
Things have not exactly been tip-top in Camp Montecito of late, with both South Park and comedian Chris Rock skewering the royal couple ever-so-publicly and ever-so-painfully.
Then came the humiliating revelation they were being booted out of their home on the royal estate, Frogmore Cottage, a move that the King decided to take while the ink was still drying on the first copies of Harry’s memoir Spare. (Well, within a reported 24-hours of the title being released.)
It would make sense if the Sussexes’ decision-making regarding timing had something to do with the fact they are now regularly the butt of TV jokes and that their approval numbers in the US have only plummeted and then plummeted some more. (They have hit an lowest in January followed by tumbling further to hit an even lower low in February).
Mocked and viewed unfavourably by a swath of the American public, this christening news sure did come at a super duper handy time, offering something of a PR firebreak for the Sussexes. Not only does this sweet story change the channel, so to speak, and switch the narrative but it also serves as a handy reminder of their royal status.
No matter why the duke and duchess chose now to christen their daughter and to tell the world, what is not up for discussion is the sheer, gross hypocrisy of it all.
Harry and Meghan are fresh off having staged the biggest strike against the British monarchy since Oliver Cromwell started getting ideas, and have both spent much of their various TV, interview and book outings detailing the trauma they experienced as a result of having been a part of the institution.
Harry has, over the last couple of years, said the royal family is guilty of “unconscious bias,” accused them of “total neglect,” argued that he wants to “break the cycle” of the “pain and suffering” of his childhood and said that being born into the monarchy means “you inherit every element of it without choice.”
For the love of god, why would he and Meghan want their children to be so publicly associated and tied to an organisation that they say is biased, neglectful and the source of so much misery for them?
Supposedly, this is all about choice for Archie and Lili. The Telegraph has reported “The Sussexes are said to be keen to not deny their children their birthright, but to allow them the chance to decide for themselves when older whether to drop or keep using the titles.”
But then why not go down the very smart path taken by another royal spare, Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex? Like Archie and Lilibet, their children, daughter Louise and son James, were born as grandchildren of the monarch, thus making them entitled to be known as a princess and prince.
However, the eminently sensible Wessexes decided they wanted to try and achieve that loftiest of goals – some semblance of family normalcy – and instead chose much lesser titles and leaving it up to the children to decide on their 18th birthdays whether they would like the full titles to which they are entitled and whether they want to use their HRHs.
In November 2021, Lady Louise chose to keep things exactly as they were, turning down the chance to become a princess, and last anyone heard she was studying English at St Andrews University, having previously had a part-time job working at a garden centre where she was being paid minimum wage. Throw in a dented 2012 Astra and you can’t get much more average than that. (Well, aside from the 120-room joint she calls home with her parents, the monstrously huge and ugly Bagshot Park.)
Would it not be easier for Archie and Lili growing up in California without being encumbered by titles? Knowing they can take them off ice and start using them when they are adults?
In all of this, there is one deeply moving detail that has been totally overlooked. Yesterday, Wednesday, was exactly six months since Queen Elizabeth passed away, the very woman that Lili was named after. Funny that there was not a single mention of Lil’s namesake connection to Her Majesty in that People story.
Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
Originally published at www.news.com.au