In hindsight, with the benefit of all that 20/20 vision, new glasses, and the passage of time there is something a tad surprising about that infamous trip Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex took to Las Vegas in 2012.
He didn’t gamble.
As far as was reported at the time, the royal might have spent his days drinking and sloshing about in the cocktail of chlorine and antibiotic-resistant chlamydia in the MGM Grand pool, but blackjack? Roulette? Craps? Not once did he wager one of his Grandma’s Canalettos on the ace of spades.
The Duke, back then, would not appear to have been a man who fancied a wager. But now, more than a decade on and a second infamous Harry “todger” incident later, I think we can say that his biggest, boldest and riskiest gamble has flopped.
The house – or more accurately, Buckingham Palace – has won.
Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, might have spent the last two years waging an exhausting, never-ending battle of wits and PR strategy against The Firm, but they have actually ended up on the losing side.
Over the last two years, the Sussexes have thrown a hell of a lot of criticism at Charles, Queen Camilla, William and Kate, and the institution of the monarchy as a whole.
Questions were asked about the Duchess’ unborn baby’s skin colour; titles were not freely handed over; tears were cried; hugs denied; curtsies not taught; blind eyes were turned to critical reporting; mental health crises tidied under Aubusson rugs; and then there was that one time William took a swing at him at his brother and a dog bowl paid the ultimate price.
And yet today, on the other side of all this, after about 40 hours, according to the Washington Post, of interviews and various media outings, after 416 pages of a book and one entire far-too-long docuseries, one thing is clear: The royal family is fine.
Dinged? A bit bruised? Was it a white-knuckle ride for parts there? Absolutely.
Some of the Sussexes’ claims about Prince Harry’s family and the way the royal machine works are easier to wave off than others that have rightly chipped the House of Windsor’s image. For one thing, that Meghan was not given the support she needed, and fast, when suffering from suicidal thoughts in 2019.
For another, there’s the infamous skin colour comment about “how dark” their first baby’s skin colour might be, made to the Duchess while she was pregnant with Archie by an unnamed London relative. Comedian Chris Rock might have recently dismissed this as “just some in-law sh*t” but the royal family’s (at best) blithe insensitivity and lack of awareness when it came to their first bi-racial member reflects very poorly on them.
In January, when Harry took a break from his new US life, which seems to involve him communing with hummingbirds and occasionally fixing a neighbour’s hose, he made clear what he hoped to get out of his father and brother. Speaking to the Telegraph’s Bryony Gordon, he said he wanted “some accountability – and an apology to my wife”.
Addressing them directly he also said: “Because you know what you did, and I now know why you did it. And you’ve been caught out, so just come clean and then we could all move on.”
However, Charles has not made a single, solitary outward concession to his son and daughter-in-law. There have not been any apologies, any admissions that maybe the royal family could have done more or that they might have erred in the slightest.
The House of Windsor has sailed through this storm and made it to the other side.
And that leaves Harry and Meghan having played all of their cards and the King not having blinked once. (Anyone know any other poker terms? I’m running low here.)
Even if the self-exiled couple was to, say, pop up on Good Morning America to lob a fresh volley of their signature brand of ‘truth bombs’ at London, I reckon the public reaction would be something of a collective shrug. Like the boy who cried wolf, as the Duke and Duchess have reiterated very similar claims over and over and with each telling, audiences’ shock, anger and outrage has only faded more and more.
At what point are they going to realise this is a game of fast diminishing returns for them?
Despite everything, Buckingham Palace is still standing. King Charles is busy planning his first overseas state visit to France and Germany, Queen Camilla is being met by enthusiastic, flag-waving crowds, William has popped over to Poland to give a masterclass in soft power and Kate this week corralled nine of the world’s biggest companies to help her with her early years work.
Overall, they are doing just fine and the Sussexes’ various brickbats have not really made much of a mark.
Polling done in the UK after Harry’s memoir, Spare, hit shelves has Charles on a 62 per cent approval rating, about where he was before his mother Queen Elizabeth’s death in September last year. (Her passing saw the remaining HRHs all enjoy a bump in support.) William and Kate’s numbers have both softened but nothing to start really sweating over.
Harry and Meghan, however, have taken a serious hit, falling to an all-time low in January and then falling even further to a lower all-time low in February. One stat that really puts things into stark perspective: Camilla has better approval numbers in America than either the Duke or Duchess.
Meanwhile, Rock is not the only comedian to have made the pair the butt of his jokes. Chelsea Handler, Trevor Noah and Jimmy Kimmel have all got in on the act. Last month, South Park devoted an entire episode to mocking them and this week, publisher Little, Brown UK claimed they were publishing a parody of his autobiography called Spare Us! (Its release date is April 1, so who knows if this might be an involved practical joke.)
This is the price that the Sussexes are paying for their palace campaign having failed to really gain a huge amount of PR ground.
Their Netflix series, the epically unoriginally titled Harry & Meghan, and Spare only confirmed peoples’ established views of everyone involved here and didn’t really move the dial much; no hearts and minds were swayed to the Sussex cause either time.
Harry might be fighting to squeeze some sort of admission or acknowledgment or even an apology gluten-free muffin basket (I’m guessing) from his family, but instead he ended up with an immovable palace, a King who has refused to give an inch and large chunks of Americans having gone off them. (Which would also be particularly bad news for Netflix and Spotify.)
Harry cannot win the campaign he has been waging against the royal family. Soz.
This weekend, it will be just a smidgen over 40 days until his father King Charles’ coronation. Will the Sussexes go? Will Meghan turn up in six figures worth of couture? Will Harry glare daggers at his brother and will Princess Anne refuse to share her secret stash of emergency coronation butterscotch with them? At this stage unless you have a crystal ball or a very good psychic’s number, no one can say for sure.
But right now, it certainly looks like the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are losing the power struggle with Charles.
Here’s a thought. Maybe back in 2012 Harry should have taken a break from slurping sambuca with hens parties from Sarasota and had a quick spin around the tables. Then, he might have learnt that you don’t go all-in and show your hand unless you are dead certain you will triumph.
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