As the fallout from THAT Meghan and Harry interview with Oprah Winfrey continues to reverberate around the world, it’s emerged that South Africa played a small but interesting role in the entire saga.
In Sunday’s CBS interview, Meghan effectively confirmed what royal historian Robert Lacey has reported in his 2020 book, Battle of Brothers: the couple considered South Africa as a possible place to settle. This would have been a way to continue their work as royals within the Commonwealth, away from the relentless bullying of the British tabloids.
“We weren’t reinventing the wheel here,” Meghan noted, referencing the much vilified plan to become “working royals”. As she pointed out, this had been done by several other royals. “We were saying, ‘OK, if this isn’t working for everyone, we’re in a lot of pain, you can’t provide us with the help we need, we can just take a step back. We can do it in a Commonwealth country’. We suggested New Zealand, South Africa, Canada…”
The deal could have been a win-win situation for everyone involved: the royal family, and the dynamic couple breathing new life into the institution, particularly among younger people across the Commonwealth. This group consists of 54 member states, most of which were formerly colonised by the British Empire.
As Lacey put in his book, which came out at the end of last year, it was hoped that a solution could be reached that would “offer both honour and responsibility to the couple by handing them some role in her beloved British Commonwealth of Nations — a highly personal token of trust”, while appeasing “Harry and Meghan’s wish to live an ‘ordinary’ existence. It was thought that ‘Modern South Africa… could be just the spot.”
So what went wrong? A change of the guard in the powerful role of the Queen’s private secretary.
Lacey alleges that the Queen worked with her former Private Secretary Sir Christopher Geidt and former diplomat Sir David Manning to put together the winning plan.
In the book Lacey said it was a change in administration – and personalities – that saw the progressive solution turn instead into a brutal indifference to the couple, by their own account.
Allegedly, it was Prince Charles and his brother Prince Andrew who oversaw the booting of the queen’s private secretary, Geidt. He was a man “who had vision, who could probably come up with a plan for Harry and Meghan’s new model” and who essentially acted as the COO of “The Firm” as the UK royal institution is called. They replaced him with Sir Edward Young, who “did not do the vision thing” and, quite frankly, “dislike[d] Meghan’s style”.
It starts to all make sense when one looks at it from this angle. Throughout the interview Meghan and Harry would fall silent about who the real provocateurs were within the royal household who drove them to despair and Meghan to even have suicidal thoughts. But they were both quick to exonerate most actual royal family members: Meghan said her sister-in-law, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge was a good person and they were both effusive about the Queen. Instead, Harry pleaded for compassion for his family; his tone almost implied they were trapped in a cult, terrified of the tabloids turning on them. “There is a level of control by fear that has existed for generations. I mean, generations,” he said. “I also am acutely aware of where my family stand and how scared they are of the tabloids turning on them.”
The couple still hold the titles “Duke and Duchess of Sussex” – for now.
Back to the book. Lacey reports that when it came to negotiations, despite the queen recognising her mistake in letting Geidt go and reinstating him as her Permanent Lord-in-Waiting, he was no longer in a position to weigh in on Harry and Meghan’s new role in the monarchy.
“Who knows what a different turn of events might have taken had Geidt rather than Sir Edward Young been involved in the negotiations at Sandringham earlier this year?” Lacey writes. “The tragedy,” says a palace insider, “was that the Queen’s broader objective was actually to bring everyone back together, not to split them apart.”
In this context, it would make sense that it is powerful royal officials who could be doing the most damage, and sinking an institution that needed precisely the energy, innovation and modern awareness that Meghan and Harry both brought to their roles. Instead they were forced out. The institution is all the poorer for it.