Twenty months into married life, and fewer than four years since going public as a couple, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have announced their decision to “step back” from their positions as senior royals. While it’s certainly caused a tidal wave of shock and spawned countless opinion pieces, this one included, are we really surprised?
In their time together, they have been relentlessly scrutinised and the Duchess of Sussex, in particular, has been attacked at every opportunity. They have gone from a bubbly, giggling, tactile couple announcing their engagement, to the duchess verging on tears when she is simply asked if she is OK.
"I never thought that this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair," Markle told Tom Bradby in ITV's documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey. "And that's the part that's really hard to reconcile."
A sexist outrage
Even today, while the news is being digested by royal watchers, fans and cynics alike, the narrative has placed the blame firmly at Markle’s door.
If you believe the headlines, she is a mastermind manipulator who has manufactured this entire situation. She wooed Prince Charming, got the fairytale wedding, then coerced him into turning his back on his back on his family and moving away with her to a Canadian log cabin to live happily ever after … with Oprah dropping by for grilled chicken every Sunday, naturally.
"'Meghan Markle 'has stolen our Prince,' says caller," reads an LBC headline. "Driving force: Meghan Markle has 'taken total control' of Prince Harry's life and is behind shock move abroad, insiders claim," proclaims The Sun's Emily Smith. And The Express has announced: "Meghan Markle outrage: The eye-watering sum taxpayer will still pay Sussexes after split."
The golden boy cannot possibly have played a part in this decision, can he? No, it was all down to the scheming woman; who in reality is simply a politically informed feminist who hasn’t fitted into the mould of a royal wife.
Even the trending “Megxit” does it. The joke isn’t lost on me, I am as partial to some word play as the next person, but it directs all of the blame Meghan’s way. Shame that Sussexit doesn’t have the same rhyming ring to it, hey?
What is going to change for Harry and Meghan?
Realistically, one of the main changes is, of course, financial. They can now work and earn their own money – and you’d imagine that they’ll be able to make a fair salary as they venture out into the big bad world.
The second is their control over the way they are reported upon. No longer at the mercy of the Royal Rota and its seven choice British publications, they will now "invite specialist media to specific events to give greater access to their cause-driven activities, as well as work with grassroots media organisations and young, emerging journalists".
Much criticism has been levelled at the pair for the £2.4 million (Dh11.5m) renovations their Windsor home Frogmore Cottage underwent in last year. The Funding section of their website explains that the fixtures, furnishings and fittings were privately funded, and the rest was paid for using the Sovereign Grant in line with regulations that monitor "the monarchy’s responsibility to maintain the upkeep of buildings with historical significance".
Finances and media access aside, it seems that little more will change. They intend to remain in the public eye, seem to be keeping their royal titles and have already teased plans for more charitable endeavours.
For a while, they seemed like a breath of fresh air for the Royal Family, the couple that was going to inject some modernity into The Firm at a time when, let’s be frank, it could do with a little freshening up.
It seems a shame that steps to modernise couldn’t have been taken with the Royal Family as a whole, not for them. It’s been widely reported that Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and Prince William had no prior warning that the couple was going public with their decision. They found out at the same time we did, “hurting” the queen in the process.
In a time when the Royal Family is receiving criticism for who is dipping into the Sovereign Grant, and how, the Sussexes decision to step back could have been managed in a way that presented it as a forward-thinking decision. One that suited an efficient, streamlined and modern monarchy.
Instead, we have a storyline that reads much more like a Succession sub-plot. The pair have surprised everyone with an announcement, which they have been working on for quite some time, based on the no-rock-left-unturned approach their website has taken.