Year since 'Megxit': UK royal family over-stretched and under-staffed without Meghan and Harry’s stardust

Charities have lost their figureheads while remaining royals have to pick up slack

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One year ago this week, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex walked away from the UK's royal family.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, their absence has not yet been fully felt.

But as lockdown rules are eased, the "royal visits" in support of charities and institutions will resume.

Without Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the remaining royals will now feel the full impact of Megxit.

"The problem the royal family has is that without Meghan and Harry and without Prince Andrew, there's a lot of charity patronage that has gone and there are not a lot of royals left who can fill the roles," a former member of the royal household told The National.

“Until the next generation comes along when William’s children, George, Louis and Charlotte, come of age and the Earl of Wessex's [Prince Edward's] children as well, there will be a lot of vacancies to fill and they will be quite overstretched.”

With the withdrawal of the couple from royal duties on March 31, 2020 came the loss of their high profiles as patrons of charities and institutions, which had enjoyed a significant boost.

Prince Harry and his brother brought an open and intelligent approach to mental health with their Heads Together, as did Harry for many military charities and conservation projects.

But his withdrawal to America means these groups have to find new figureheads within the short-staffed royal ranks.

This will become ever more noticeable after the pandemic, royal insiders say, with Prince Philip retired, Prince Andrew hidden from public life and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex departed, perhaps permanently after their bridge-burning Oprah Winfrey interview.

It will now be down to Buckingham Palace staff to divide the Sussexes' top patronages between the remaining royals with Princess Anne, who is now 70, likely to take up Harry’s post of Capt Gen of the Royal Marines and Meghan’s role as patron of the National Theatre.

“There is certainly going to be a cog missing because the Sussexes are no longer there,” a royal observer said.

“As things open up post-pandemic, the big events are not going to have the allure of Prince Harry and Meghan walking down the red carpet at a charity gala or theatrical opening.

"That’s when people will really notice their absence and the pulling power that they had for charities and British institutions.”

The charities left behind

Prince William, in a speech to the Charity Commission in 2018, summed up the fact that charity work is the daily business for royals.

“We believe that, above anything else, charities nurture, repair, build and sustain our society, because without the work that charities do, society would be an empty shell,” he said.

On Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday, a team of professional accountants tried to gauge her contribution in financial terms and decided it was immeasurable.

It is also difficult to account for how much their profile brings to the charity or issue it promotes, but it is undoubtedly considerable.

There are still some charities lucky enough to retain the couple as patrons, albeit from across the Atlantic.

Last year, Meghan allowed photographs of herself visiting the Mayhew Animal Home to be published and has retained her loyalty to the charity, which looks after the welfare of cats and dogs in London.

There is certainly going to be a cog missing because the Sussexes are no longer there

“We are, of course, thrilled that Meghan Markle is remaining a patron of Mayhew,” said Sarah Hastelow, its spokeswoman.

“We're incredibly grateful to Meghan for her time and generosity over the past few years.

"Her visits to our home have been fantastic opportunities for her to meet our staff and service users, and find out exactly how we make a difference.

"We cannot thank her enough for the raised awareness and support that Mayhew has seen since she joined us in 2019.”

But their absence could prove difficult for some of the smaller charities.

“Just having the royal name on the letterhead brings enormous value,” the former Buckingham Palace employee said.

“It’s in effect a kitemark, helping the organisation in terms of who they can ask, how they write to people and how they fund-raise.”

Charity is the royals' bread and butter

The charity work, some of it mundane to royals, is of such importance that it has become the raison d'etre  of the British monarchy, allowing its members to carry out serious work that gives it meaning and purpose.

The pulling power of royalty, particular senior members such as Prince Charles, can have a significant and lasting effect.

His contribution to youth development through the Prince’s Trust is considered to be immeasurable, as is his unwavering commitment to the environment and conservation.

Royal observers believe senior family members have an ability to “convene”, bringing together important and influential people to discuss and resolve issues.

“That is one of the great powers that royalty has, putting influential people together, saying, ‘Here’s an issue, let’s work together on it',” one said.

While Prince William and his wife Kate will shoulder more of the charity burden with Harry and Meghan gone, those charities left behind by the Sussexes remain dignified at the loss of patronage.

"The Duke of Sussex has been a wonderful patron of the London Marathon Charitable Trust and we are immensely grateful for his unstinting support and interest in our work over the past nine years," Sir Rodney Walker, the charity's chairman, told The National.

“Everyone at the trust and the wider London Marathon family sends our best wishes and thanks to the duke for all that he has done.”

MapAction, a charity that specialises in providing maps for humanitarian emergencies, said it had an amicable parting with the prince and there was “no urgency on either side to review the relationship”.

“MapAction is extremely grateful to have had him as our royal patron for what were our vital formative years as an organisation,” it said.

“Harry and his team have always been extremely helpful and accommodating, and we remain on excellent terms.”

Feb 16, 2021; Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, speak about expecting their second child during an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Featuring Oprah Winfrey as she sits down with Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, will be broadcast as a two-hour exclusive primetime special on Sunday, March 7 from 8:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT on the CBS Television Network. Mandatory Credit: Joe Pugliese/CBS/Harpo Productions

As their marriage matured, it was hoped that Prince Harry and Meghan would provide a powerful force for whatever cause they considered worth championing.

That was cut off a year ago when their swift exit from royal life became a formality as they ceased undertaking royal duties on behalf of the queen.

Some in royal circles underplay the loss of Meghan as insignificant as she had “only been a working royal for 18 months”.

Others regard the Sussexes' departure as a lost opportunity.

“Just think of the great potential they had to do some good things if they’d stayed,” one observer said.

That potential looks to be irrevocably revoked after the Winfrey interview.