It is a matter of hours. At the time of writing it is just over 12 hours until Harry and Meghan the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will arrive outside London’s famed Westminster Abbey and begin their final official engagement as working members of the royal family.
While their official end date is March 31, for all intents and purposes, when they enter the 930-year-old church early on Tuesday morning Sydney-time, it will be the last time that either of them will be addressed as His or Her Royal Highness – and, for Meghan, after less than 1000 days on the job.
Unlike any other Commonwealth Day service, this year’s outing will incite global media coverage and every photo and video of the Sussexes’ interacting with the Queen, Prince Charles, William and Kate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Edward and Sophie the Earl and Countess of Wessex will be pored over.
This will be the first time the rebel duo will be seen in public with his wider family and every flinch, blink and smile will be analysed by a veritable army of global royal obsessives and journalists.
And then? Harry and Meghan will, most likely disappear. When and how they leave the UK will only emerge after the fact. They will, again most likely, head back to Vancouver Island where they have been bunking down in a borrowed $20 million mansion. And like that, Harry and Meghan will largely be gone from the public eye.
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While they will have 20-odd days, roughly, between leaving Britain and their own personal independence day, there is another much more weighty clock ticking down. Because if the first quarter of 2020 has been defined by their dramatic quitting then they face a fast contracting window in which, to borrow from the sort Los Angelese that Meghan tends to favour, to reshape their personal narrative.
For the roughly 18-months, between their glittering, love-saturated 2018 wedding and their startling resignation announcement in January this year, the pair might have found themselves at embroiled in various PR pickles (the NY baby shower, Archie’s christening, Wimbledon and that whole private jet imbroglio) however their work ethic and commitment to using their platform to help other has never, ever been in doubt.
They both found issues that they were truly passionate about – gender equality and social justice for her; supporting military veterans and environmental issues for him – and bought a remarkable passion and verve to working on their respective projects.
Go back and look at photos from any of their engagements since 2018 and look at the faces of the everyday people they were interacting with and you will see nothing but astonishing joy. There has never been anything stiff or formal about a Sussex event, rather than seem united in the authenticity of the connection and goodwill on display.
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In June 2019 it was revealed that the Sussexes would split off from the Royal Foundation, the charitable umbrella organisation set up by William and Harry in 2009, with the widely held view that they would establish their own foundation.
In February this year, they revealed they planned instead to launch a “non-profit entity” and the couple intended “to develop a new way to effect change and complement the efforts made by so many excellent foundations globally”.
All of which was lofty, intriguing and totally inscrutable.
However, the last few months have seen them face accusations that they are more interested in hanging out with Hollywood A-listers and earning whopping great pay cheques than saving the world.
Whether there is any truth to those charges is up for debate but what is not is the fact they face a shrinking time frame to prove their philanthropic bonafides.
Essentially, having been released from the bonds of HRH-dom, Harry and Meghan now have only a brief period to put paid to those notions and to cement their post-royal brand and altruistic credibility.
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If they are looking for a sure-fire, failsafe template here, as luck would have it, history can provide one. In 1996, Diana, Princess of Wales attended the Met Gala, the then-delicious night which was a heady melange of facelifts, fashion enfant terribles and New York old money.
However, she undertook this trip in between her ongoing work with the British Red Cross Anti-Personnel Land Mines Campaign, Centrepoint (a London homeless charity) and the UK’s AIDS Trust among a handful.
In the wake of her split from Charles, Diana managed to both firmly lodge herself on the global stage as a humanitarian tour de force AND build the sort of joyfully glamorous life she had been denied all those years being stuck inside the squat brick walls Kensington Palace.
Last week it was reported that Meghan has allegedly been invited to attend the Met Gala alongside UK Vogue editor Edward Enniful this coming May. If she does go, and in the intervening time she and Harry have done little more than perfect their asanas and take Archie on myriad hikes (i.e. no unveiling of ambitious international plans for do-goodery) this will give rise to some serious narrow-eyed chuntering about where their true ambitions and interests lie.
This is the tightrope that Harry and Meghan have to walk now. No one would begrudge them the chance to quaff champagne with the glitterati but they need to strike a delicate balance between enjoying all the perks of being A-listers and truly establishing their brand as global good Samaritans.
The bottom line here is, once they leave Westminster Abbey tonight, they face a ticking countdown clock to firmly cement their new image and brand as being powerful, exciting forces for change and not simply as two 30-somethings who caused a kerfuffle, quit jobs they were sick of and now regularly brunch with Beyonce.
While the first quarter of this year might have been trying for Harry and Meghan, the next quarter is truly make or break time.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.