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William, Harry and coronavirus: A tale of two royal brothers and their reactions to a crisis

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The moment could not have been more emblematic of the divide between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the rest of the royal family.

As Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis were being filmed joining in a national round of applause for NHS heroes, Harry and Meghan were more than 5000 miles away, posting clapping emoji on Instagram from their new base in California.

“Thank you for all that you continue to do,” read the message on the Sussex Royal Instagram story. “Applauding you from across the pond.”

While obviously well meaning, the digital communique appeared a little hollow compared with the heartwarming sight of the three Cambridge children, aged six, four and one, taking part in the #ClapForOurCarers initiative just a day after their own grandfather, Prince Charles, announced he, too, had tested positive for Covid-19.

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Having boarded one of the last flights into the US from Canada, where they have been staying on Vancouver Island since splitting from the Firm, the exiled couple are now in their own form of self-imposed royal isolation in Los Angeles.

Friends say they are staying at a secluded compound in the Hollywood area of Meghan’s hometown, where she has a support system including her mother Doria, who was spotted walking her dogs on Thursday.

One source told the US magazine People: “Harry is looking straight ahead at his future with his family. They will be spending time in California… he’s not looking back.”

Prince William and Kate are taking a leading role during the coronavirus crisis while Prince Harry and Meghan are out of the picture.

GETTY IMAGES

Prince William and Kate are taking a leading role during the coronavirus crisis while Prince Harry and Meghan are out of the picture.

The move has not only left their nearest and dearest “stunned and horrified”, having thought they might return with their 10-month-old son Archie to be with their relatives during the global pandemic, Canadians are also up in arms, accusing them of using the Commonwealth country as a “smokescreen” for their long-planned assault on America.

Some are now starting to question whether they ever had any intention of supporting Queen and Commonwealth, or always had their sights firmly fixed on Hollywood.

Yet with coronavirus dominating the airwaves both in the UK and the US – where more people are now infected than the 81,000 in China – the couple’s Stateside relaunch, which once promised fireworks, now appears in danger of turning into more of a damp squib, as the March 31 deadline signalling their formal royal exit fast approaches.

Some are questioning whether Hollywood was the couple's end goal all along.

Chris Jackson/GETTY IMAGES

Some are questioning whether Hollywood was the couple’s end goal all along.

They undeniably have an impregnable and enthusiastic fan base in Meghan’s native country, but is anyone going to take much notice while the US is clocking up the most cases of coronavirus in the world under Donald Trump’s increasingly questionable leadership, and with an election just months away?

If their latest efforts are anything to go by, they stand little chance of winning the battle of the headlines in the UK either, not least with William, 37, and Kate, 38, regarded as “playing a blinder” in their absence.

And whether the couples like it or not, comparisons are certainly being made (which perhaps explains why so many of the Sussexes’ online updates are still coinciding with their brother and sister-in-law’s royal activities).

As Harry announced the postponement of the Invictus Games, the Cambridges were being lauded for making a “real” difference by making a morale-boosting visit to a 111 call centre.

Prince William and Kate were applauded for making a morale-boosting visit to a 111 call centre in the UK.

GETTY IMAGES

Prince William and Kate were applauded for making a morale-boosting visit to a 111 call centre in the UK.

Dressed in a pink trouser suit from Marks and Spencer, the future queen told hard-pressed staff: “It’s amazing. You’re doing such a great job bringing everyone together and providing that, the support system for the whole public.”

William, himself a former air ambulance pilot who has worked on the front line, later praised the health service as representing “the very best of our country and society”, as he thanked staff on behalf of the royal family. Although the couple faced some criticism from those who felt their presence was a distraction, the general consensus was that they were right to do their bit.

Sources close to the couple say they will continue to offer support and are liaising with the Government and their charities in a bid to decide when and where they would be most “useful”. With the Queen self-isolating at Windsor Castle and the heir to the throne in quarantine at Birkhall on the Balmoral estate in Scotland, the Cambridges are now at the top of the royal roll call.

But observers cannot fail to have noticed how depleted the royal family now looks without the Sussexes on side. As a former Army captain who revels in rolling up his sleeves in a crisis, the outbreak would have provided Harry with the perfect opportunity to do what he does best – geeing up the public in the face of adversity.

Remember the flood relief efforts in 2014, when the royal brothers donned waterproofs and waders to help the Household Cavalry unload sandbags from military trucks?

Instead, the 35-year-old royal, who twice fought for Queen and country in Afghanistan, has been reduced to sharing the World Health Organisation’s online advice and inviting fans to share their feelings via a rather trite: “Today I Feel…” Instagram post. They had hoped to create a “community” around coronavirus, but instead appear to have sparked a controversy with what one critic described as meaningless “word salad”, rather than affirmative action.

Meanwhile, Meghan, 38, being signed up to narrate the new Disney documentary Elephant – after Harry touted her talents to executive chairman, Bob Iger – has only served to make their efforts to appear one of “us” rather than one of “them” seem even more cynical.

Summing up the mood among royal watchers, Joe Little, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, said: “From the time they said they were going to Canada, I always saw it as a stopgap for them hopping over the border – a softener because it was a Commonwealth country.

“While some are saying they’ve only gone to the US to escape coronavirus, it doesn’t make sense. Surely you would be much safer on Vancouver Island than in LA? This was always about Meghan being back on her patch and that master plan is now in place.”

The royal family will certainly miss having Prince Harry around - especially in times of crisis.

Chris Jackson/GETTY IMAGES

The royal family will certainly miss having Prince Harry around – especially in times of crisis.

Agreeing that Harry “would certainly have mucked in and done everything he could to help”, Little added: “But now he is in a different world. From Wednesday, they will no longer be working members of the royal family, so we have to start looking at them in a different way. They have got their own agenda, which is such a shame when you consider how useful they could have been to the British monarchy at this time of national emergency.”

“You have to give something back, you can’t just sit there,” Harry famously insisted in an echo of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, when speaking about his Army training. Having passed out of Sandhurst with flying colours, he appeared the epitome of the military academy’s motto: “Serve to lead.”

Yet as he and Meghan embark on a new life in America, fans will be hoping that the newly rebranded Duke and Duchess of Sussex will not forget the royal roots that helped Harry to become one of the most effective campaigners of his generation.

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