The Sussex Squad got in a flutter a couple of days ago upon reading CNN’s Royal reporter tweet, which later got included into a full-blown article that stated he had heard from a Sussex House’s source that “the institution around the British royal family is full of people afraid of and inexperienced at how to best help harness and deploy the value of the royal couple who have single-handedly modernized the monarchy”. This article was published as a fall-out of the documentary “Harry and Meghan: An African Journey” which premiered on ITV on the 20th of October. That statement was challenged, interestingly, by both sides with the pro Sussex wondering whether it was legitimately emanating from the Sussex House given the exploitation by the tabloids such claim laid the Sussexes open to; and the cons up in arms stating that Her Majesty the Queen had been at the helm of the modernization of the monarchy. The cons are the same people who questioned why the monarch wasn’t included in the cover of Duchess Meghan’s “Forces for Change” Vogue magazine cover.
This got me to ponder: what do we think the nature of “change” is, and where does “modernization” fits in? As far as I can tell, “change” covers a spectrum from at the low end “adaptation” as in in a living world or society there is a need to evolve and adapt or perish; to at the higher end of the spectrum “visionary”, as in someone who comes up with a radical concept the human society had never dealt with before (e.g. Gandhi and nonviolence, or Nelson Mandela and ubuntu); then anything in between from incremental to major agents of change. Usually, the more radical the change, the stronger the reactionary forces against it. Which illustrates that those at the upper end of the change scale have in common their fearlessness: one must be fearless to claim what one wants to achieve, and to gather people around them to carry it through, nevertheless.
Back to QEII, who if anything has been praised as a beacon of stability throughout her 67-year reign. Has her Majesty the Queen modernized the institution she presides upon? Obviously, she has otherwise the House of Windsor would have become irrelevant (I am a little bit dramatic here). However, any major changes QEII has ever undertaken has come under the pressure from the British society’s mood of the time; it was never preemptive. A case in point? The divorce issue: had the Queen allowed back then her sister to marry a divorced man, she would have been a game-changer. Instead, she buckled and it took her sister and two of her children getting divorced, then the very damaging “war of the Waleses” playing across the tabloids for her to relent and come to terms with the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, getting divorced as well. Once that was done, there was no ground to prevent Prince Harry to marry a divorced woman. There are many more examples that point to the fact QEII has played catch up with the British society all along: she’s definitely not a change agent, she has just adapted to her environment and by doing so has managed to preserve the institution.
Is Prince Harry out there to single-handedly, along with Duchess Meghan, modernize the British monarchy? How could anyone, if not the monarch, accomplish such a thing? His father, Prince Charles has had some revolutionary ideas, considering, such as the Prince Trust which took royal patronage to another level, or a vision for a “smaller” monarchy limited to the monarch and his direct descendants. These were not mere adaptations. However, by the time he gets to the throne these ideas will no longer be novel, just catch up with the times. What of Prince Harry then?
Prince Harry is a game-changer, a “major” agent of change. He does not have a vision for the monarchy, rather he’s figured out a purpose for his life within the institution. Part of it is upholding the memory of his mother, Princess Diana, through the causes she supported, such as creating Sentebale (HIV AIDS) and campaigning for the Halo Trust (land mines). The other part is using the platform he has to address issues which are close to his heart because these relate to him directly: wounded soldiers (Invictus), mental health (Heads together, etc.), conservation (Travelyst). But while his father’s accomplishment went for the most part under the radar, Harry has managed to bring the spotlight on his (at least for us outside of the UK). This comes from the fact most of his endeavors have an international footprint. Most of all though, Prince Harry is a game-changer within the British royal family just by being who he is: empathetic, down to earth, acknowledging he’s born into privilege and that his whole life will have to account for that, attuned to women’s plight all over the world. A free spirit, like his mother, in a family ensconced within the rigidity of their position. A man who chose in Meghan a partner in life and purpose; a woman at the opposite of what was expected of him. A man fearless in standing for what he believes in, but also fearless in protecting his family.
Harry offered Meghan an international platform -she already had one, but his is so much bigger. In return, she brought her work ethic, her focus, her strategical thinking. Together, they are a formidable pair who tackle issues that resonate with a large part of society within the UK, and most importantly abroad including but not limited to the Commonwealth, using social media to reach their target audience. Thus, they represent a modern face of the monarchy, which ironically the monarchy does not seem eager to embrace. That is why the statement that they single-handedly are modernizing the monarchy is over-reaching. The Sussexes are a force for change, beaming bright and wide, from which the British royal family could benefit from, if only they could let them be.