Meghan and Harry’s very dangerous game
Announcing the postponement of the Invictus Games in March. Speaking to families supported by the charity WellChild in April. Undertaking a Zoom chat with veterans in May. Time and time again this year, Prince Harry has appeared on video calls from North America, first from Vancouver Island and then from Tyler Perry's $30 million Beverly Hills mansion, wearing grey polo shirts. (Fifty shades of hey! We've just run away!)
In the past three months, the Duke of Sussex has displayed an astoundingly high level of sartorial monotony putting him on par with Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama, two men who infamously trot out identical looks day after day.
Harry's predictability of late however extends beyond his repetitive fashion choices.
On Monday it was revealed that a British antimonarchy group called Republic had written to the UK's Charity Commission asking them to investigate the foundations of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Duke and Duchess of Sussex over a transfer of funds which took place in relation to the establishment of Harry's green travel initiative Travelyst.
The same day, Harry's lawyers sent out a forcefully worded statement saying the "false claims" were "deeply offensive".
"His (Harry's) devotion to charity is at the very core of the principles he lives by, and is obvious through the impact and success of his many charitable projects throughout the UK and beyond," the statement read. "It is both defamatory and insulting to all the outstanding organisations and people he has partnered with."
And thus we have it: Another day, another legal shot across the bow by the Sussexes.
On one hand, it is entirely understandable why Harry called in top legal firepower post haste to quash even the vaguest imputation of questionable dealings. Given that he and wife Meghan are in the midst of establishing their new non-profit entity Archewell (expected to be launched next year) they will need the largesse and trust of donors.
The question here is, in this instance, was it entirely necessary to get the lawyers involved?
Representatives for both Princes had already denied the claims. A spokesperson for The Royal Foundation said that the grants "were fully in line with governance requirements and were reported transparently" while a spokesperson for the Sussexes said: "All grants have been made impartially and objectively, fully in line with governance requirements, and have been reported transparently in full accordance with regulations."
(A spokesperson for the Charity Commission said: "As with all concerns raised with us we will assess the information provided to determine whether or not there is a role for the Commission. We have not made any determination of wrongdoing.")
Already, the Sussex family is waging legal battles on several fronts. Last October it was revealed that Meghan was suing the Mail on Sunday's parent company for allegedly breaching her privacy for publishing parts of a letter she had sent to her estranged father Thomas Markle. Then, days later, came news that Harry was suing The Sun (whose parent company News Corp also owns news.com.au) and the Daily Mirror for alleged phone hacking.
More recently, in January this year the couple sent a legal letter warning the British press against publishing shots taken by the paparazzi after Meghan was snapped by a photographer while she was out walking with their baby son Archie and dogs during their stay on Vancouver Island. And on Friday it was revealed they had filed a lawsuit against unidentified Los Angeles photographers over allegedly illegal images they claim were taken of their baby son within the grounds of their Beverly Hills home during lockdown.
This pugnacious approach and enthusiasm to get the lawyers involved is not without risks. (Not to mention potentially whopping legal bills to boot.) Take Meghan's case against the Mail on Sunday which, since May, has been winding its way through the UK legal system, resulting in a steady drumbeat of stories about the former actress' time in the royal family.
Earlier this month her legal team claimed in documents filed with the High Court in London that the Duchess had felt "unprotected by the Institution (of the monarchy), and prohibited from defending herself" while she was pregnant. Cue days of noisy press coverage of the case and debate in opinion pages and on social media about these particular charges.
With months and months of the case to go, it seems likely that more damaging revelations will emerge and I think there is something of a question mark over the wisdom of dredging up alleged hurts for the British legal system, the press and the public to pick over. At stake here is not only Buckingham Palace and the royal family's reputation but that of the Duchess too. No one wins really if the royal family ends up simply looking like a gilt-edged soap opera.
To be clear, every senior member of the royal family from the Queen down has sued over privacy issues over the last 30 years, showing no compunction about taking on Fleet Street. Likewise, Harry and Meghan have every right to take action when they see fit.
But what are the consequences when dragging the lawyers in to fight in your corner becomes the go-to, default move?
Harry and Meghan are now camped out in Los Angeles where they face a far, far higher level of paparazzi intrusion. (Recently a German magazine published shots of the Duchess' mother Doria Ragland pushing the Sussexes' son Archie in a toy car in the garden of the $30 million mansion where they are staying - images that the roving press would never have been able to capture in the UK.)
Beyond that, given that they are magnets for global attention, they will be the focus of reams of news stories and online coverage in the months and years to come, some of which I think we can say, will be critical.
So, are they going to yank their lawyers into the fray again and again? The danger is that this litigious approach could start to make them seem thin-skinned, like two permanently aggrieved, self-appointed victims. Does having a retinue of high-priced barristers on speed dial make them look steely or simply irascible self-appointed martyrs?
There is a branding issue too. With the clock ticking down to the launch of Archewell next year, reports suggest the couple are hard at work on building a charitable entity with far reaching potency. Will three courtroom battles, with the potential for them to be protracted, bruising legal fights, add or detract from the image they are building as empowering leaders for the 21st century? As Harry and Meghan embark on their new chapter, is this the image they really want to cultivate one that is tinged with combativeness?
There is a case to be made that the wiser move might have been to draw a line under the hurts of the past two years and to instead focus on projecting positivity. While their popularity in the UK has waned, they are widely adored in the US, are poised to launch big bucks careers and, now that they are shot of royal life, they never have to pretend to enjoy holidays in rural Norfolk again.
Back in the days of Meghan's blog The Tig she regularly shared up-and-at-'em slogans and there is one I reckon the Sussexes need to embrace: Success is the best revenge.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.
Originally published as Meghan and Harry's very dangerous game