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Harry and Meghan had a perfect public service platform. It didn’t pay enough

This was pointed out clearly to the Sussexes at the Sandringham summit, where the Queen – supported by the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge – told Harry in no uncertain terms (Meghan had already left the UK by that point), that they were either in, or out, they couldn’t be in between.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex leave in an open carriage after their wedding ceremony at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19, 2018.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex leave in an open carriage after their wedding ceremony at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19, 2018.Credit:AP

Leaving the door ajar for a return to royal duties should their grand plan fail, the Queen agreed to a 12-month review period as a safety net. But it was never going to be possible for them to have the best of both worlds.

As Friday’s Buckingham Palace statement put it: “In stepping away from the work of the Royal family it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service.”

Part of the problem is that the Sussexes do not seem to understand what public service is. As a California-born actress, Meghan can arguably be forgiven for this, but it somewhat beggars belief that Harry, a prince who grew up in the Firm, agreed to respond to the Queen’s statement with the line: “We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.”

Not only is it deeply disrespectful to engage in this sort of last word freakery with the Queen, but I also do not think the 94-year-old monarch, who has devoted her whole life to duty, needs to be lectured on service by anyone, not least when her 99-year-old husband remains in hospital.

The Sussexes and the Queen in 2018.

The Sussexes and the Queen in 2018.Credit:Getty Images

Of course all royal engagements are self-promotional to a certain extent but there is a big difference between acts that serve others and self-serving acts.

In recent months, as the world has tried to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a growing sense that while the royals have attempted to point the spotlight on the work of others, the Sussexes have increasingly tried to shine it on themselves.

The royals have tried to hold a national conversation – exemplified by the Queen’s “We’ll meet again” speech – while in their £11 million ($19.5 million) Santa Barbara mansion, the Sussexes appear to have largely been in conversation with themselves.

They have insisted upon having both unprecedented privacy and maximum publicity. And while they have endlessly carped about the media, Harry’s family, the Windsors have continued to keep calm, and carry on.

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So, while it is undoubtedly highly commendable that the couple wants to continue with its charity work, philanthropy is not, and never has been, the same as public service.

It should also be remembered that Archewell, their fundraising arm, is a non-profit organisation, not a charity like the Cambridges’ Royal Foundation or the Prince of Wales’s Prince’s Trust. It’s an important distinction since charities are subject to far more stringent rules on how money is spent.

The other elephant that has remained in the room since the couple left for the US is the central role that money has played in their decisions.

They are perfectly entitled to seek financial independence, and it has already proved a highly successful strategy with megabucks deals in the bag with the likes of Netflix, Spotify and now, presumably, Oprah.

But why have the Sussexes spent the past 12 months desperately trying to disguise the fact they have swapped duty for dollars?

For a while, the new Fab Four: The Cambridges and the Sussexes in December 2018.

For a while, the new Fab Four: The Cambridges and the Sussexes in December 2018. Credit:AP

Last year, they made a big point about keeping up Commonwealth ties by spending some time in Canada. Yet anyone with any knowledge of how the duchess continued to keep her retinue of US advisers, even after she married Harry, knew when the couple said “North America”, what they actually meant was Los Angeles, the city of dreams. Vancouver Island was only ever a convenient staging post.

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Yes, there might have been too much press intrusion, and the scrutiny must have sometimes been too much to bear, but they had the perfect platform for their aims and ambitions. The truth is, it didn’t pay well enough.

If there is any silver lining to the dark cloud hanging over the monarchy since Megxit, it is that the royal family can now focus solely on its familial relationship with Harry and Meghan rather than their business dealings.

There is genuine sadness on both sides and among the public that it came to this. We fondly remember talk of the “Fab Four” with the Cambridges and Sussexes heralding a new era for the House of Windsor. But it was not to be.

They may no longer be working royals, but as Her Majesty put it with uncharacteristically emotional candour: “The Duke and Duchess remain much loved members of the family.”

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