/Harry and Meghan: A polarizing announcement, endless speculation and why they could lose their royal sheen | CBC News

Harry and Meghan: A polarizing announcement, endless speculation and why they could lose their royal sheen | CBC News

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More than a week after Prince Harry and Meghan dropped their royal bombshell, speculation has in many ways only intensified about how the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will chart their own course outside the upper echelons of the Royal Family.

What will they do? How much of their time will actually be spent in Canada? Where will they live? Who will pay for their security? What sorts of immigration and taxation situations will arise around them?

“I think one of the reasons there is so much media coverage of Harry and Meghan’s decisions is because so many of the details have yet to be established,” said Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal author and historian.

“In some ways, if the announcement had been delayed until some of these details had been finalized, then perhaps we’d be seeing less speculation.”

It’s an announcement that Harris describes as “very polarizing.”

In some corners, there has been sympathy for the couple over the critical coverage they have received in the British press. People remember Harry at the age of 12, mourning the death of his mother, Diana, “and understand his feelings regarding certain elements of the British press and why he’d want to get away from them,” Harris said.

Prince Harry is a step ahead as Prince Philip, left, Prince William, Earl Spencer and Prince Charles walk together behind the carriage carrying the casket of Diana, Princess of Wales, in London on its way to her funeral at Westminster Abbey on Sept. 6, 1997. (John Gaps III/The Associated Press)

Others may be looking at it from the perspective of Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, and how there would have been the expectation that both Harry and his brother, William, would have been doing more and more public duties as time passed.

“It’s clear from the Queen’s announcement that she’d hoped he’d stay as a senior member of the Royal Family,” said Harris.

But that is not the path Harry and Meghan want to follow.

There is also much uncertainty about just how Harry and Meghan can achieve their stated goal of financial independence as they move to develop their own brand — particularly in the long term.

In the short term, however, the power of that brand is “quite a lot,” said Mark Borkowski, a British public relations expert. 

“How to maintain it is going to be difficult. They’re going to have to rely on a lot of friends to provide them with some of the stuff gratis — homes and whatever.”

Meghan sipped Tetley tea and spent more than an hour with shelter managers and front-line workers during a visit to a women’s shelter on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Jan. 14, 2020. (Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre/Facebook)

Security issues for them are mind-boggling, Borkowski said. 

“I’m sure they can raise a lot of money for charities. I’m sure the foundation could be powerful, but I don’t think it will give them the lifestyle money, and the further they get away … they lose that royal sheen.”

For Harris, the most significant outstanding question is what Harry and Meghan intend to do during their time in Canada.

“We’ve seen that Meghan’s undertaken some charitable work — she’s visited Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside,” Harris said, pointing to Meghan’s first public spotting since she returned to Canada after the announcement.

“Will we see them [doing] a regular round of charitable engagements, and taking on more Canadian patronages, or will these public appearances be exceptions in an otherwise more private life during their time here?”

Public interest in what they intend to do ties into the question of who will pay for their security, Harris said.

Will Harry and Meghan undertake public appearances while they are in Canada? Harry was front and centre during the Invictus Games in Toronto in September 2017. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

“If they do have some kind of a public role here, there might be more support for a public funding of their security compared to if they plan to live almost entirely privately here.”

However Harry and Meghan may hope to bolster their brand, there is a sense the past week has not been a stellar one for the brand of the House of Windsor.

“It has stirred so much negativity for the Royal Family, the royal brand,” said Borkowski.

The Royal Family, he said, has “managed to get over these things.” But getting over this one may not happen in the near future.

“I’m sure they’ll be looking around to create some sort of event or some sort of moment to put some excitement back, but I don’t see it in a hurry. I don’t see anything in a hurry.”

Putting down royal roots

The Prince’s Lodge rotunda on the Bedford Highway in Halifax was built by Prince Edward — the Duke of Kent — when he lived in Halifax in the 1790s. (CBC)

Wherever Harry and Meghan end up living while they are in Canada, they won’t be the first members of the Royal Family to put down roots on this side of the Atlantic Ocean — even temporarily.

The first royal resident of any significant duration arrived long before Canada’s Confederation. 

Prince Edward, the fourth son of King George III and the father of Queen Victoria, lived in and near Quebec City and in Halifax in the 1790s. 

But the experienced military man wasn’t thinking in terms of a permanent residency.

“He had an extended time here, but he always knew that time would come to an end even if he reached the rank of commander in chief of the British North American forces,” said Harris.

Still, there is the sense he enjoyed his time here.

“He found the social life was much more informal and he was able to appear in public with his mistress, Julie de St. Laurent,” said Harris.

“He found it to be quite a change when he returned to Britain and there were clear social barriers to Julie de St. Laurent being his partner in a public manner in the way she had been during his time in Canada, where she was clearly acting as a hostess.”

Edward, Prince of Wales, centre, helps with the roundup at the Bar U Ranch near High River, Alta., in September 1919. After his visit there, he bought his own ranch nearby. (National Archives of Canada/The Canadian Press)

More than a century later, another Prince Edward — the one who went on to become King Edward VIII before his abdication — bought a ranch in Alberta. And it seems he had a great fondness for the property he purchased south of Calgary in 1919, especially in the early years of his ownership.

“He wrote to his mother that this was real life and he started describing himself in his speeches as a westerner when he was in the West, and as a Canadian,” said Harris. “That was pioneering in many ways for a member of the Royal Family to describe themselves as a Canadian when they were in Canada.”

WATCH | Could Harry and Meghan make B.C. their home?

Mille Fleurs, a mansion in North Saanich, B.C., is believed to be where Prince Harry and Meghan vacationed and where the duchess is currently staying 0:35

Still, Edward’s ranch caused some worry back home with his father, King George V, Harris said. His concerns focused on the possibility that it might seem one dominion — Canada — was being singled out and Edward could face pressure to buy land elsewhere, such as a farm in the Australian outback or a house in South Africa.

A similar pressure might arise for Harry and Meghan, Harris suggested, “pressure not necessarily to purchase property, but to spend more time in other Commonwealth realms.”

What about the media?

The cameras were ready and waiting for Prince Harry and Meghan on the grounds of Kensington Palace after the announcement of their engagement on Nov. 27, 2017. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Amid the speculation about the reasons behind Harry and Meghan’s decision to step back, much has been said about the coverage they have received in the British media, particularly from the tabloids.

Can living part-time in Canada really insulate them from that?

Not necessarily, or perhaps not completely, even if their media experience while they’ve been in Canada has been relatively tame in comparison. 

Harry and Meghan were front page news in the U.K. on Jan. 9, 2020, after announcing their plans to step back from their role as senior members of the Royal Family. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

The British tabloid press has a unique history, said Borkowski. 

“It won’t take long for an ambitious freelance unit to be set up [in Canada] … feeding not just the British press but the international press. Someone’s going to make a lot of money from them moving to North America.”

Readers share their views

Several Royal Fascinator readers say they would welcome Harry, Meghan and Archie spending some time in Canada, but they don’t want taxpayers to foot the bill for their security. (Toby Melville/Getty Images)

Readers of The Royal Fascinator were eager to share a wide range of views on the events of the past week. Several were willing to welcome Harry and Meghan to Canada, but not to see their tax dollars pay for their security. 

Here is a brief selection of comments and edited excerpts from messages readers sent. 

“Although I can understand Harry and Meghan not wanting to live under old world rules, would the Canadian taxpayer really have to pay for their security? They are financially very well off. And as much as they seem to be a lovely young couple with an adorable baby boy, they should be paying for their own security. We have enough going on in Canada without having to pay for wealthy runaways who supposedly want anonymity!” — Pat King, Toronto.

“I do believe, being a royal fan/follower since I was a little girl, that Harry and Meg should be able to decide on their own how their lives should be lived and where. I understand the monarchy protocols, but Harry is so far down the line now that if he wants to gain financial independence with his wife and child, then so be it. One would hope that the monarchy will work out the plan that works well for all. Being a Canadian, I can’t help but be biased…. We would love to see them move here — the land of nice!” — Tina Forbes, Hamilton-Niagara area

“I am probably in the minority but it was wonderful not seeing Meghan and Harry for six weeks. When you put someone like Harry together with a strong, narcissistic personality like Meghan, it is a matter of time before the less strong person is dominated. Meghan comes from the liberal state of California who firmly believe their opinions are the only right ones…. If William was level-headed and sincere in his talk with Harry about rushing to marry Meghan and Harry went on a tirade of silence, shame on immature Harry. I firmly believe Meghan is the catalyst of the entire bad feelings, damaged brother relations, etc. Harry, William and Catherine made an awesome team.” —  Kathleen Norris

“I do hope they can have a wonderful life and continue their good work.” — Pam Harrison

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