Meghan and Harry were pushed away by us – if we’re feeling any loss right now, we deserve it

Kate Townshend
WireImage

I don’t think you have to be a memorabilia-clutching royal super-fan to be a little bit sad that today marks Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's last official engagement for a while.

The couple will join the queen at the Westminster Abbey Commonwealth day service, a day designed to celebrate the cultural links between former territories of the British Empire – although it used to be the less politically correct “Empire Day” – in other words, a day dedicated pushing a sense of British superiority onto the rest of the world...

Hard not to sense an ironic disturbance in the force then, when some of the racist, sexist attitudes that have made Britain’s colonial past so problematic have almost certainly also played a part in the couples’ decision to leave the UK and their official royal positions behind.

It’s harder still to imagine that the royal family and the UK in general will not be poorer for it.

This is the couple, after all, who have spent their last week practising the progressive values that they preach. Meghan’s speech on International Women’s Day for instance, at a Dagenham High School in which she proclaimed “No matter what colour you are, no matter what gender you are, you have a voice and you certainly have the right to speak up for what is right” is a message certain elements of the tabloid press could really do with hearing.

And I defy anyone not to be at least a little tiny bit heart-warmed by the picture of the couple at the Endeavour Fund awards, huddling under their umbrella in a little bubble of warmth and happiness.

I know it’s easy to sneer about such public displays of affection but really, if we can find the humanity to be happy about news that a prime minister with an indeterminate number of children is having another one with the girlfriend he got together with formally a short time after leaving his second wife, then surely we can crack open some sort of sentimental feeling for a happy young couple stood looking very much in love in the rain.

Though apparently one person still felt the couple deserved a loud boo… maybe he didn’t like their umbrella.

Look, this isn’t about some royal fawning. It’s totally possible to be critical of the structures of the monarchy while simultaneously remembering that even the royal family are still real, living, breathing human beings. And if we’re going to have a royal family at all, isn’t it better for it to be relatable and cheerfully diverse? Isn’t it better if their relationships are genuine and rewarding rather than dutiful and fraught with secret misery?

And what does it really say about our morality if a smiley, interracial couple feel less welcome in their roles than the friend of a convicted sex offender? What kind of message does this send? That we are fundamentally such a racist, sexist country that we can’t possibly allow Meghan to join the Windsors without extracting a terrible price in the form of constant criticism and judgement?

The only comforting part of this rather bleak message is that Harry and Meghan at least look entirely comfortable with their decision this week. And although it’s impossible to know, it’s easy to read a certain admirable defiance into their refusal to be defeated by the narratives imposed on them. That’s what the umbrella photo really seems to say. They will take their smiley, laid-back glamour and bestow it where they choose to. And this is the contradiction at the heart of certain attitudes towards them… only unhappy people begrudge the happiness of others. Perhaps we are an unhappy country now.

Personally, I’m as glad for Harry and Meghan as I am sad about what this says about the UK. No one has the responsibility to sacrifice themself or their family on the altar of public opinion, despite the fact that it’s the very people who have been most vicious in their criticism of the couple who are also most vicious in their judgement of their decision to step back.

And while it’s always easy to fall into lazy comparisons with Harry’s mother, we have more than enough cultural examples of what happens when the famous and fascinating can’t find a way to reject the endless cycle of fame paid for with flagellation.

Anyway, I suspect that this isn’t really the end. Say what you will about Harry but he seems really rather fond of his grandmother. And it’s safe to say that the public remain really rather fond of both him and Meghan too.

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