Grace Dent – The Guardian
Less public pontificating; more afternoons spent flower arranging. If generous Uncle Elton wants to see you, let him make the journey to you
Harry and Meghan meet Beyoncé and Jay-Z at The Lion King premiere in London. Photograph: Getty Images
Those angered by what feels like nigh-constant nitpicking at the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are not imagining it. The noise is endless. I’ll call their Royal Highnesses “Harry and Meghan” from this stage on because, let’s be frank, this is the sort of breezy informality you invite when you reach out to fans daily via Instagram inspirational messages, plug an ethical clothing label, allow Jameela Jamil to fight your battles on Twitter, broadcast your daddy issues via open letters, share your mental health history on podcasts, milk the press for their attention, then loathe the press for their attention, and cadge free holidays from wealthier, internationally famous people.
None of this, I must stress is wrong – and in celebrity land, it’s completely humdrum. Particularly the free holiday part. Very rich celebs can rarely finance the calibre of holiday they feel befits them. Summers are for leaning heavily on benevolent, social-climbing billionaires who proffer mansions in Cap d’Antibes, yachts to pooter around the Aegean in, and helicopters to get seamlessly to Cape Cod.
Meghan and Harry are really brilliant celebrities, just like Cara and Ashley and Kanye and Kim. But that’s tricky if we are also supposed to respect and behold them as monarchy; the backbone of the entire British constitution. Better than us. More precious than us. As God, himself, intended. Because, frankly, that always did require a pretty willing suspense of disbelief – and now here are Harry and Meghan. They want to be royals, but also live lightly. No one properly laid it out to Meghan Markle that being in the monarchy is not supposed to be fun. Being royal is supposed to look physically painful. It is the visible scream behind Prince Charles’s eyes as he watches another regional school glee club sing a cappella. We need our monarchy outwardly frumpy and by and large opinionless, except for the occasional furious letter to an architect or town planner. We need them with covered shoulders and no knees showing. Buzzwords for Meghan’s mood board might be: silent, stoic, dutiful. Yes, Diana and Fergie tried to move this narrative forward and, wow, how that worked out for them. Princess Margaret partied hard and wore her royalty starrily, but she was then, and remains, a laughing stock.
Royal is not being constantly visible in order to keep your follower count buoyant; it is being lost for some weeks at Sandringham, then catapulted into six courses plus coffee with the latest visiting deaf dictator, while wearing jewels that hurt, before an early start to shake hands at a hospice. Royal isn’t about having fun at The Lion King with your friend Beyoncé. It is about seeing no dichotomy between saving elephants and shooting elephants and finding the Glorious Twelfth truly glorious.
No one makes being royal look like less fun than the Duchess of Cambridge, who has had a very free pass lately – possibly because the most riveting thing she’s done in 12 months is be allowed to plant some astrantias at the Chelsea flower show. None of us has a clue what the Duchess of Cambridge is thinking: about the polar caps, wimmin’s issues, about flying bloody FlyBe to Balmoral to spend August being feasted on by ravenous midges and watch angry Grandpa Phil driving the Range Rover.
Can we imagine the Duchess of Cambridge writing an accidentally open letter to her Uncle Gary about last year’s domestic abuse charge? Or a cryptic Instagram post (subtext: there are snakes everywhere, hun), like Meghan with her positive-affirmation cupcakes? And who is in the Duchess of Cambridge’s girl gang? No one knows. Softly, softly and ever so silently, Kate Middleton is channelling herself into a Queen Mary of Teck figure: the less we know, the less there is to disrespect or question. Presently, she’s the biggest hope for survival the House of Windsor has.
Many have said that the pelting Harry and Meghan receive is racist and misogynist. This uppity woman had the temerity to want a place at the table and now, at all costs, must be stopped. And from many individuals, it possibly is; but for most, the truth is more nuanced. Numerous times, I find myself roaring at the television, “For the love of God, if you want everyone to stop talking, then stop giving everyone things to talk about.”
Harry and Meghan need to learn the art of being boring, beginning with 12 months staying home, with no need to decorate or renovate. No clothes designing (you’re not Michelle Keegan for Next) and no magazine editing, because every columnist you select will be deemed a reflection on your inner monologue. Less public pontificating; more afternoons spent flower arranging. If generous Uncle Elton wants to see you, let him make the journey to you. Please stop using Diana as a sticking plaster over your eco-warrior hypocrisy. No more boogie nights out with Amal and Serena; yes, please, to being seen trudging around country shows judging exemplary marrows. Fade into glorious obscurity for a while. Come back gently in a year or two, smiling beatifically at your public.
We need to miss you, and re-remember you’re an asset. The monarchy can’t rip up the rulebook: they are the rulebook.