Why Meghan Markle losing Sussex title could make her a real princess

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Lady Colin Campbell made history in 1992 when the Jamaican-born socialite published Diana in Private: The Princess Nobody Knows, the first biography to air claims the princess had suffered from an eating disorder and cheated with her riding instructor James Hewitt.

The title caused a sensation and while many initially wrote off what initially seemed like a lurid contrived tale, her narrative was soon backed up by the publication of Andrew Morton’s explosive Diana: Her True Story.

Since then, Lady Colin has bobbed about the royal commentating world and in recent years has popped up on breakfast TV to offer up regular doses of headline-grabbing Sussex-related sound bites.

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Lady Colin has now taken things one step further, launching an online petition calling on Prince Harry to “voluntarily ask The Queen to put his royal style, titles and rank into abeyance”. At the time of publication it has more than 39,000 signatures.

Given all the recent revelations from the royal couple about suicidal thoughts, shocking racism, negligent parenting and royal bullying, Lady Colin’s politicking isn’t particularly incendiary.

However, we need to talk about Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their troublesome titles. Because, as bizarre as this might sound, it might actually be to their benefit should the Queen intercede at some stage and exert polite pressure on the Californian couple to stops using their ducal titles.

Bear with me here.

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On the morning of the couple’s wedding day in 2018, Buckingham Palace announced the Queen would be conferring a Dukedom (along with the titles Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel) on her grandson and by extension on her new granddaughter-in-law, as is standard. (Prince Andrew was made the Duke of York on his big day in 1986, while Prince William was made the Duke of Cambridge on his in 2011.)

It was not long before storm clouds gathered over their particular honorifics and in late 2019, nearly 4,000 locals signed a petition forcing the Brighton & Hove Council in the actual county of Sussex to debate whether the duo’s titles should be removed. (The stunt clearly failed.)

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Still, these calls only grew in the wake of the upheaval of Megxit. Harry and Meghan, so this line of thinking goes, have flown the royal coop to make their name and fortune in the US and their continued use of the Sussex appellation endangers the royal family by introducing the tawdry whiff of commerce into the royal milieu.

Basically, moolah and monarchy are not meant to gratuitously mix and, ostensibly, even the merest hint that anyone might dare monetise their royal status is theoretically met with abject horror.

(Let us all politely ignore the myriad other intersections of cold hard cash and the crown, such as Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall peddling more than 300 products via the Waitrose supermarket chain, that the royal palaces all contain slightly gauche gift shops stocked with replica royal jewellery, and that you can pay to tour the Queen’s vast privately-owned Norfolk pile Sandringham and the gardens of her Scottish estate Balmoral.)

While theirs was not a particularly successful stint as working HRHs, at least in terms of job satisfaction, Harry and Meghan have made serious business inroads in the business world in the States.

In less than a year, they inked an estimated $180 million worth of deals with Netflix and Spotify alone, signed on with A-list speakers bureau Harry Walker Agency, the duchess has written a book, and the duke has done the previously unthinkable and gone and gotten a job as Chief Impact Officer at a billion-dollar Silicon Valley start-up.

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With each successive commercial business announcement, the vexing question over titles has continued to bubble away, a situation that was only magnified in the wake of their March TV interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Fast forward to another lengthy interview for the podcast Armchair Expert and then more revelations in the five-part Apple TV series The Me You Can’t See, and the question becomes only more pressing: How could they in good conscience keep using their Sussex titles when they had no compunction about assailing the royal house whenever a camera was pointed in their direction?

Underpinning all of this is the notion that if Harry and Meghan had to front up to some glitzy Hollywood event or the annual Sun Valley talk-fest as plain old Mr and Mrs Mountbatten-Windsor, it would diminish their money-making potential and tarnish their celebrity lustre.

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But I wonder, have we been thinking about this the wrong way?

Could Her Majesty wielding her dwindling influence over the wayward couple and getting them to give up their Sussex titles actually backfire and prove to be a boon for Montecito’s most controversial rate payers?

For one thing, it would make the 95-year-old monarch look quite petty and vindictive. For those squarely in the pro-Harry and Meghan camp, this sort of move would confirm their view that the Queen is a mean-spirited nonagenarian out to punish the only bi-racial member of her extended family.

The Sussexes, in turn, could bask in a sort of PR martyrdom that would strengthen their anti-Establishment, ‘speaking truth to power’ brand.

This would also make Her Majesty look like a hypocrite too given that Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York is still allowed to wield her royal title with money-spinning abandon.

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Beyond all of this, even if Harry and Meghan were no longer in a position to use their Sussex titles, they still have his princely status to fall back on. He will always be Prince Henry of Wales officially and she, as his wife, has every right to style herself Princess Henry of Wales, a la the Queen’s cousin Prince Michael of Kent and his wife Princess Michael of Kent.

Therefore, should Harry and Meghan find themselves sans their gifted titles then, no biggie, they can simply go down the Wales route. Not only would they be able to enjoy something of the moral high ground, forced to suffer the slings and arrows of a vengeful palace, but Meghan would be entitled to style herself as a princess, an even more elevated title than duchess.

In short, this whole situation is something of a win/win for the renegade couple.

Strategically, the palace is stuck in a bind and only has what looks like losing hands to play. They can leave the couple and their titles untouched, or they can push them to kowtow to their whims and only strengthen the couple’s US cause.

Still, if DDD Day does come – Harry and Megan being denuded of their ducal designation – then have no fear. Surely Oprah would be on hand in a trice to help them share their authentic pain with viewers and Fergie could lend them a copy of her 2001 offering, Reinventing Yourself with the Duchess of York even though this would be one indignity that even she has not suffered.

Ouch. Now that particular injustice would surely have to hurt.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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