To say that the Queen’s Birthday, traditionally celebrated on June 4 by the grand Trooping of the Colour and with the traditional, much-anticipated “balcony appearance” at Buckingham Palace, is eagerly awaited in the United Kingdom is a very British understatement. As has been well broadcast, this particular Queen’s Birthday coincides with the “Diamond Jubilee” of Elizabeth II’s remarkable 70-year reign, and the entire four-day production in England from June 2 through June 5 is at once an occasion of the British polity, as well as a milestone deserving much celebration of the extraordinary stability of the British constitutional monarchy. Put bluntly, the Queen has kept the UK and the Commonwealth going through thick and thin, bound tightly to her, and also to her father’s, notion of service to the nations and to their people. Elizabeth is not just Britain’s and Europe’s longest-reigning monarch (having passed the landmark set by her grandmother Victoria in 2015), she’s clearly made of tough stuff, and that kind of royal is what the British like.
Ergo, the short answer to the question of the British right now is yes, of course, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle could, theoretically, soldier up to the moment this coming weekend. They’ve recently re-upped their lease on their Windsor digs, Frogmore House, they did the (minimum, obligatory) flyby to see the Queen en route to the Invictus Games last month, and this week they’ll bring Master Archie and young Lilibet to meet their celebrated grandmother. Outwardly, at least, the couple seem committed to a measure—a still highly undecided and indeterminate measure—of loyal participation in the doings of Harry’s family.
But: Given the rocky history of the couple’s pronouncements on life in the royal family over the two years since their departure from England, the long answer to the question of what they will or won’t do and/or say at or around the Jubilee celebrations on through the year is unfortunately not positive. This larger, ambient uncertainty came to a fiery point in the long weeks around their epic Santa-Barbara-verandah sit-down “confessional” to America’s own mother confessor, Oprah Winfrey, as broadcast on CBS and—for the Royal Family and the Queen—horrifyingly, Britain-wide, on ITV in March 2021. Suffice it to say, no one in the British royal family has forgotten or will forget the charges of racism and willful ignorance of deep mental anguish made in the broadcast, and thereafter, as leaked by the couple to CBS correspondent (and friend) Gayle King.
To his credit, Harry did soldier up and return home to attend the funeral of his storied grandfather in April 2021. But the chill in the air toward the wayward prince as exhibited within the British broadcast, in the British press, and actually at the event gauged by the variously allergic postures taken by some of his more distant family members was remarkable enough to come through on camera. In other words, the still-marginally ducal couple remain in the family, technically, but the far larger and more pressing question—both for the British public and the still working members of the royal family— is whether the couple will burn the few remaining bridges to the family that they haven’t already reduced to charcoal.
Thus the Queen’s decision to exclude her favored yet almost wholly self-exiled grandson Harry and his spouse, Meghan Markle, from the cherished balcony appearance was greeted with great approval in the British royal press a few delicate weeks back. It was ingeniously cast by the Palace as being a list restricted to “working” royals. Harry’s notorious and wholly exiled uncle, Andrew, has also not been invited to the balcony, as have many other non-working royals, but the cloud of sexual abuse accusations under which Andrew still labors is a tragic, if supremely ugly, sideshow compared to that of Harry and Meghan Markle.
Because: Harry and Meghan Markle were core working royals and in the direct line of succession—meaning, he is a direct descendant of the next king, Charles—until that moment in autumn 2019 when Meghan Markle de-camped from the British monarchy more or less in the dark of night for British Columbia. Put diplomatically, after the couple’s surprise website manifesto declaring their independence and desire to “carve” new roles for themselves within the monarchy in January 2020, the subsequent “Megxit” process was hastily and often fractiously argued between Harry and Meghan on the one side, and the Queen, Charles and William on the other.
Unlike its namesake Brexit, the Megxit process’s result was, at least, clear: No, Harry and Meghan Markle could not engage in commercial enterprises or “semi-retire” from royal duties while retaining all patronages, ranks and privileges pertaining to a working royal. They had to work as full-time royals, or not. They could retain their ducal titles, but a sticking point was the use of the word “royal.” Other than that, they were free to cut all the swift, white-hot, new-Hollywood podcast and streaming deals they might like. They chose Hollywood over the—to Meghan Markle, apparently—more dreary grind of supporting the vast number of far less fashionable charities supported by the royal family.
Arguably, as newbies at an all-you-can-eat buffet, they cut too many deals at once. As Netflix, one of their top sponsors, has slowed its quickstep march, Meghan Markle, to name just one producer, has had her beloved semi-autobiographical Pearl project spiked. Them’s the breaks in Hollywood.
But the next high-explosive round to drop in the battle between Harry and his family is not whatever “content” that Harry and Meghan Markle do finally generate for the streaming giant. It’s Harry’s yet-to-be-published as-told-to autobiography—once scheduled for release this fall but now seemingly re-scheduled—that has his family, especially Charles and his brother as well as the Queen and Britain as a whole, heartily clenching their jaws and bracing for the next blow. To say that Harry or Meghan Markle are simply interested in score-settling is to oversimplify the complex workings of the dialogue between the parties. But if the previous hagiographical “biography” of the couple, Finding Freedom, is any gauge, then this next book, in the hands of Harry in collaboration with the far more gifted The Tender Bar author JR Moehringer, will be a considerably more sophisticated weapon.
Bottom line: Thursday, June 2, at 10 a.m. Greenwich Mean, will see the bearskin-clad Irish Guards, among a host of other regiments, gather for the Trooping of the Colour. That event will form the kickoff to the long, festive weekend in the United Kingdom. Buckingham Palace balcony appearance or no, taken together, Prince Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s unremitting posture of absence from England, their most direct, self-bestowed freedom-of-hand in criticizing Harry’s family, and Harry’s upcoming book has the Royal Family and the baying hounds of the British press on the royal beat on red alert. For them, it’s not a question of if, but when.