I’m just back from the shops. Yes, even when writing for a royal website covering a brewing constitutional crisis, the milk has to be bought and dinner has to be sorted. That’s the reality of life. These are the things that many royals say they crave, the moments of a normality that seem so appealing from the turreted towers of their privileged existence. But judging by the mood in my local shops this morning, that reality may be a cruel surprise to the Sussexes as they enter life away from being senior royals.
You see, the crowd around the paper stand in the supermarket was ever so slightly bigger this morning than normal. So much bigger, in fact, that the nice old man who likes to watch the lifts go up and down had to stand to one side, briefly, as the queue grew. And there was only one thing on the minds of those checking out the papers. Harry and Meghan.
I made my way round the stand, trying to make small talk, and I have to say that the air was one of disappointment. In fact, it was palpable. ‘Why have they thrown it all away?’ a woman said to me. But added to that general sense of unease was a growing magnetism for the front pages which highlighted the fact the Sussexes hadn’t told the Queen about their decision in advance. ‘What do you do about that?’ said another woman, ‘not really on, is it?’
This is hardly scientific stuff. I went back to the papers later when a new crowd had gathered. They were mostly older people, but I struggled to find anyone who wanted to put out more bunting to celebrate this new way of being royal.
And that’s where the issue lies for the Sussexes. It’s one thing to say you want to do things differently but in their haste to make a new life, they seem to have lost sight of the traditional role that royalty still hold for many. They have plenty of supporters but I would guess that many among the general population who didn’t really care either way until yesterday will be confused by their decisions. Royalty relies on the power of history, otherwise, why does it have the position it does?
The reality of being royal is that you end up occupying a position of privilege, one that gives you opportunities many can only dream of. It’s the chance to do good, it’s the chance to help, it’s the chance to shine a spotlight. But it’s also part of a social contract and if you decide you don’t like some of that, the question will be asked as to why you get to keep the other bits you do like.
Time will tell how the Sussexes fare and how the Queen, always the model of sharp discretion, deals with what is a body blow to the Firm. But as they aim for a more ‘normal’ life, Harry and Meghan might do well to remember that as well as buying milk and thinking about that night’s dinner, what people say and think really does make a difference to any royal brand.