Among the insurmountable highs and depressing lows of the British royal family over the last year, there has been only one constant: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s unfailing ability to entertain.
For centuries, royals have been living out a real-life soap opera. They are the select few whose lives behind the gilded palace gates are marked by pomp and circumstance, whose lives involve curtsying to cousins based on birth order and disputes over diamond encrusted tiaras make headline news.
When it wasn’t Henry VIII beheading his six wives in the 16th century, it was Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s scandalous divorce which rocked the monarchy in the ‘90s, setting in motion a sequence of events in which we find ourselves today.
The British monarchy is an institution built to endure - and adapt where possible - but its future will forever be shaped by its obsession with the past. And the past has no place in Harry and Meghan’s life.
Both of their pasts, together and apart, are well-documented, but their future is one shrouded in mystery. For the first time Harry’s life, he will oversee his own decisions, finally obtaining the independence he has always so craved, while Meghan’s three-year ban on personal satisfaction has finally been lifted.
Monday marked their last ever engagement as working royals, before embarking on a life in Canada where they intend to work towards becoming private citizens with financial independence. Today might be the last day we’ll see them engage in such a formal manner, but there has been plenty of notice for those who knew what to look for.
The warning signs have been there all along: the endless statements, the lawsuits, the ‘war’ with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the tearful ITV documentary. For all the fame and fortune that comes with being born a prince, Harry’s life has been irrevocably shaped for the worse simply by being royal.
His mother’s death in 1997 triggered a lifetime of chronic grief and mental health issues, and his only happy time in his adulthood was being a captain in the Army before that too was taken away when an Australian magazine compromised his team’s security, effectively neutralising his career. It was only becoming a husband and father that brought him the elusive joy he’d been chasing for decades.
Their decision to leave has moved beyond watercooler talk, dominating national news agendas around the world, extending thousands of miles outside the Commonwealth. But that gossip ends - at least, in an official capacity – for their final royal appearance today.
Harry, as is his modus operandi, looked away from the cameras, while Meghan ensured the world’s press got her best angle. And rightly so, as she had dressed for the history books. It marked her last moment as Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Sussex, the rule-breaking American actress who broke the mould.
It was also an example of the impossibly regal style she had been struggling to find over the years. Her wardrobe has been a consistent mishmash of her trademark California style with a caricature version of how a princess is expected to dress.
But today, there were no flesh coloured tights as required by Queen Elizabeth or ill-fitting attire not properly tailored; instead she dazzled in an emerald green Emilia Wickstead cape dress blowing in the wind as if the stage had been set for the cameras. It was Princess Meghan as she always should have been had she been allowed.
There was no fuddy duddy fascinator, only a bespoke netted headpiece, her trademark Aquazurra pumps and a silk green Gabriela Hearst bag. It was the pièce de résistance in a flawless ‘farewell weekend’ wardrobe.
Over the course of 72 hours, the couple wrapped up their duties this side of the Atlantic in a neat little bow, their undeniable glee juxtaposed with an underlying sense of sadness. Sadness that Harry is forced to leave the only life he’s ever known, sadness that Meghan couldn’t find the happiness everyone deserves and sadness that the public who have followed them so diligently will no longer be privy to the Hollywood razzmatazz both have brought to their roles so far.
Harry, it seems, didn’t just inherit his mother’s devotion to philanthropy, but also her unique execution of drama.
From the instantly iconic ‘singin’ in the rain’-style picture on Friday to Meghan’s powerful speech on International Women’s Day in which she said rather tellingly to a group of secondary school students, “No matter what gender you are, you have a voice and you certainly have the right to speak up for what is right.”
Later that night, for Harry’s last engagement as Captain General of the Royal Marines, their matching red was not only their best look as a couple, but arguably one of the best fashion moments in royal history.
In usual circumstances, Meghan’s monochromatic red ensemble would usually be described as an ‘I’ve arrived’ moment, but in this case, it’s a clear goodbye. By Monday, after universal praise for their carefully selected engagements and what can only be described as ‘revenge dressing’, the type of style showmanship so rarely seen these days.
It’s the type of drama that the Cambridges, beloved as they are, will never bring. There are many things we’ll miss about Meghan and Harry, but we’ll miss the drama most of all.