Harry and Meghan’s ‘spectacular’ blunder
TUESDAY was a good and a bad day to be Harry, Duke of Sussex.
Good because by his own admission he had enjoyed some much-needed, uninterrupted Zzzzs having traded Frogmore Cottage for a night in Amsterdam. "I don't know about you guys but it was definitely the best night's sleep I've had for the last four months!" the newish dad and red-headed charmer quipped to the press.
Here's the story: Harry flew to the Netherlands this week to launch Travalyst (an unwieldy portmanteau of 'Travel' and 'Catalyst'). It's a union that is bringing together Booking.com, VISA, Tripadvisor, CTrip and Skyscanner to create "a first-of-its-kind coalition, a united front of businesses dedicated to making travel an engine for sustainability". Basically, they want to make travel greener, which is a truly commendable move.
This whole project is straight out of the Sussex playbook, leveraging the heft of commercial entities, applying some real-world savvy and then adding the lustre of royal involvement. (In a similar vein, last month Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, provided the first tantalising glimpse of her capsule collection, which will see retailers including Marks & Spencer donate clothes to the char
ity Smart Works.)
The end result should have been a raft of headlines and news stories about Harry's new and exciting initiative, the debut project of the newly unveiled Sussex Foundation.
We should, right now, be discussing how electrifying it is to see him use his platform and privilege, turning royal responsibility into a powerful social force.
We should be talking about how, in the post-Sussex age, stoically trooping along to cut a ribbon, unveiling a plaque and uttering a few dull remarks penned by a staffer just doesn't cut it for a member of the royal family.
Emphasis on "should have" given in the last month the 34-year-old and his wife have faced accusations of hypocrisy for preaching about environmental issues while flitting about the Mediterranean for six-figure holidays on-board private jets. (It w
as four private jet trips in 11 days if you are counting.)
During a Q&A session at the Travalyst launch, Harry defended this mode of travel, saying "I came here by commercial. I spend 99 per cent of my life travelling the world by commercial. Occasionally, there needs to be an opportunity based on a unique circumstance to ensure my family are safe, and it's genuinely as simple as that."
Leaving aside the question of why two future kings can fly a budget airline safely but Harry, Meghan and Archie can't, it is totally baffling why the family chose to take four private jet flights when they must have known Travalyst's debut was in the offing.
The optics could not have been worse unless the couple were caught wearing the pelts of endangered snow leopards while tucking into whale burgers as they burnt a pile of coal in the garden of Frogmore Cottage.
This whole situation is an example of spectacular self-sabotage, with the pair having managed to undermine their credential
s as environmental leaders in a matter of weeks.
(Also, if nipping onto a RyanAir flight to go and stay with Uncle Elton in France was not doable for security reasons, then surely they should have considered trading the beaches of the Côte d'Azur for a nice patch of sand in Old Blighty.)
More broadly, this situation has revealed a dilemma that is only going to become more pressing for the Sussexes in the future. That is, as they pursue their roles as global activists, they can't divorce their private life from public purpose.
They simply cannot exhort the masses to do one thing and then blithely trundle along and do another when the cameras are switched off.
Like political candidates running for the highest offices, Harry and Meghan's lives need to be squeaky clean and above reproach. The values and projects they preach about must line up with the way they live.
They need to consider the consequences for their brand and image when it comes to what they wear, do and buy. (For example, it must have been embarrassing when it turned out that a blanket that Meghan wrapped Archie in during a polo match in July was made in India by workers being paid 66 cents an hour.)
Their energy and purpose is clear and it is truly thrilling to see members of the royal family intent on doing something more substantial than opening regional Scout halls or trundling along to charity flower shows. However, it is frustrating to watch the duo so spectacularly thwart their own potential successes by their personal choices.
"We can all do better and while no one is perfect, we all have a responsibility for our own individual impact," Harry told the crowd.
Exactly. And that responsibility means the Sussexes, by dint of their own ambition, need to really and truly scrutinise their actions and choices ahead. That and maybe learn to love the beaches of Britain.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and freelance writer with 15 years' experience who has written for some of Australia's best print and digital media brands.