Big smiles from Harry when he emerged in public.
Big smiles from Harry when he emerged in public.

Harry’s smile is an issue for the royals

The smile was back. After a tumultuous and deeply emotional eight days, Prince Harry returned to the spotlight overnight hosting the 2021 Rugby League World Cup draw at Buckingham Palace.

The first shots of the royal arriving at the Palace showed him looking pensive and staring down at his phone, however when he stepped into the sunlight of the Georgian pile's vast garden to meet young rugby league players and front the press, the 35-year-old seemed to be in a much better mood.

Here was the Prince Harry who had long captured the world's heart, the cheeky, cheerful man who effortlessly connected with crowds and brought his mother's signature ease and warmth to royal engagements. His signature mischievous grin was back!

And that is what makes the fact this could have been his final official outing all the more heart-rending.

 

Harry was all smiles at the draw for the Rugby League World Cup. Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Harry was all smiles at the draw for the Rugby League World Cup. Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

 

It was like nothing had happened at all. Picture: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
It was like nothing had happened at all. Picture: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

 

At some point in the coming week, Harry will board a plane to Canada to be reunited with his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and their nine-month-old son Archie with no definite return

date locked in.

Earlier this week a clearly regretful Queen put out an extraordinarily heartfelt statement confirming that she had given the Sussexes her permission to step back from being "full time" working members of the family.

What Harry and Meghan's future looks like remains completely uncertain.

While they initially said they wanted to continue "to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages" there is no guarantee this desire will be reflected in the final divorce deal.

Whether he intended to or not, Harry has dolefully reminded the world what an abject loss to the monarchy his departure (and Meghan's too) represents.

While the better part of the past two years has been marred by the couple's increasingly fraught relationship with the press (and while the world watched agog as countless headlines

about feuds and rifts erupted from the front pages) in that time the Sussexes have notched up

a number of big wins.

Their tours to Australia, the South Pacific, Morocco and Southern Africa have all been unequivocal successes.

With every meet and greet, every Instagram post and every outing they have managed to spectacularly revivify the royal brand on a global scale.

While Harry's brother Prince William and his wife Kate attract similar, monster crowds and glowing coverage when they go on tour or step out for an official event, there is plenty of awe and glamour and picture-perfect photo opportunities for the loyal press pack to duly capture.

As the future King and Queen they arouse a certain dazzling wonderment, a mouth-agape fascination at seeing an ancient institution rendered in flesh and blood.

Harry and Meghan were an entirely different cup of tea. When they interacted with throngs of well wishers or undertook what on paper sound like very dreary outings (youth group morning teas and endless Commonwealth symposiums) they managed to engender real adoration and somehow connected with crowds with an element of authenticity.

It was impossible not to get the sense that they truly and genuinely cared.

While William has always represented stability and continuity (even his male pattern baldness is duly following the Windsor party line) Harry was always the wildcard.

He traded his laddish ways for the front line in Afghanistan. He came to symbolise quiet dedication and a certain distinctly British flavour of decency and bravery.

While the royal family has boasted it's fair share of rebellious HRHs, Harry has always possessed something of outlier status, which is perhaps why we the unwashed masses relate so much more to him than his brother.

His obvious personal struggles and very public scrapes only served to reinforce his otherness within the confines of his apparently stuffy family.

Meghan only added to that outsider quality. Here was a woman who could not have been further from the upper class gals he had gadded about with for much of his 20s: smart, professional, and successful in her own right. Together they were a truly potent force, making the royal family seem less like an anachronistic folly and more like a modern, philanthropic force for good.

 

The move to Canada could highlight an issue for the royals.
The move to Canada could highlight an issue for the royals.

 

The Queen has long understood the blunt necessity of constantly evolving and of never letting any lingering whiff of redundancy about the monarchy creep into public sentiment.

This is why she would have appreciated how compelling a force the Sussexes were, energising global audiences and bringing a dynamism to the royal brand on an international scale not seen since the days of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The fact she sees the clear loss that the institution of the monarchy now faces is reflected in her statement earlier this week in which she candidly admitted, "we would have preferred them to remain full-time working Members of the Royal Family".

On Monday, William and Kate (along with Princess and Sophie, Countess of Wessex) will host a reception at Buckingham Palace to mark the UK-Africa investment summit.

This is exactly the sort of event that Harry and Meghan would have attended previously.

With Harry preparing to leave the UK next week and Meghan already firmly ensconced in Canadian life, now the responsibility of ensuring the longevity and robustness of public interest in the royal family rests squarely on the Cambridges' shoulders. It will be a very heavy load to bear.

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


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