What a difference a pandemic makes.
In January, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, stunned the world by announcing their intention to quit the royal family. The media gave “Megxit” saturation coverage, treating it like the most significant royal news story since the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936. The Spectator argued the couple “represent the triumph of celebrity over royalty. “
But then this coronavirus broke out and the monarchy came roaring back.
Queen Elizabeth II gave a powerful, inspiring speech to encourage her people:
“I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge, and those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any, that the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet, good-humored resolve, and of fellow feeling still characterize this country.”
Many viewers said they were moved to tears. No celebrity could have united and reassured the British people the way their queen did.
Prince Charles released an online message, praising the hard work of the doctors and nurses at the frontline of fighting the pandemic. He looked tired and frail, having only just recovered from his own bout of the virus.
Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge initially went out to meet emergency workers. Once the lockdown was imposed, they started holding video calls with students at schools that remain open for children of essential workers. Prince William has impressed royal watchers with his no-nonsense, dutiful approach to the crisis. The Telegraph newspaper opined, “Coronavirus has been the making of Prince William.”
What have Harry and Meghan been doing during this time? They were staying in Canada but flew to Los Angeles via private jet with the intention of making it their new home.
News leaked that they are setting up a charitable organization called “Archewell.” The name comes from the Greek word meaning “source of action.” It also inspired the name of their son, Archie. The couple was not previously known to have any interest in Greek culture. Harry’s grandfather Prince Phillip was born into the now-deposed Greek royal family, but that seems unlikely to be the origin.
The couple said in a statement that their organization is intended “to do something of meaning, to do something that matters.”
The irony is that, as members of the royal family, they were perfectly positioned to do “something that matters.” But they walked away from that so they could become celebrities instead.
This past week has seen the couple venturing out to deliver boxes of food to the needy in Los Angeles. Naturally, photographers just happened to be present to capture their do-goodery. In the photos, Meghan and Harry look like any other Hollywood celebrity couple. They are wearing studiously casual clothes and face masks.
The timing of their decision to set up shop in Hollywood could not have been worse. As the Coronavirus crisis unfolds, celebrities have never seemed less relevant. Americans are quarantined in their homes, fearing for their health and watching their livelihoods evaporate. They have been venting some of their frustration at wealthy celebrities who Instragram photos of themselves self-isolating in their multi-million-dollar mansions.
“While much of the United States is on lockdown, scared or bored out of their wits, broke and newly unemployed, many celebrities, TV personalities and ‘influencers’ are behaving like Nero, fiddling while Rome burned,” said the New York Post.
Madonna posted a bizarre video of herself sitting nude in a giant bath tub with flower petals. She mumbles that Coronavirus “is the great equalizer.” Viewers responded with so many angry comments that she deleted the video.
Another lightning rod for popular fury was Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot. She corralled a group of her millionaire celebrity friends to encourage and unite fans by singing John Lennon’s atheist hymn “Imagine.” It includes the line “imagine there’s no possessions.” The Daily Beast quipped, “To give the video credit, it has indeed united the world. We are one in hating it.”
This is the life that Harry and Meghan have signed up for.
Victorian-era essayist Walter Bagehot famously wrote of the British monarchy, “Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic.” Harry and Meghan have not just let in daylight, they’ve stepped under glaring spotlights and flashing cameras. While they may not have realized it yet, becoming celebrities is a massive demotion for them. All the magic is gone, and with it their shot at making a meaningful difference. They have consigned themselves to glittery irrelevance.
[Image Credit: U.S. Department of Defense-Edward Joseph Hersom II, public domain]
Emma Freire is a writer living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She has also been published in The Federalist and The American Conservative.