For all the speculation around
the motivation for Harry and Meghan’s incendiary decision to step back from
royal duties last year—was it the hounding tabloids? A rift between brothers? A
desire to conquer Hollywood? —the couple themselves peddled a central theme in
what became known as Megxit: their desire to change the world.
At Sussex Royal, the website
the couple launched in January (shortly before it was determined that they
could no longer use the word royal in their branding), the most
prominent page, “Supporting Community,” featured photos of a beaming Meghan
with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and of Harry high-fiving kids in Botswana. It also
included a scattergun list of causes the couple aimed to support, from
combating HIV to empowering women and girls.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex attend the Endeavour Fund Awards at Mansion House
on March 05, 2020, during their farewell tour of England before officially exiting
The Sussexes “do not plan to
start a ‘foundation,’” the page stated, “but rather intend to develop a new way
to effect change.” The details were fuzzy, but the implication was clear: The
young couple could accomplish far more outside the confines of traditional,
fusty royal philanthropy.
The rest of Harry’s family
hardly seems willing to concede the point. Their recent and very public shows
of civic duty can be seen as a direct response to Harry and Meghan deeming them
an unworthy organization. “You can be assured that my family and I stand ready
to play our part,” the Queen said in a statement early on in the
Covid-19 crisis, perhaps spying an opportunity for the firm to bounce back from
its recent scandals and rifts.
In late April, William and
Kate, who had beamed themselves into a school for the children of essential
workers and a new emergency hospital, led the couple’s launch of Our
Frontline, a union of mental health charities supporting key workers.
Even Sophie Wessex, normally
one of the less visible royals, stepped up just as Harry stepped down; the
former PR executive and wife of Prince Edward has been spotted in recent months
at buzzy philanthropic gatherings, and she spent much of April volunteering for
a charity that has been making packed lunches for NHS workers.
The obvious rolling up of
royal sleeves made Harry and Meghan’s next move seem rather uneventful. In
April we learned a little more about their much-hyped plans: The couple were
going to…start a foundation. Or at least the charitable organization they
registered in the U.S. looked a lot like one. It would be called
Archewell (“Arche,” the couple explained, is the Greek word meaning
“source of action”), and its focus would be broad, to say the least, covering “emotional
counseling” and “coordinating social, personal care,” among other things.
Perhaps Harry and Meghan will
soon dazzle the public with the specificity and efficacy of their plans, but
for now the couple appear simply to be adding a dollop of Beverly Hills Goopishness
to a tried-and-tested royal recipe. For at least two centuries the royal family
has used a dizzying array of charitable pursuits—in tandem with a canny
employment of PR—to add legitimacy to its reign.