On a clifftop in Malibu, sitting on five acres, is a faux-Tuscan villa that was once owned by the Sound of Music star Julie Andrews.
In a different universe, one where things had not ended the way they did in a tunnel one warm summer night in Paris, this may well have been the home of Diana, Princess of Wales. Or, more correctly, one of her homes de ella as she flitted between the West Coast of the US and her de ella apartment at Kensington Palace.
This is not the stuff of fantasy. According to her butler Paul Burrell’s 2004 tell-all de ella, the week before her death de ella in August 1997, Diana “was seriously considering a new future [in the US].”
“I saw the plans. We sat on the floor, spread out all the maps and the layout of the house,” Burrell said at the time.
When Diana’s son and daughter-in-law, Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex charted a similar sun-dappled trajectory in early 2020, throwing off the shackles of monarchy for an ostensibly freer life, it looked like they were, in a sort of touchingly symmetrical fashion, completing a journey she had started.
In those early, heady days of Megxit when it looked like the world was going to be the Sussexes’ celebrated oyster, before the ink had even dried on the Sandringham Summit agreement, one of the immediate questions that cropped up was, what would Diana have Made of their decision to escape the royal bubble for the New World and cocktails at Nobu?
This week, we got perhaps our best answer yet, courtesy of Andrew Morton, who is eminently qualified to weigh in here. He is, after all, the person who was chosen by the princess to tell the world everything – Charles’ infidelity, her bulimia, suicide attempts and post-natal depression via the nuclear blast that was Diana: My True Story. (Curiously, she did not talk to Morton about her extra-curricular shagging of her.)
Any who, it’s a fascinating thing to consider: What would the princess, who fought her own famous protracted battle against tweedy royal forces have made of Megxit?
Speaking to the Daily BeastMorton, who is also the author of The Queenhad an answer.
“I think Diana would be very conflicted now. On one hand, she would admire the fact that Harry’s made a break and got out and now lives in California,” Morton said. “She found America a place of openness and opportunity – so, on that side of things, she would have given Harry a round of applause.
“Where she wouldn’t have a round of applause for him is this dislocation between the two brothers. She always said she wanted Harry to be William’s wingman, not a hitman.”
Which is to say, the princess would have completely understood Harry and Meghan’s hunger to escape the cold-blooded palace and the expectation of personal subjugation for the greater monarchical good.
So far, so unproblematic. Where things get onto rockier ground is the disintegration of the relationship between Diana’s sons.
Tina Brown, a friend during Diana’s lifetime and later the author of the seminal biography about her, The Diana Chronicles has also offered up a similar read, telling the beast back in August that while[the princess] had differences with the royal family… she never thought for one minute that William would not be the future king, and that Harry would always be there to support him. She would not be happy with how things are.”
And this brings us to a really knotty point: Was Diana’s expectation slash hope that Harry would be a dutiful “wingman” to William’s future king a realistic or empathetic expectation?
Being born the Spare (which also tellingly happens to be the title of his forthcoming autobiography) would have been no picnic. Harry’s entire identity of him, from the very second he was born, has been wholly focused on what he is not – not going to be king, not going to lead, not going to rule.
No matter what you might think about his and Meghan’s various media eruptions and their current money-making ploys, to be trapped in a lifeline supporting role, to be expected to cheerfully play second fiddle ad nauseam is pretty rough.
I wonder, is there any way that Harry could have been “William’s wingman” and not been forced to sacrifice his personal happiness for the good of the crown?
Because being an efficient royal sidekick is not just about supplying moral support and the occasional sympathetic ear but of one of basic practicality too.
In heading off into the sunset the Sussexes have not only created a PR headache of ginormous proportions for Buckingham Palace but a professional one as well.
With an aging workforce (William and Kate are the only two ‘staffers’ under the age of 55-years-old) the royal family is fast approaching the point where it is simply cruel to expect some members to stay on the job. (The Duke of Kent is 87-years-old, Princess Alexandra is 85-years-old and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester 78 and 76-years-old respectively.)
The problem of what to do with the hundreds of patronages and honorary military roles that they, along with Princess Anne (72) and King Charles (74) and Queen Camilla (75), carry in the years to come (not to mention those of the late Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth) will only become more and more pressing. Without not only Harry but Meghan too (and possibly even their children) to pick up some of this slack, the Palace is facing a HRH staffing crisis with no obvious, realistic solution.
(I would wager that Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie being tapped to do their official bit by Uncle Charles is about as likely as them ever willingly deleting the number of uber milliner Philip Treacy.)
Which is to say, for Harry to have been an effective “wingman” for his brother, it would have meant staying ‘in’ as a frontline member of the royal family, no matter the personal toll. No amount of him sending thumbs up emojis in their ‘Royal Bros’ WhatsApp group was ever going to be enough.
Diana clearly loved her sons to bits but was her “wingman” vision ever a realistic one? Last year during Harry’s turn on actor Dax Shepherd’s Armchair Expert podcast, the duke said that he had left to “break the cycle” of “pain and suffering” in his family and described growing up in the royal family as “a mixture between The Truman Show and being in a zoo.”
To have fulfilled his supposed destiny to be a brother-in-arms to William would have meant accepting all of this.
However, that’s also not to say that the way the Sussexes escaped the confines of London would have necessarily met with Diana’s approval because there is another element worth considering here too: Money.
When Diana and now King Charles divorced in 1996, her sharp-clawed lawyer Lord Mischon managed to secure for her an incredibly good settlement of a $30 million lump sum and $700,000-annually to fund her office. Thus, the late princess had the means to fund her new US life without having to swap alliance to one powerful organization (The Throne Pty Ltd) to a selection of powerful organizations (Netflix, Spotify, Penguin Random House and BetterUp) to pay the bills .
Interestingly Diana in her final months was also plotting a move into the media realm, where she would, according to her friend and biographer Tina Brown, make “a film every two years, each one the centerpiece of a discreet humanitarian campaign.”
But, for Brown, “the one major difference [with the Sussexes was] that Diana didn’t see any profit in it. She was doing it as a charitable venture.
“She was really excited about starting to do documentaries about her causes, and for that to fund her humanitarian work.”
The question here is, what would the former Princess of Wales have made of Harry and Meghan getting into bed with various commercial giants and turning the lens (or microphone) on themselves?
Brown, also the author of the recent The Palace Paperstold the beast that while Diana would have been “delighted, supportive and thrilled” when her son fell in love with Meghan, “I don’t think Diana would have been the great fan of Meghan that Meghan herself might perhaps imagine.
“[Diana] would have been very, very protective of Harry and I believe very anxious about this direction they’ve taken. I think she would have felt Meghan was steering Harry in a direction that was not good for Harry.”
She argues that there is also another key way that the princess would have “kept Kensington Palace as her base. Unlike Harry and Meghan she understood having the power base of monarchy was enormously important.”
Happiness proved sadly elusive for Diana but will it for Harry and Meghan?
In Julie Andrews’ sound of music, easy answers are found with a few guitar strums and a sweet tune but that was never the case for Diana and now for her son. The sisters from the abbey urge Maria and the Von Trapps to Climb Every Mountain. The princess had no choice but to do just that and the Sussexes? Who knows just how close or how far away from the peak they are yet.
Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal expert with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
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