Daniela Elser: Queen’s 365-day silence since Harry and Meghan quit royal family

OPINION:

Of all the facts about the Queen, the one that floors me every time I come across it is this: She has never given an interview. Not one. Not ever.

She has met more people than any other human being, ever; sat for dozens and dozens of portraits; and her image has appeared on currency on every continent on Earth aside from Antarctica. But she has never, ever sat down opposite even the most fawning of journalists to answer the softest of softball questions.

If there is one lesson Her Majesty can teach us, besides why every woman, monarch or not should buy Hermes scarfs in bulk, it is the power of silence.

And if ever there has been a time in royal history when the 95-year-old has put that philosophy into blistering effect it has been over the past 365 days.

Rewind to this time last year and the world was still reeling from the flurry of claims made by Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Dressed in oddly formal get-ups (black for her, grey for him) they did what would once have been unthinkable: They let loose in prime time.

Life inside the palace gates, according to the duo, had involved institutional racism, horrifying indifference to the duchess’ suffering and when they had the temerity to stride off to California to talk about making content, his daddy refused to keep shelling out millions of pounds.

They had never expected their security to be yanked, they told Oprah Winfrey (whose main role in proceedings seemed to be offering up an incredulous “Whaaaaaat?” every now and then) nor that their son Archie might not be made a prince one day, the inference being that his skin colour might influence things.

(Under the 1917 Letters Patent, Archie, and now his little sister Lilibet too, will become a prince and princess when their grandfather Charles becomes King. He, however, has long zealously espoused a slimmed-down model of the royal family, trying to dispel the image of a bloated monarchy chock full of freeloaders. What this vigorous pruning of the family tree might mean for the smallest Sussexes, who are seventh and eight in line for the throne, remains to be seen.)

By the time the credits rolled on the Sussexes’ two-hour special, no matter whether you thought you had just witnessed a truly shabby pantsing of the royal family or that they had bravely spoken truth to the power of a horrifyingly unfeeling institution, the one reaction every single viewer shared was one of slack-jawed shock.

The world’s eyes immediately turned to Buckingham Palace: How would the Queen react?

The immediate answer: Very, very slowly. It took nearly two days for courtiers to put out a 61-word statement of truly breathtaking economy and which infamously read in part, “some recollections may vary”.

And what is remarkable is that, one year on since then, the tweedy lot has not uttered another single, solitary word on the matter.

Harry and Meghan, by contrast, had only just started speaking their truth, aka doing the media rounds.

Just over a week after the Oprah special, the TV billionaire’s best friend Gayle King told US morning TV viewers: “Harry has talked to his brother and he has talked to his father too. The word I was given was those conversations were not productive.”

(Hard to imagine that private family communications somehow ending up in the ear of an American breakfast host would have impressed the palace.)

In May, Harry got in on the podcasting game, recording a nearly 90-minute episode of Armchair Expert with actor Dax Shepherd. (Which, coincidentally is nearly triple the amount of content that he and his wife have made in 15 months for Spotify.) During the interview, the Duke spoke about the “pain and suffering” of his upbringing and opened up about “genetic pain”.

The next month, his mental health TV series The Me You Can’t See debuted on Apple TV+, in which he accused the royal family of “total neglect”.

What is fascinating is that at each of these junctures, when the Queen and co. came in for a fresh round of damaging headlines, they did not put out statements refuting Harry’s claims point-by-point or push back against the victim narrative being furiously peddled by the Montecito Two.

Instead, their lips stayed entirely zipped.

At the time, it seemed like the palace was being woefully shortsighted, clinging to their time-honoured modus operandi of impervious silence, rigidly refusing to engage or considering doing things differently in the face of even this unprecedented mess.

However, with the benefit of hindsight, that has proven to be a shrewd approach to a febrile situation.

No matter whether the Sussexes do have grievances that deserve to be properly addressed (and I think they have some) their repeated, self-righteous repeated airing of family dirty laundry has in fact only really dealt them a PR blow.

Rather than devastating the royal brand (or even elevating them to brave quasi-martyr status) the couple just came out the other side looking like angry children with a permanent axe to grind for not getting their way.

Rather than speaking to Oprah and then moving on to focus all their energy on all that change-making they pay a lot of lip service to, they now have the reputation, unfairly or not, as being two of the world’s most famous whingers.

As a consequence, what sympathy they had initially engendered with their Oprah revelations soon evaporated, all of which was exacerbated by what was going on back in London. That they started and then pushed on with this campaign while Harry’s grandfather Prince Philip was nearing the end of his life, and then, after he died in April, and then as his grandmother mourned the loss of her husband of 73 years, left a very bad taste in the world’s mouth.

(What they haven’t either realised or are ignoring is that one couple’s truth-telling can look a lot like a betrayal to someone else.)

Both Harry and Meghan told Oprah how much they respected Her Majesty but they both seem to have missed the crucial lesson she could have taught them about not only the power but the dignity of silence.

(Or, in the eternal words of Ronan Keating: “You say it best when you say nothing at all.”)

I’m not suggesting for a moment that the Duke and Duchess do not have wholly legitimate issues that deserve addressing, but it is that they have gone about raising them, and the fact they keep doing it again and tediously again, which is the sticking point.

Aside from confirming the worst fears of the most ardent Sussex supporters, this strategy has not in any way turned the tide of public opinion their way.

If anything, it’s had the exact opposite effect, galvanising support for the house of Windsor. In fact, in the 12 months since their Oprah fusillade, the Queen’s approval rating has gone up. Ditto William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

This is all, of course, to say nothing of the personal toll Harry and Meghan’s revelations must surely have taken in terms of trans-Atlantic relations. (Loose lips sink family relationships?) The Duchess has yet to return to the UK, and earlier this month a spokesperson for the couple confirmed that Harry would not be attending the service of thanksgiving for Prince Philip later this month.

The Queen clearly understands the power of holding one’s tongue. Harry does not.

In July last year it was announced he was hard at work on a memoir, which is set to be released later this year.

The Sun has reported that Charles has privately told aides he is worried the autobiography will be an “excoriating take-down” of his wife and future queen, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

Anyone else getting a twinge of deja vu?

Having picked up a reported $27 million advance for his very first book, one would have to imagine he has promised his publishers some juicy stuff. The chance of a chapter titled “Why my family is the absolute best” seems particularly unlikely.

Whatever wounds might have healed with the passage of time post-Oprah could very well be about to be opened. Again.

In 2022, if there is one motto we should all live by it is WWHMTQD: What would Her Majesty the Queen do? Yes, do buy more pearls. No, don’t wear lime green hot pants to the office. And when it comes to a crisis, play the long game, wearing a horsey Hermes scarf.

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

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