Hidden reason for Harry, Meghan’s UK trip

The Queen might just be the world’s most famous mime. Her image ranks up there with the McDonald’s arches and the cross in terms of global recognition but her voice is only very rarely heard. Instead, she stares out us silently from stamps, coins, portraits in municipal council offices and tea towels. She can’t speak out on politics, religion or the latest seasons of Strictly Come Dancing.But while she might have to diplomatically keep her lips nearly permanently zipped, to badly paraphrase Oprah Winfrey’s Sussex interview last year, she is neither silent nor silenced.Take the fact that, according to The Sun on Monday, she only granted Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex a “formal” 15-minute meeting during their recent trip to the UK, their first meaningful return since their bitter exit.The combined efforts of a town crier, paid Instagram advertising campaign and front page interview with the Times could not more precisely and clearly have communicated One’s feelings about the divisive duo.As a source told the paper: “It was a quick in-and-out job. It was all quite formal.”I believe the technical term here is, ouch.However this news not only adds to the list of humiliations suffered by the Sussexes but also raises a very interesting question: Why did they go at all?The ostensible reason for them to pack up their two small children, yoga mats and brace of burly bodyguards into a private jet and fly 8,500km across the globe was out of respect for the 96-year-old.Harry’s profusion of respect for the Queen has been a recurring line we have heard over the last few years. He had “too much respect” for his grandmother to “blindside” her, he told Oprah during their incendiary interview, at another point declaring, “I have a deep respect for her. She’s my Colonel-In-Chief, right? She always will be.”In April, when he and Meghan travelled to The Hague for the Invictus Games, they made a lightning visit to see his Gan Gan because he wanted to “(make) sure that she’s protected and got the right people around her,” a fact he promptly informed American TV audiences during an interview with the Today show.All this respect meant that despite the Grand Canyon-worth rift with his brother Prince William, they wanted to be there to help celebrate Her Majesty’s historic milestone.There was also the Lilibet factor to this UK trip. No matter that her naming last year set off a fresh controversy, including the firing off of legal letters over whether they had asked the Queen’s permission to co-opt her childhood nickname for their daughter, the couple wanted his grandmother to finally meet their little girl.Meanwhile, Her Majesty’s inclination to have the Sussexes be a part of the Jubilee looked like it could put it down to one part grandmotherly affection and one part pragmatism – safer to have the camera-friendly couple on royal turf during the Jubilee than left to potentially overshadow her from afar.So, the situation going into the Jubilee looked like this: Harry and Meghan would gamely put up with what was always going to be an ice-cold reception from the Cambridges to a) keep Her Majesty sweet and b) so that they could have the touching family moment of Lilibet meeting Lilibet. (You could feel the Fleet Street headline writers salivating at the prospect of wheeling that one out.)But, Monday’s Sun report about the 15-minute meeting throws that thinking out the window, only further underscoring the mystery of what motivated them to put themselves through the London ringer.That the Queen would only give them the same amount of time she would deign to afford a newly-appointed ambassador is the humiliating cherry on the mortifying Jubilee cake for Harry and Meghan. (Over the course of their visit, they were booed by some of the crowd outside St Paul’s, largely shunned his family, reportedly not invited to a Windsor lunch at Buckingham Palace, reportedly left off the guest list for the concert at the Palace, and had all of the Windsors bar Princess Anne’s children and grandchildren skip Lilibet’s first birthday party.)That all they would get was a brief audience with the Queen may well have been something they knew when they boarded their flight to the UK.The Queen’s schedule for the four-day event would surely have been set in stone weeks ago, every minute accounted for and planned with military precision, especially given her health woes. ”There is also the issue of the cost of all of this. It was reported last week that the price tag of a return private jet flight from their home in California to the UK would have been about $279,000 which means that their brief meeting with the Queen works out at potentially having cost them $18,600-a-minute.So, if they knew they were only going to be given “formal” and very brief face-to-face time with Her Majesty, all with a whopping travel bill attached, why did the Sussexes go back?One possible theory here can be explained by Paddington Bear. The Queen and the adored children’s book character co-starred in a heart-meltingly lovely video for the Jubilee, a PR win that one Walt Disney executive has told the Daily Mail was worth $350 million in “free publicity” for the owners of the Paddington franchise.What then might a photo of Lilibet and Lilibet have been worth? Not monetarily mind you but in terms of the invaluable boost it would have given the Sussex brand?Some serious uplift in the image department would not go astray right now with the couple’s US takeover losing steam. With the sum total of work they have produced while based in America consisting of one podcast episode and a children’s book, both of which earned lacklustre reviews, they are hardly setting the world alight. (Harry’s mental health doco was co-produced with Winfrey and was started back in 2019 so falls outside of this category to my thinking.)Then there’s the fact that only last month it was reported that the prince and the former Suits star are filming an “at-home” docuseries for their Netflix paymasters, a report that Team Sussex and the streaming giant have not denied.What makes them so prized to the entertainment behemoth aren’t their novel ideas on humanitarian work but that they are a real life, living, breathing duke and duchess. It is their status as members of the Queen’s family and their former place in the inner regal sanctum that made them such a valuable property.But, that value has only taken a nosedive since they signed their deal back in 2020 given their constant anti-Palace rhetoric has only pushed them further and further to the outer reaches of the royal orbit.Which is where a photo of the 96-year-old Queen tenderly holding her one-year-old great-granddaughter would come in, an image which would have instantaneously reversed much of the Sussexes slide into royal irrelevance, putting themselves and their children smack bang back in the centre of picture, literally and figuratively.The argument can be made that all the snubbing and frostiness of the Jubilee would have been worth it if it had paid serious dividends and they had walked away with this priceless PR coup.However, this clearly did not come to pass with the Sun having previously reported that the Queen had in fact “banned” the duo from bringing a snapper with them to photograph her first meeting with Lilibet out of concern the shots would end up on US TV.The unknown in all of this is whether the Duke and Duchess of Sussex knew about this photographer restriction when they touched down in the UK.Which leaves us here: No great royal family rapprochement, no Queen photo and no ground gained in an sense.It’s hard to see Harry and Meghan and their kids returning to the UK again in the near future. The Sussexes might have renewed their lease on Frogmore Cottage recently, their Windsor home, but the chance of them pitching up via private jet for a fun-filled family getaway of Marmite sandwiches and rounders must be about zero.And the Queen? She might have only appeared for 27 minutes in public during the Jubilee, but when it came to the Sussexes, her message came across loud and clear.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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