How the Queen proved Meghan and Harry wrong in four minutes



In the age of coronavirus, we all spend a lot of time reading, thinking and talking about numbers. The number of new infections. The number of deaths. The rough number of days until this horrible, brave new world ends.

So here's another one: 23.3 million.

That's how many Brits tuned in LIVE to watch the Queen give only the fourth televised address of her nearly 68-year reign from Windsor Castle as she addressed the current pandemic.

With her signature measured, cutglass tones, and a mixture of gravitas and genuine tenderness, she spoke to an anxious, choleric public directly from Windsor Castle.


It was a historic address in more ways than one. There was a consensus among pundits across the political spectrum that her performance was Churchillian, a certainty that her words will end up in history textbooks and slapped on uplifting Instagram posts in the years to come.

Unlike previous broadcasts that have required a retinue of BBC technical folk to help air her measured words, this time, there was only one, masked camera person in the room with Her Majesty.

It is a striking, powerful image: A woman who commands an army and heads up a religion alone with one of her 2.4 billion subjects, united by a common cause.

The popularity of the Queen's speech was not restricted to the United Kingdom. In France, 2.35 million people tuned in and it was carried live in Germany and across all the major channels in the US and in Australia on the commercial networks.

In just four and a bit minutes, the 93-year-old managed to demonstrate the astonishing, remarkable relevance and power of the monarchy.

Which other world leaders could command such vast global attention? Which other figure could unify a nation riven by political differences and provide such immediate succour and support for millions.

But this was not the only royal story to grab the headlines last week.


The Queen on the balcony at Buckingham Palace with Meghan and Harry when the couple were still senior royals. Picture: AP Photo/Matt Dunham
The Queen on the balcony at Buckingham Palace with Meghan and Harry when the couple were still senior royals. Picture: AP Photo/Matt Dunham


On Tuesday, the name and focus of Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussexes' forthcoming philanthropic offering was revealed. The (UK) Daily Telegraph first reported that the couple have filed paperwork in the US for an entity called Archewell, named after the Greek word for "source of action" and their son Archie.

On the charity's potential agenda are things such as volunteering services, "education and training materials" delivered films, podcasts and books, along with the possibility of a "website featuring information in the field of nutrition, general health and mental health".

So, let's talk about another number here: 11.3 million. That was the number of followers that the couple's Sussex Royal Instagram account boasted prior to April 1, the day that marked the duo's official departure from royal life and thus the day they were no longer allowed to brand themselves "royal".

Or to put it another way, less than half the number of people who, in the UK alone, tuned in for Grandma's televised address this week.

Looking back at the past two years and a half years, Harry and Meghan have largely dominated the royal narrative (Prince Andrew aside).

They were the magnetic duo whose love for one another was positively infectious. As they stepped out at event after event, hands clasped tightly, beaming at one another, the public fell all over again for the very idea of a hereditary monarchy.

They were a much-needed tonic to try and shore up the public's interest in, and support of, the institution in the 21st century.

And then the story soured. They faced a number of PR crises and became regal lightning rods, their choices over everything from where to live, to their son's birth, to their predilection for private jets dominating coverage of the Palace.

Then, their smiles started to waver and they went to South Africa in September last year. They both shared their personal struggles with royal life with a veteran journalist, a film crew capturing their obvious distress.

They took a six-week sabbatical in Canada over Christmas and then came the shock announcement in early January, via Instagram, that they wanted to renegotiate their working role in the royal family and there was already a spiffy new website ready to go.

When the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William came to negotiate a week later, the Sussexes' were reportedly presented with an ultimatum of in or out.

Harry and Meghan, the Windsors' great shining hope, opted out.


The couple have been the shining stars of the royal family since their engagement. Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
The couple have been the shining stars of the royal family since their engagement. Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)


In retrospect, their exit stage left seems like a calculated power play. They were the stars in the royal drama who commanded vast adoring crowds both in reality and on social media. With their departure, they could throw off the shackles of Palace protocol and enjoy a nearly seamless entree into Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Hollywood.

They could build a philanthropic powerhouse and wildly valuable brand and never have to unveil a plaque or cut a ribbon or shake hands with a nervous Lord Lieutenant again.

However, like countless other assumptions and choices, the rampant, horrifying spread of COVID-19 has laid bare the hollowness of that model.

With only 532 words, Her Majesty demonstrated the relevance and sheer, innate power of the monarchy to provide genuine comfort on a global scale.

By contrast, the Sussexes' brand of hash-tagged help has started to look like a flimsy imitation of the real, royal deal.



To be fair, Harry and Meghan's longstanding interest in mental health and their apparent plans to continue that work will be more vital than ever as billions of us grapple with loneliness, depression, and anxiety. (Though given the vast number of charities already set up to try and deal with these issues, it is up for debate whether the Sussexes' might be able to achieve more by simply funnelling money to these worthy organisations rather than setting up another one.)

In the weeks or months to come, when Harry and Meghan launch their new Instagram account they will certainly rack up millions of followers and likes with record-breaking speed. But contrast that impressive digital sway with the awe-inspiring, tangible influence and reach of the Queen.

It is hard not to ponder whether their decision to ditch royal-dom is starting to look like a miscalculation - after all, just look at the numbers.

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

Originally published as Queen shows Meghan, Harry's big mistake