LONDON– The British monarchy scrambled Thursday to find urgent “workable solutions” for Prince Harry and his wife Meghan after their bombshell decision to quit front-line duties caught the royal family off guard.
Queen Elizabeth II, heir to the throne Prince Charles and his eldest son Prince William, Harry’s brother, have ordered their aides to work with Harry’s household and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to come up with swift answers to the royal crisis.
“The Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge have directed their teams to work together at pace with government and the Sussex household to find workable solutions,” a Buckingham Palace source said, according to multiple British media outlets.
This process is “expected to take days, not weeks,” the source added.
Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, rocked the monarchy on Wednesday with an announcement made without consulting any senior royals from the sovereign downwards.
The couple said they would now “balance” their time between Britain and North America, rip up long-established relations with the press, and seek financial independence.
They released their shock statement on a pre-prepared new website, their Instagram account and through Buckingham Palace’s email communications system.
An hour and 40 minutes later, the palace, seemingly rattled, issued a brief statement of its own, saying discussions were at an early stage and involved “complicated issues.”
The mood in the palace was understood to be one of disappointment and even “hurt,” according to the BBC, while Thursday’s newspapers were full of reports of a family “split” and the queen’s “dismay.”
London’s Evening Standard newspaper said they had “defied clear instructions from the queen” not to go public about any future plans at this time.
It added senior courtiers had warned the couple “will be punished for this.”
Meanwhile Madame Tussauds London said it was moving its waxworks of the pair away from other top family figures “to reflect the upcoming change in the royal line-up.”
Royal expert Richard Fitzwilliams said Harry and Meghan announcing this step without the 93-year-old monarch’s blessing was “extraordinary.”
“This is symptomatic, clearly, of the fact that they are unhappy with royal roles and feel deeply pressurized,” he told AFP.
“They’ve chosen to… go rogue. The result, therefore, could have very serious consequences.”
The couple’s decision follows a turbulent year, in which they admitted to struggling in the spotlight, and growing apart from William.
They have also lashed out at negative news coverage and taken several papers to court — another unusual move.
“We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the royal family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen,” they said.
“We have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution.”
Meanwhile on their new website, they said they would no longer work with the royal rota — a well-established system whereby media access is facilitated and the press take turns covering events and share the coverage.
Instead the pair will attempt to invite only “specialist,” “grassroots,” “credible” and “young, up-and-coming” media to events.
Royal analysts said the changes were unprecedented for senior family members.
“We would have them as members of the royal family carrying out some official duties but also operating privately as well, and there isn’t really a precedent for that,” said expert Victoria Murphy.
Britons passing Buckingham Palace on Thursday appeared surprised at the news.
“They both knew what they were getting into and I think that they need to meet that challenge,” said Roger Sainsbury, a member of the armed forces.
Harry, 35, and Meghan, 38, are among the core members of the royal family and — along with William and his wife Kate — are seen as embodying the monarchy’s future.
They spent six weeks over Christmas in Canada after speaking of the pressure of being in the spotlight following their fairytale wedding at Windsor Castle in May 2018 and son Archie’s birth 12 months later.
They skipped the royal family’s traditional Christmas at Sandringham, the sovereign’s private estate in eastern England, spending the festive season instead with Meghan’s US mother Doria Ragland.
Rumors that all was not well with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex surfaced in October when Harry — sixth in line to the throne — admitted that he and William were “on different paths” and had good and bad days in their relationship.
Asked whether she was “not really OK” and if life had “really been a struggle” after becoming a mother and living under intense media scrutiny, Meghan appeared emotional and replied simply: “Yes.”