Harry, Meghan’s fatal miscalculation
Of all the things that this crisis has changed, one of the most profound is our sense of time. Days seem to melt into one another, hours evaporate and yet it is perpetually a shock when you realise that only two months ago we choked up trains together and piled into restaurants en masse without batting an eyelid.
That strange time warp extends to all things royal and it seems nearly as shocking when you consider that it is not even four months since Harry and Meghan pulled the plug on their royal life. When they released their bombshell statement on January 8, they set off a chain of events that mean as of today they are living in a gated community in Los Angeles (Malibu if the scant reports are correct) and are already playing hide and seek with the city's infamous, roaming horde of paparazzi.
When the Sussexes announced in January that they were going to step back from being working members of the royal family wholesale, it seemed like a dramatic but canny move. They were the golden couple of the royal family, the real crowd-pullers, the shiny stars who could guarantee pulling a cheering throng of hundreds willing to sit outside on a wintry, raining London morning just to catch the briefest of glances of them. (There is perhaps no greater illustration of their flourishing popularity in January than the image of the vast crowd that assembled outside the Canadian embassy when they visited earlier in the day on January 8.)
While William and Kate might be the drawcards for Marks & Spencer middle England with their sensible jumpers and docile charm ways, Harry and Meghan were the perfect foil. The Sussexes' dynamism, their effervescent warmth and their innate ability to connect with younger or more marginalised groups offered a tantalising glimpse of Diana 2.0.
For Harry and Meghan, their calculus for quitting seems to have been that they could take that audience of millions (perhaps billions) with them in stepping back as card-carrying HRHs. In turn, they could build a global platform for change and synergy and other TED Talk-esque buzzwords that would be the envy of every philanthropist the world over.
Essentially, they could cherrypick the parts of royal life that appealed and leave behind the rainy mother country fustier, duller aspects of royal life. (Imagine having to spend hours every year at the Highland Games watching the caber toss or having to withstand hours of making polite conversation with monotonous majors at palace garden parties.)
By the end of January, both Harry and Meghan were back in Canada, with only the clock to tick down to April 1, their independence day. Their future looked set to involve a lot of applause and a lot of cheques with a lot of zeros on the end.
Except, in the first three months of this year the world tilted wildly on its axis, resulting in a deeply unsettling, alarming, new reality affecting not only Harry and Meghan but the Windsors as a whole and in a mere matter of weeks, there was a tectonic shift in fortunes.
Harry and Meghan stayed the course and moved to LA in March despite rapidly accelerating world events taking place in the months between their bravura exit and their arrival in California which profoundly changed the playing field.
Instead of starting their high-powered, dazzling new life of philanthropy and select, lucrative gigs they have in many ways been relegated to the sidelines.
Meanwhile, never has stock in the royal family been higher.
While the Queen has long been revered, after her televised address in March, the 94-year-old has now achieved Mother Teresa-esque levels of British adulation. Prince Charles and Camilla's penchant for slightly shaky iPhone addresses and plucky willingness to open things via Zoom has also earned them big ticks.
But the biggest winners have perhaps been William and Kate, who have embodied 'Keep calm and carry on Zooming!' cheerfulness to their royal work. Last week the Duke gamely appeared (remotely) in a sketch with Stephen Fry who was reprising his famed Blackadder role. Wills' willingness to poke fun at himself repeatedly in the brief video was not only endearing but wonderfully humanising. (Even if his acting was positively wooden.) The more awkward Wales brother has long lacked his mother and brother's innate warmth, but of late he has quietly come into his engaging own.
There is a bigger picture here too. Much of the dull, plodding image of the royal family had been swiftly supplanted by a reminder of their value as an institution.
As Patrick Jephson, Diana's former private secretary recently pointed out, this is the first time in decades the royal family has had an opportunity to demonstrably prove their worth - and they are doing just that with the sort of cheerful, equanimous aplomb that will not be forgotten by an appreciative nation for decades.
Back in January, it seemed obvious who would come out on top when Harry and Meghan exited royal life stage left. In hindsight, that is starting to look more and more like a huge miscalculation.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.
Originally published as Harry, Meghan's fatal miscalculation