The royal world has been rocked over the last few weeks by the news that Harry and Meghan are no longer senior official working members of the royal family.
As a result of the explosive news, the Queen herself announced that her grandson and granddaughter-in-law would no longer use their HRH titles (His or Her Royal Highness), although they are officially allowed to keep them. This means that now, the couple are known as Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
However, the new titles have caused some confusion, with royal reporters noting that Meghan’s new title ‘Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’, is in the style of a royal title given to a divorced woman. For example, when both Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson divorced Prince Charles and Prince Andrew respectively, they were officially called Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sarah, Duchess of York. Like Harry and Meghan, they too lost their HRH titles.
While Buckingham Palace continues to review how the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will technically be referred to in the future, the two royal women’s lives without their HRH titles could provide an interesting blueprint for the couple going forward.
Of course – the two situations are very different
Harry and Meghan and not divorced. But both the Sussexes and Fergie and Diana have experience their own kind of separation from the royal family as an institution.
After their own departures from ‘The Firm’, Diana and Fergie went on to affect great change in their charitable interests, as well as carving out a life of their own for themselves. Of course, sadly, Diana’s was cut short following her tragic death in August 1997, but the impact of her work after her official duties as a fully-fledged royal ended are undeniable.
So with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex now seeking a life outside of the royal template, what inspiration could they take from Diana and Fergie’s life after
Princess Diana’s pioneering charitable work
Diana carried out extensive charity work after becoming engaged to Prince Charles, visiting huge amounts of charities and obtaining many royal patronages.
But just one day after her divorce was announced, she shared her resignation from over 100 charities, and explained that she was retaining just six of her royal patronages. It’s a similar story to Harry and Meghan’s step back, with the palace having announced that Harry will lose many of his charitable associations, including his military appointments, and that Meghan will keep only the four patronages she gained last year. However, it was after her distancing from the monarchy that Diana arguably did some of her most impactful work.
In 1997, just months before her death, she toured areas such as Angola, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, finding out about how landmines have affected the communities in the area. It was then that she was photographed in the now world-famous pictures, walking through a landmine. Arguably it was her freedom from the firm that allowed her to be on the front-line for the causes she believed in. Credit: Getty Images
Her highlighting of the cause had a real impact. Diana was said to have had a huge influence in the signing of the Ottawa Treaty, which lead to an international ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines. Without the constraints of royal life, there’s every chance that Harry and Meghan could make a difference in ways that may not have done as HRHs.
Fergie’s continued charity work
It’s been over 20 years since her divorce, but Sarah has continued to do amazing work for charities, proving that Harry and Meghan’s step back from the institution of the monarchy arguably won’t diminish the good they can do. She has continued as a patron of the Teenage Cancer Trust for decades now, has worked to help vulnerable children in Africa and Asia, and, recently, has raised awareness of allergies, and the need for more accountability within the food industry on the topic.
Fergie’s long associations with the causes she is passionate about, prove that Harry and Meghan can, I reckon, have a long and sustained positive effect on the issues they lend their support to.
Sarah Ferguson’s lucrative commercial ventures
Following her divorce, the Duchess of York undertook work with the likes of Weight Watchers, Wedgwood and Avon, including in product development. Before Meghan married in to the royal family, she worked with brands including fashion retailer Reitmans, and had various endorsements and sponsorships associated with her lifestyle website, The Tig.
The Duchess of Sussex is now hugely iconic in the worlds of health, fashion and beauty, so there’s every chance that now, like Sarah, she could negotiate deals with brands that align with her values. It would be a great way for Meghan to continue developing her interest in these areas too, as well as earning some money and perhaps, giving back to charity with the proceeds.
Given Sarah’s distance from the royal family, she has also been free to work within the film and TV industries since her divorce, too. She worked as a producer on 2009 film The Young Victoria, and appeared in US sitcom Friends, as herself, back in 1998.
Meghan was a professional actress before her marriage to Prince Harry, so there’s every possibility that now, having stepped back, she’d be free to pursue opportunities in this industry again, as Fergie did following her own kind of separation from the royals. There are already rumours that the Duchess of Sussex has been working on a deal with Disney, so we’re keeping our eyes peeled…
A continued relationship with the royal family?
Of course, many Diana supporters took issue with the way the late Princess was treated following her divorce from Prince Charles, and beforehand – with Diana herself saying she not received much support from inside the palace.
But, just like Harry and Meghan today, Buckingham Palace stated at the time that she would always be regarded as a member of the family. There’s obviously an important difference, in that Harry is and always will be a blood royal, but the link is interesting to note.
And after her divorce, and various issues that followed it, Fergie also continued to be invited to royal family occasions, such as Royal Ascot and investitures involving the Duke of York.
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Fergie and Diana’s experience provide an interesting blueprint, in that it suggests Harry and Meghan could still easily represent the family, at official occasions, such as Trooping the Colour, christenings, or birthday celebrations.
But of course, how all of the above will play out remains to be seen, as the Queen herself explained that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s departure from the royal family is in a state of transition, and will be reviewed in a year’s time.