Harry and Meghan: The photo that pinpoints what went wrong

Katherine Chatfield
·Columnist
·4-min read

The salacious details that have started to emerge from Finding Freedom, the book that airs Harry and Meghan’s grievances with the royal family, have been nothing short of compelling. It’s pretty clear the couple are deeply unhappy with how their royal experience has played out, and are ready to make their anger known to the world.

It’s no secret the couple has made some wrong moves — namely angering the press and upsetting other members of the royal family — but it’s the unveiling of the latest portrait of the Queen that really highlights where Harry and Meghan went so wrong in their royal endeavours.

Queen Elizabeth II's latest royal portrait was unveiled over Zoom. Photo: Getty Images.
Queen Elizabeth II's latest royal portrait was unveiled over Zoom. Photo: Getty Images.

The new portrait of the Queen which was unveiled on Zoom last week was commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a tribute to her Majesty’s service to — ironically, in the current royal climate — diplomacy.

The monarch of 68 years is pictured sitting in an ornate gold-leafed chair, wearing a powder blue dress and a triple string of pearls. She looks relaxed, but the image is anything but innocuous; it’s heavy with symbolism of the duty and stoicism the Queen has adopted over the past seven decades.

The painting is set in the White Drawing Room at Windsor Castle, where she regularly hosts ambassadors and diplomats, and where generations of royals have had their wedding photos (although not Harry and Meghan). The insignia of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FOC) is painted on the saucer that sits on the table next to her, representing the fact she has visited more than 100 countries at their request during her reign. This motif is reflected in the empty teacup. “Suddenly this very humble object carries this symbolism,” explained the artist Miriam Escofet.

The reflection of a life’s work in a humble teacup brings into stark contrast the Queen’s sense of duty and Harry and Meghan’s sense of injustice.

In November 2018, before things had turned really sour, another picture hinted at trouble to come. Harry, Meghan, William and Kate are standing together at a Remembrance Day service at Westminster Abbey. They are all wearing traditional poppies – except Meghan who is wearing a fabric poppy that is slightly larger than the rest.

Remembrance Sunday and the Centenary of the Armistice. Pic Shows The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the service
Meghan's red poppy is not like the others. Photo: Getty Images.

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The two pictures sum up exactly why things went so wrong. One woman who believes in duty and service. One who wants to be seen, and will speak out if she isn’t happy. Two strong statements from very different personalities.

When you consider these two pictures, it’s no wonder Harry and Meghan felt unsupported and ‘sidelined’ by the royals. Why would the Queen give weight to the fact the couple wanted to play by their own rules, when she has always dutifully adhered to the Crown? If her life is summed up as a reflection in a teacup, then maybe the frustration her grandson and his wife felt about taking a “backseat” to other royal family members could be perceived as navel-gazing.

In 2016, Harry admitted that he saw his grandmother as his boss. “I still view her more as the Queen than my grandmother,' he said. 'You have this huge amount of respect for your boss and I always view her as my boss - but occasionally as a grandmother.'

Bosses are there to guide and support, but not to pander to their employees’ whims. So, when Harry felt William was being “a snob” after his big brother told him to “take as much time as you need to get to know this girl,” nothing was done about it. And when Meghan felt hurt that Kate “didn't check in” on her birthday, the situation was still left untouched. And we all know what happens when employees don’t feel supported or valued - they leave the firm.

Whether your stance is that the Queen should have been more understanding, or whether Harry and Meghan were overreacting, it’s clear the monarch and her grandson were approaching the situation from very different viewpoints. And that leaves the royals in the mess they’re in today.

Has anyone learnt their lesson? Perhaps not. The fact that details of Finding Freedom were released in the same week as the Queen’s portrait simply highlights the chasm between the sparring factions of the family. Finding Freedom is juicy tell-all read, described as an “up-close and disarming portrait…of a couple who are unafraid to break with tradition”, while the Queen’s portrait shows “truth and dignity and wisdom.” It looks like their differences might be too great to overcome.

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