Home » Has Meghan’s latest wheeze pushed her luck too far with the palace?

Has Meghan’s latest wheeze pushed her luck too far with the palace?

by Marko Florentino
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Most of us probably know people we’d rather not be in the same room with, but it takes a special sort of fraternal antipathy when you can’t bear to be in the same room when your brother is on a television screen.

Yet that seems to be the case with Princes William and Harry, a mutual alienation on a scale that is rare in public life. Not even the fact that the pair were supposed to be “together” at the Diana Awards, in honour of their late mother, was enough to ease the transatlantic tensions. By the time Harry appeared via video link from California, his brother was out the door. No reconciliation on the cards, then.

In that context, the launch of a new commercial venture by the Duchess of Sussex, which threatened to overshadow the awards event, could hardly have made matters much worse. The duchess (an increasingly incongruous title given her egalitarianism) has been off social media since 2020, but despite this she chose, at an inopportune moment, to take to Instagram to tell the world about something called American Riviera Orchard.

As it happens, the launch video turned up on my Twitter/X feed, and such is the soft-focus, grainy texture of the images that I could barely make out what it was all about. It looked like an advert for shampoo. It certainly didn’t “connect” with my own lifestyle, detached as it is from the wealthier neighbourhoods of, well, the American Riviera.

Funnily enough, there was once an orchard behind my place, but it’s been built on. That’s as near, I fear, as I will ever get to emulating the Harry and Meghan way of life. Apparently, Meghan will be marketing cookbooks, tableware, linens, and a range of spreads and preserves including jellies, jams, and Harry’s nut butter – a savoury treat that sounds quite intriguing.

Also on sale, in due course, will be some tasteful placecard holders, solemnly stated to be “not of precious metal”. I can’t help observing that the whole enterprise is “not of precious metal”. Perhaps because they didn’t wish to “exploit” their residual royal status, there is only a gilded logo and crest to adorn the product range – and it looks more mock-heraldic than aristocratic (let alone royal), with some elaborate calligraphy by Meghan herself.

It’s basically the sort of corporate-style thing you might see featured in, well, an American Riviera hotel. It’s not vulgar, exactly – just a bit inauthentic and odd, seeing as they have a properly impressive coat of arms, deployed in good taste on their other official website, sussex.com.

Of course, Meghan’s first return to the lifestyle lark since she closed The Tig on her engagement to Harry does pose some other questions. Does it indicate that they’re getting a bit hard up? What is the market for California plum jam vaguely associated with the King’s second son, not hitherto known for his prowess with preserves?

Are they going to bother with marmalades? Tartare sauce? Lemon curd? At least they haven’t been really cheeky and called the merch “Duchy Originals”. And, most pressingly, does it mean the pair are in trouble with the palace for breaching the Sandringham Agreement reached during “Megxit” in 2020?

Well, I’ve had a flick though this document, and the short answer is that it doesn’t. You may think it all tawdry, but it is not in breach.

Unusually, for something that touches on their private lives, the text of the Sandringham Agreement is in the public domain, and it doesn’t say much about commercial activities. It recognises that the Sussexes of necessity would “become privately funded members of the royal family with permission to earn their own income”, which is exactly what they are doing.

If they’d called it Royal American Riviera Orchard they’d be in the organic gravy; but they’re not that stupid. The fact is that Meghan, through her marriage to Harry, cannot ever fully divest herself of an implicit royal connection – and that would be the case even if she divorced him (cf Sarah, Duchess of York or the late Lord Snowdon).

Even if, as is sometimes demanded, the Sussexes renounced their titles and changed their names to Mr and Mrs Smith, the royal link, if not the aura, would cling to them. They’d continue to be famous celebrities and some people would want to buy their branded gear because of that, like Loyd Grossman’s pasta sauces or Victoria Beckham’s lipsticks.

For better or worse, Harry and Meghan can never be “private citizens”, even if they wanted to be – and that inevitably causes a lot of problems. This sort of semi-royal/post-royal territory hasn’t had to be navigated since the days of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, when the family sorted out any problems about money by sending the former Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson enough funds to keep them out of trouble.

Aside from that expensive solution, the palace will just have to get used to the Sussexes going into the retail trade.

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