The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Prince Andrew will not join Queen Elizabeth on the Buckingham Palace balcony at Trooping the Colour. Video / AP
By Daniela Elser
Rebels are what makes royal history interesting: Otherwise they are just a bunch of weak-chinned dimwits with a bad habit of marrying their cousins and occasionally trying to invade France.
The modern British royal family is no different thanks largely to the wayward hijinks of Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex. (Or, as I like to think of them, the Breakaway State of Sussex.)
In the coming days, the renegade duo will hit London, their first proper return since chucking in the royal towel in 2020, and the one question no one can answer about the trip is: Can the Sussexes manage to get through the four days of Platinum Jubilee events without going rogue?
That's an unknown that Buckingham Palace aides are concerned about, according to a new report in The Telegraph, with fears of a "Sussex bomb" being dropped during the Jubilee while "courtiers have been doing everything in their power to diffuse any potential flashpoints".
(Anyone else imagining courtiers are haring around the Palace right now taking down questionable pieces of art? Let's never forget that William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge happily left a painting titled The Negro Page on their Kensington Palace apartment wall when President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama came for dinner.)
While the Jubilee long weekend is crammed with official events, including the first Trooping the Colour to be held since 2019, the Platinum Jubilee concert at the Palace, and a Platinum Pageant involving 5000 people and a disturbing number of puppets – all of which fall totally under the control of Palace mandarins – it is what Harry and Meghan might do outside of this schedule that is causing alarm.
The Telegraph's Camilla Tominey, who broke the news that Harry was dating the Suits star back in 2016, has reported that "the powers that be appear to have little knowledge of any of [the Sussexes] 'unofficial' plans" and that, "Their habit of making unpublicised appearances … has naturally led to concerns of a 'circus' following their every move."
Only last week, Meghan managed to set off a minor furore when she made a surprise appearance in Uvalde, Texas last week after 19 schoolchildren and two teachers were brutally slain by a lone gunman.
(Even in her earliest royal days, the Duchess showed a propensity for going off-script such as when, in early 2019 in Bristol, she decided to write ostensibly empowering messages on bananas which would be given to sex workers.)
When it comes to the Sussexes' UK jaunt, the only confirmed details are that they will be staying at Frogmore Cottage, their five-bedroom Windsor home which until recently was being inhabited by Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank, and Harry and Meghan will be attending Friday's service of thanksgiving for the Queen at St Paul's. (This week it was revealed that Eugenie and Jack are moving out of Frogmore and will be splitting their time between a coastal town in Portugal where Brooksbank will work on a luxury real estate development and Ivy Cottage at Kensington Palace.)
With only one verified outing on the books, that leaves plenty of time for the couple to pop up at any number of British schools, childcare centres, or dog rescues to remind everyone just how much they care.
The problem is, no one really seems to know what they intend to do with their time during their British jaunt. In another Telegraph report from the weekend, the paper's royal correspondent revealed that the Sussexes "are thought to have been in touch with the palace only to discuss logistical arrangements for the Jubilee, with royal aides kept at arms' length about their wider plans".
When it came to the possibility "of the couple only doing official engagements," one source told the paper: "We'll see."
However, all that said, the same report also indicated that the former working royals are planning on being on their best behaviour and "are intending to limit themselves to public engagements during the Jubilee, spending time with family privately but not making unannounced visits elsewhere".
The thing you have to ask yourself here is, what do Harry and Meghan need to get out of this British excursion? They might have a large estate with 16 toilets and so many commercial deals afoot it would make momager Kris Jenner green with greenback envy but look past the press releases and their many, many loos and things start to look a lot less golden.
In nearly two years they have not managed to put out a single piece of content for Netflix, despite the streaming giant having signed a deal worth up to $150 million with the duo. Earlier this month, one of their only two projects that have been announced was axed and last week it was reported that they are now working on something being termed an "at-home" docuseries.
Watching hour upon hour of Harry and Meghan caring with a capital "c" is hardly the same as the "impactful content that unlocks action" they had initially promised they would make.
Likewise they might have signed a reported $38 million Spotify deal in 2020 but so far they have only released one limp half-hour podcast involving a grab-bag of their famous mates nattering on and a trailer for Meghan's upcoming series called Archetypes which was met with a collective 'meh.'
Nor have they really made any meaningful progress setting themselves up as humanitarians, thought-leaders or in Meghan's case, proto-political powerhouses.
In short, the Great Megxit Experiment has so far not exactly paid dividends for the Sussexes aside from lumping them with a designer chicken coop and a promise to do a whole lot of work that the public has so far seen little proof that they have even really started.
Two years after arriving in California, their star megawattage has dimmed and they have become just another part of the celebrity fabric in the US, hardly the glittering globetrotting philanthropist ideal many (including myself) thought they would become.
What they need right now to pull themselves out of the PR doldrums is a timely injection of royal stardust and an opportunity to remind the world that they are far more than Kardashian-lite TV fodder.
With the eyes of the world about to land on London and the international media horde currently setting up shop down the road from the Palace, will the Duke and Duchess let this opportunity to retake the spotlight, even briefly, pass them by?
Based on past form, such as their October 2019 documentary about their tour of Southern Africa where they talked about how hard royal life was, and of Harry's recent comments about wanting to make sure the Queen was "protected", they have a knack for taking otherwise tickety-boo, plain-sailing moments and reorienting the focus squarely onto themselves.
The possibilities for how this could play out during the Jubilee go beyond possible surprise school visits given that their young children Archie, 3, and baby Lilibet will be travelling with them too.
Archie has not seen this British family since he was about six-months-old and Lili has never set foot on British soil and it is expected the Queen will spend time with the tots.
Given that Harry and Meghan have a track record when it comes to making private family dealings all too public (Oh hey Oprah!) could we see them, say, release a picture of Her Majesty with her tiny namesake Lili or some other touching snap this week?
After everything we have seen over the last couple of years, nothing is really off-the-table right now.
Just in case anyone was worried that things were too straightforward, there is also the Netflix issue. While the streaming giant has not applied for press accreditation for the public events of the Jubilee, "the prospect of a Netflix film crew also making an appearance is said to be causing consternation," according to the Telegraph.
Even with the Palace off-limits though, where does Frogmore fall? Who would make the final call over whether prying lenses might be allowed to breach the Sussexes' home's designer walls? (On Monday night, The Sun reported that the duo have renewed their lease on the property.)
If the Duke and Duchess of Sussex did decide to mount some sort of attention-seeking coup this week it would be a gamble. Not only would the British press and public be apoplectic but the Queen is still widely respected and liked in the US.
Doing something to detract from her big celebration might not play well for American audiences, the very same people the Sussexes need to stream, listen and buy their upcoming content offerings.
Going down this rogue-ish path would also undo any mending of family bridges that might have been going on behind-the-scenes. (Over the weekend The Mirror reported that William and Harry have been FaceTiming one another to "rebond" ahead of the Jubilee.)
For the time being it's a waiting game, and for the Palace? Might not be a bad idea to start battening down the hatches.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.