CALGARY—After Harry and Meghan shocked the Royal Family with the bombshell announcement that they are stepping back from their duties and moving part-time to North America, most veteran royal watchers in Canada were sympathetic, but some also offered advice: Be careful how you treat your grandmother, especially if she’s the Queen.
The couple’s Instagram announcement Wednesday night was met with a decidedly stiff upper lip in Britain, where tabloids seemed to side with the Crown, bemoaning the fact that the Queen apparently wasn’t consulted on the move.
Veteran royal watcher Patricia Treble stressed that she has sympathy for both sides in the dispute, but wonders about the public nature of Meghan and Harry’s declaration.
“I mean, if it were my family and my brother and sister in law had done that to Grandma? I would be angry,” she said.
Prince Harry stayed in England to sort out the details, but Meghan flew back to British Columbia, where the couple spent the holidays on Vancouver Island with baby Archie. Her trip has reignited speculation — and excitement — that the rebellious royals may choose Canada as their new home.
The Star asked six Canadians who love to watch the royals to spill the tea on how they feel about Meghan and Harry’s big decision.
The questioning columnist
Meghan and Harry haven’t shuffled off the royal coil entirely. Although they’re retreating from the front lines, Treble, who blogs at Write Royalty, said there are endless questions about how they’ll balance royal duties with private commitments going forward, and some of the answers may cause headaches for Canada.
“Are they coming to work? What is going to be their status here?… Are we going to pay for their security? What’s the relationship between them and the governor general?”
There’s a reason working royals don’t have commercial ties on the side, Treble said, lest they tarnish the royal reputation. “What happens if you take money for a lecture from a big oil company that has a major environmental catastrophe?”
“Being half in and half out of the Royal Family does not work. It has never worked,” she said.
“I’ve got to question what their end result is. I’m not sure their advisers deeply understand how the British press feel about the monarchy. I’m just not sure.”
Some fans say shelter from the British press is exactly what Meghan and Harry need.
“If everything was going along fine, and she was being treated fairly, they probably would still hang in there, but it’s horrible what’s happening to her,” said Orangeville resident Suzanne Boileau.
She remembers waiting with her family as a child on the streets of Toronto to see Queen Elizabeth II ride by during her coronation tour. When Prince Charles married Diana, she woke up early, donned gowns with her niece and daughter and had tea and crumpets as they watched on television.
She couldn’t stop crying when Diana died and said she understands Meghan and Harry’s decision.
“They just don’t want to be so much in the public life. And it’s totally understandable why they don’t.”
Boileau said she thinks Meghan tried her best to fit into the Royal Family, but that the press have made it clear that she’s not quite welcome and some of their coverage has bordered on racism.
“The press treated (Diana) very badly,” said Boileau. “And that’s why I am really happy for Meghan and Harry, that they are trying to avoid the publicity and all that goes with that.”
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Others say loyalty to the crown should have come first. Crystal Kattenhorn lives in Cambridge, Ont. When the news broke, a few co-workers approached her to ask if was OK, she said, laughing.
A longtime fan of British culture and the monarchy, she said she started drinking tea as a toddler, always has plum pudding at Christmas, and when Harry and Meghan got married, she flew to London to fulfil a lifelong dream of watching a royal wedding from the street.
Although Kattenhorn says she’ll always be Team Harry, she worries what the move could mean for the future of the monarchy.
“For him to not only disappoint his grandmother, but disappoint his Queen … can you turn away 30 odd years for your Queen for a person you’ve known two and a half?”
The fellow immigrant
As someone who also made the decision to move to Canada two decades ago, Farah Attaullah of Toronto said she hopes the couple takes the leap.
“Canadians accepted us as immigrants. We were brown, we had an accent. There were a lot of culture difference here, but we got accepted,” she said. “I’m really happy I made the decision and I think they’d be happy, too.”
Growing up in Pakistan, part of India when it was under British rule, Attaullah said she was aware of the royals, but it was Diana who captured her heart. Because they were both young mothers who got married around the same time, then went on to have two kids, Attaullah said she couldn’t help but compare herself to Diana — but some of it worried her.
“I would think, oh my God, she’s so much prettier than me, she’s so nice, she does charity, she’s glamorous — but she’s so unhappy,” she said, recalling Diana’s very public struggles and eventual split from Prince Charles. “I would thank God in my heart because I may not have all that money, but I think I’m a princess in my life because I’m so happy with what I have.”
She remembers wishing Diana would leave the Royal Family behind, so it makes her happy to see her son forging his own path: “I’m glad someone else is doing it.”
Tom Richards and Barry MacKenzie, spokespeople for the Monarchist League of Canada, have been avid monarchists since high school. They said they were surprised by the news, and are waiting to see how the unprecedented situation plays out.
MacKenzie, a professor who lives in Nova Scotia and researches royal tours in Canada, said he was shocked by the news, which he said was a “drastic” decision.
He said the difficulties Meghan and Harry have faced with the British media are reminiscent of Diana’s struggle with the press, which may have influenced Harry’s decision.
“I’m not surprised that they were trying to find a way away from that,” he said. “But I was not at all prepared for this type of fairly drastic reaction.”
Richards said he’s waiting to see how everything “shakes out,” but said he has confidence that the family as a whole can come to an agreement.
“I think that it’s fair to say that all the parties are going to try to arrive at some kind of workable solution,” he said.