Prince Harry And Meghan Markle: Why Their Pronouncements Claiming Solidarity With The Ukraine Are Ridiculed In Britain

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That Prince Harry and Meghan Markle feel moved to announce their positions on matters of social and political import is a given. Their social concerns are, now, part of their business and integral to their budding Archewell brand, however broad and ill-defined it may now be in its early formation. In a different way, since their sudden move in 2019 and 2020 to North America, first to Vancouver and then south to Ms. Markle’s hometown of Los Angeles, the couple’s quite combative predilection for explaining themselves and their actions has been at the fore, be that via lawsuits against various organs of the (to date) British press, their former Sussex Royal website, its successor Archewell or via other, more spectacular outlets, such as the television interview they gave to Oprah Winfrey to explain their decision to depart from England and the British monarchy or the subsequent conversations they had with their friend, CBS correspondent Gayle King, which were aired by Ms. King. It’s more than a habit or a predilection. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle explain a lot. Occasionally, without being asked.

On cue, as Vladimir Putin inexorably stripped his paper-thin “just a military exercise” fig leaf off his massive troop deployments in Russia and Belarus and began to bombard Ukrainian cities and military installations on February 23, the next morning Prince Harry and Meghan Markle felt moved to post a position statement on the Archewell website. Under the all upper-cased banner “WE STAND WITH THE PEOPLE OF UKRAINE” the one-sentence communique read:

Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (SIC) and all of us at Archewell stand with the people of Ukraine against this breach of international and humanitarian law and encourage the global community and its leaders to do the same.

Piers has regularly criticised Harry and Meghan

The simple declaration is somewhat hastily missing a critical comma after their titles that would help clarify that “Prince Harry and Meghan” were not separate people from “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex,” but the sentence is nevertheless to the point. Substantively, however — meaning in the meat of its subject — the communique was decidedly different from the charitable and advocacy-related areas of engagement that have slowly been collected under the Archewell banner. To put it mildly, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine is tragic mayhem acted out on a global political and financial scale, and its end is nowhere in sight. Archewell is meant to engage with critical global issues — such as poverty, education, minorities and well-being, often on a local basis — of a very different sort.

The point is that the gyre of Mr. Putin’s ever-bloodier chaos is a difficult fit to be addressed under the Archewell brand. U.S. and European governments, banks, oil concerns and businesses of all sorts, to say nothing of NATO or its allied armies, have more mission-critical dialogue with both Russia and the Ukraine at stake than does Archewell, whatever its many charitable and/or entertainment-industry functions. While it may be clear to most people who know the Archewell foundation that the principals of Archewell and their staff would naturally have empathy for the people of the Ukraine in this moment, for the couple to weigh in in this fashion does, also, carry some unfortunate freight precisely because the foundation bears only this indirect, tenuous connection to the region and to the event.

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Bluntly put, the pronouncement risked being seen as presumptive on the part of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, especially since they clearly insisted on including their grandeur-bedecked titles. Their titles are hard-fought, or were hard-fought throughout the difficulties that their departure from the monarchy provided them, thus are now most prominently featured in the Archewell literature.

For these reasons, and because the British press has come under quite some fire from the couple in the past, it was with speed on February 24, once the Archewell statement was posted — just a couple of hours, in fact — before the legions of reporters assigned to the Harry-and-Meghan beat in London began launching their own withering barrages of criticism across the Atlantic.

To be fair, this couple’s embrace of just and charitable causes far and wide is, they clearly think, a core part of their new American mission, which is why all the literature generated by and for Archewell as well as their many other venues and their projects for Netflix and Spotify are so pointedly and broadly cause-oriented. Their net is cast wide, from charities providing help for minorities and the disadvantaged to mental health initiatives and, in the corporate world, actual employment with what we might call a “tactical wellness” Silicon Valley company, BetterUp, for which Prince Harry is the chief “impact” officer.

That noted, freedom of expression does, also, extend to celebrities of all stripes, and those celebrities can be considered political entities themselves, for instance, actors Ashton Kutcher and his Ukrainian partner Mila Kunis, or the actor and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, who are among a host of American and European celebrities who have expressed solidarity with the Ukraine and/or dismay at Mr. Putin’s actions.

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But: It’s axiomatic that celebrity endorsements are a two-way street, as in, one part “celebrity” and one part “endorsement.” Put differently, it’s laudable and justified to give to a good cause, and, like it or not, it’s also an integral part of celebrity branding to be seen giving to one or more good causes. As a corollary to that, it’s also possible for wholly just causes to grow, over time, a bit celebrity-laden, fraught, or overpopulated with persons bearing certain levels of show-biz wattage.

The question for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is not whether they should do anything about, or for, the Ukraine. They may do and say as they like, and it’s to be hoped that they will continue to engage their considerable resources on the region and the problem. Rather, the question for the couple is one of matching the delivery of their deeds with the gravitas of the moment.

There’s an unstated rule in letter-writing, according to which it’s unseemly to begin any serious missive with the personal pronoun “I” because that automatically makes the correspondence about the writer, not the subject at hand. In effect, the couple’s Ukraine pronouncement of solidarity was a formal, third-person, royal-ish version of that, as if it had been handed out by a crier at the palace gates. The problem that the British press had with the Archewell pronouncement was exactly that.

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