Peter Hunt

Harry and Meghan’s balcony ban is a mistake

Harry and Meghan’s balcony ban is a mistake
Harry and Meghan appear on the Buckingham Palace balcony in 2018 (photo: Getty)
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Once again, a moment that should be a unifying and celebratory for the Windsors has attracted division and discord. It has been reported today that Harry and Meghan will not appear on the Buckingham Palace balcony for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. All of this controversy for a fleeting appearance on what someone described on social media as ‘an outdoor patio on the second floor of an old building’.

It’s the world’s most famous outdoor patio, utilised first by Queen Victoria in 1851 to mark the opening of the Great Exhibition. Since then, the Buckingham Palace balcony has been a focal point and climax of significant national celebrations and commemorations. Even Neville Chamberlain rocked up there, fresh from signing the Munich agreement.

Removal from the balcony guest list causes angst. In 2012, at the end of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, it was decided only the key royal players would appear before the crowds. Sophie Wessex and Prince Andrew spent the preceding days chewing off the ears of officials, expressing their hurt. Princess Anne was supremely unfussed.

Ten years on, Andrew is still persona non grata for the Platinum Jubilee balcony moment, and rightly so. The prince will remain a non-royal royal – with no prospect of resuming a future of flummery – for as long as Prince Charles and Prince William are focused on fulfilling their destinies.

The exclusion of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is in a different league. They didn’t maintain friendships with a convicted sex offender and a child sex trafficker. The couple, according to the media, have been banned, banished and snubbed. The fact they will be absent has been celebrated widely.

According to this mainstream narrative, they abandoned the institution, dished dirt on Oprah and deserve their ‘punishment’. Their defenders, in the UK, are vanishingly rare. I’m not one of Harry’s friends and his advisors don’t have me on speed dial, not least because I don’t think they have my number.

When I was an active observer of the royals for two decades, Harry was mostly polite, always wary. In interviews, he’s apologised to me for once wearing a Nazi uniform at a fancy dress party; insisted he didn’t view the future Queen Camilla as an ‘evil stepmother’; and said he was receptive to being challenged about the limitations of his mental health campaign. In private, he was taken with my suggestion he should talk about phone hacking. It never came to pass. 

Harry is still enmeshed in an unseemly, painful and very public dispute with his family. I’ve written here before about how the family’s response to Megxit was one where mean spiritedness over magnanimity won the day.

They’ve displayed a hint of heartlessness towards their own flesh and blood with the balcony non-appearance. Harry’s still a senior royal; a prince with a strong moral compass, not a given in his line of work; and a former soldier who has served his country.

The Queen will have signed off on the decision. Charles and William will have shaped it. They’ve let personal animus and hurt get in the way. Harry and Meghan could’ve appeared on the balcony. It wouldn’t have collapsed. Their removal from the line up means they will become a distraction during the Jubilee weekend.

Their inclusion would have been a Platinum Jubilee peace offering; a move onto higher ground; a denial of victimhood.

The royals have missed a trick. Not for the first time.

Written byPeter Hunt

Peter Hunt is a commentator on the monarchy and constitutional issues. He is a former BBC diplomatic and royal correspondent. He tweets at @_PeterHunt

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