Colin Brazier: The Prince of Wales listens, the Sussexes just expect to be heard

Harry and Meghan know they can earn a fortune and wield influence out of all proportion with their abilities, if they leverage their royal status, says Colin Brazier

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A stretch-limo and secret service type heavies turned up outside a Glasgow fish and chip shop earlier this week, apparently to collect a take-away for Joe Biden. It was a wind up. But in Washington DC, where the president has now returned from COP26, a couple of senators fancied themselves victims of a different kind of practical joke.

Out of the blue, they received calls on their private phones; a number only shared with a handful of political intimates. On seeing that the number was withheld, one of these senators assumed it had to be her boss, so she took the call pronto. And just like the chippy in Glasgow, she initially thought it was a prank. A voice on the line began thus: “Hi, this is the Duchess of Sussex.”

Well, Meghan Markle has played a few roles in her life, but this time she was playing herself. It really was her, calling, she explained, to lobby — unpaid — for a political cause.

Now, the idea that Meghan Markle could be calling – cold calling is the term – senior American politicians out of the blue will strike some people as odd. But there’s nothing wrong about it. If she can persuade someone who has the private phone numbers of senior republicans to share them with her, then fair enough. It’s the sort of thing journalists do all the time.

What’s arguably improper about this is that opening line. We all get cold calls don’t we. From people trying to flog us something we don’t want. They often try and capture our interest with a clever one-liner. But only one person in the world gets to deploy that humdinger of an opening gambit: “Hi, this is the Duchess of Sussex.” Behind those few syllables lie centuries of reputational credibility.

This is a woman who understands the power of corporate imaging. She and her husband have, after all, recently signed up to help a bank with its branding. It’s things like this which have made Buckingham Palace, and the Queen, deeply sceptical about the Sussexes. They are a couple of mediocre talents who know they can earn a fortune and wield influence out of all proportion with their abilities, if they leverage their royal status. It doesn’t matter that they have done so much to undermine the institution of monarchy. They have their title; and though it glistens with a stardust they didn’t put there, they are determined to make the most of it. Those telephone calls to senators, by the way, have been accompanied by letters. Letters written on headed notepaper with ‘The Office of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’ at the top. In italicised writing, so big it’s probably visible from space. It’s spectacularly tasteless, pure Ruritania, but in America it’s likely to be effective. Don’t let it ever be said the Sussexes are not aware of the value of being part of a royal family whose reputation they’ve slandered and whose trust they’ve squandered.

The letter, by the way, is a classic of the genre. Containing, if it’s possible, more self-gloryifing humbug than anything you’ve heard this last week at COP26, with the possible exception of that transparently self-serving speech from Jeff Besoz. In her letter, the Duchess stresses her humble origins. “I grew up,” she says “on the $4.99 salad bar at Sizzler.” It’s an odd way of depicting a childhood which involved private primary and secondary schools, but all of a piece for someone whose past is one gigantic opaque marketing exercise, including that is, her recent past — and that lucrative insertion of hers into the royal family.

Of course, there's nothing new about royals lobbying politicians. Charles does it, more than he ought to have done over the years. But in his decades-long championing of the planet, the Prince of Wales palpably believes in a cause bigger than himself.

He was in such a hurry to tell the world about looming environmental catastrophe on Monday, for instance, that he almost tripped on his way to the podium.

And over the years, he's talked - not just to politicians - but to thousands of ordinary folk - from hedge-layers to horticulturalists — about a cause that's closest to his heart. He listens, whereas it often seems like the Sussexes just expect to be heard.

The high-profile presence of Charles at COP was about a sincerely held belief. There hasn't been much to praise COP for, but the absence of the Sussexes, private-jetting in on a cloud of sanctimony, would've put the tin-lid on the whole over-sized, over-blown, over-hyped enterprise. COP has felt like an occasion custom-built for some of their cheesy and banal soundbites. Thank goodness they weren't there.

That's the Brazier Angle.