Before her death in 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales had apparently been planning on moving to California with her two young sons, according to her butler Paul Burrell.
“She said, ‘This is our new life, just won’t it be great? Think of the lifestyle the boys – nobody’s judgmental here in America, you don’t have the class system, you don’t have the establishment,’” the palace staffer-turned-reality star said in an interview in the early noughties.
Now, nearly two-and-a-half decades later, there is a certain symmetry given that Los Angeles continues to represent a certain Xanadu of sorts for her son Prince Harry and his family.
In March, he and wife Meghan Duchess of Sussex left the United Kingdom for the last time as working members of the royal family, spending a brief sojourn in Canada before jetting to LA in March.
Definitive proof that they were in the city came in early April, courtesy of paparazzi shots of the Sussexes volunteering and hiking with their dogs. This week, news broke revealing that the family is bunking down in actor Tyler Perry’s $27 million Beverly Hills mansion.
This was meant to be the happy ending they had long craved.
After three headline-grabbing months of emotional statements and trans-Atlantic flights, they were finally ready to begin their new lives in the golden state. Settled in a stonking great mansion, with the promise of their new charitable entity Archewell in the offing, at last, the promise of unlimited sunshine and a fresh start.
But several recent reports have raised questions about just how sunny things are for Harry right now.
For one, he, like more than 20 million others in America, is now essentially unemployed.
Back in January, the assumption was that Harry (and Meghan too for that matter) would throw themselves into philanthropy and humanitarian work once they were unshackled from the responsibilities of royal life. Then, COVID-19 reared its malicious head and rampaged across the world, dramatically changing the global landscape.
While Harry and Meghan have undertaken a variety of Zoom calls with charities and organisations they are both involved with back in the UK, their plans to debut their own charity have been mothballed for the moment.
Likewise, when he quit as a frontline HRH, he also said goodbye to military roles – including Captain General of the Royal Marines – which were a source of deep pride and importance to the former army officer.
Harry is a man who has always been defined by being a Prince and later a soldier.
Today, while he still may technically be a Prince, he is no longer able to style himself as an HRH nor does he represent the Queen officially. Gone too are his official ties to the armed services.
In a matter of only months, Harry has lost the two key pillars of his identity and that must surely come at a high personal cost.
No wonder, as several recent reports have suggested, he is seemingly feeling somewhat rudderless and lost.
“He has a lot of friends in the military community in the UK and of course he misses them. This is a very strange time for us all, but I think Harry is missing having a structure to his life right now,” a source told Vanity Fair’s Katie Nicholl.
“He doesn’t have friends in LA like Meghan and he doesn’t have a job. So at the moment he’s a bit rudderless, but it won’t always be like this, and he knows that.”
The seismic shift in Harry’s life, especially the severing of his official ties to the military, seems to be weighing on the 35-year-old royal.
Only last month, a “well placed source” told the Telegraph that: “Harry has told friends he is really missing the army as well his military appointments. He misses the camaraderie of being in the forces.
“He has been telling friends that he still can’t believe this has happened. He can’t believe his life has been turned upside down … I don’t think he foresaw things turning out quite as they did.”
The source added: “Of course he doesn’t blame Meghan. There is just a sense that he might have been better protected if he was still in the army.”
Even Harry himself, speaking broadly in a video put out to mark what should have been the opening day of the Invictus Games in The Hague on May 9 said, “Life has changed dramatically.”
While billions across the globe are now dealing with a markedly different reality, Harry has had to endure something of a one/two punch: First leaving his family, military, friends, and home country, and then secondly, with the onset of COVID-19, having to drastically reassess the assumptions about his professional future.
For any person, royal or not, saying goodbye to his emotional support base and starting afresh in a new country would be challenging – if not bloody hard.
Throw in the intense public and media scrutiny, the ever-present lurking lenses of the paparazzi, and having your vision of a shiny, money-making future quashed – temporarily at least – and you have a truly unpleasant scenario.
The picture that is emerging is that the chasm between his London life and his LA existence is far greater than he had expected, a situation which has most likely only been exacerbated by COVID-19.
When Diana envisaged her life in California, she saw a city of opportunity and a clean slate, to rebuild her life the way she wanted, outside of the jurisdiction of the royal family.
Harry and Meghan might have gotten that glorious clean slate, but the question is, is the grass that much greener in LA?
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.