Sure, there might be some little ones who are au fait with the concept of a prince or a princess – Cinderella has a lot to answer for – but dukes? I’m not so sure.
What then, I wonder, did the gaggle of kids from the Preschool Learning Center for disadvantaged children, run by the Assistance League of Los Angeles, make this week when two very chicly dressed strangers turned up in their midst?
These guests were there to help them plant a mixture of vegetables and flowers while a professional photographer captured the adorable, chaotically charming scene. Did the tots realise how exalted – and controversial – their dirt-covered guest stars were?
On Monday, the 23rd anniversary of the death of Harry’s mother Diana, Princess of Wales, the Assistance League of Los Angeles released images of the Sussexes on gardening duty at the preschool, where they planted, among other things, Forget-Me-Nots, Diana’s favourite flowers.
It was a personal and touching tribute to a woman who, like her daughter-in-law two decades later, left an indelible mark on the monarchy. And perhaps, one of the most significant and lasting ways that the Princess changed the royal MO was how members of the Queen’s family undertake charity work.
In 2017 Prince Philip, during what would prove to be his final outing as a working royal, drolly dubbed himself “the world’s most experienced plaque-unveiler”. This was exactly the model that Diana largely rejected, instead eschewing one-offs to build lasting relationships with particular charities and causes.
For the Princess, turning up, unveiling a plaque, accepting a bouquet from a squirming child and then jumping back in her chauffeured Jag to make it back to London in time for Corrie simply wasn’t her style.
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Diana pioneered a version of royal good works where she would build up a more thorough understanding of a particular issue or organisation and then sign on for longer term commitment.
(As she later told Washington Post Company impresario Katharine Graham, “If I’m going to talk on behalf of any cause, I want to go and see the problem for myself and learn about it.”)
That standard remains in place to this day. In 2008, more than two years before she officially joined ‘The Firm’, Kate Middleton began supporting children’s hospices and in 2011, she became the patron of East Anglia Children’s Hospices. This year in June, there was Kate helping plant a garden at one of the charity’s purpose built hospices, nearly a decade on, showing her unwavering commitment.
For William, he has been involved in conservation for more than 15 years since becoming the patron of the Tusk Trust at age 24.
Harry and Meghan, prior to their hasty exit out the palace gates earlier this year, worked similarly. Harry launched his African childrens’ AIDS charity Sentebale in 2006 and since 2014 has supported injured veterans via his hugely successful Invictus Games.
Meghan’s commitment to supporting gender equality dates back to 1992 when she petitioned to have a sexist soap ad changed.
You get the gist: If you get a working Windsor on board, you get them for the long haul.
And this is where the Sussexes’ recent crop of West Coast engagements stand in direct contrast.
Since landing in North America in January, they have thrown their collective firepower behind Vancouver women’s organisations; Black Lives Matter and addressing systemic racism; tackling hate on social media; getting out the vote ahead of the US Presidential election; helping underprivileged kids’ charities, and supporting a charity that helps reduce gang recidivism.
Clearly, all of these are pressing and deeply important issues, entirely worthy of the Sussexes’ support. However their embrace of a sort of pick n mix of issues is starting to take on a slightly chaotic hue. In essence, jumping from bandwagon to bandwagon does not an enduring brand make.
Central to establishing any brand, is an inherent public understanding of what they stand for. However trying to distil exactly what the Sussexes’ want to achieve can, at best, be clumsily lumped under the banner of ‘making the world a better place’.
However, this sort of optimism-heavy, detail-poor activism, all sound and fury signifying good PR, may not ultimately be to their benefit.
Because while Harry and Meghan might have helped put the global spotlight on a number of highly deserving organisations of late, what have they, in concrete terms, done aside from help a number of charities enjoying a fleeting moment in the spotlight?
The bigger picture here is that if Harry and Meghan truly want to become global leaders then they need a far more cohesive and focused approach, which is exactly the example that Diana has set for them.
For example, at one stage in her royal career, the Princess was involved with 100 organisations. By the final year of her life, she had winnowed that down to six that she intended to support full-throttle, having understood the best way to maximise her impact was in a highly focused fashion.
There is another sticking point to Harry and Meghan’s Californian approach to their charity work beyond the ‘what’ and ‘when’, which is the ‘how’.
In August the duo was in Los Angeles to support Baby2Baby, a charity that has already drawn a roster of starry supporters including Gwyneth Paltrow, Chrissy Teigan and Katy Perry. There they were, a real life Prince and his royal wife in shorts, helping fit kids with new backpacks and handing out back-to-school supplies.
However, their appearance wasn’t recorded and made public by a lurking paparazzo but by the personal photographer the duo brought with them, the Telegraph has reported.
Interestingly, the shots of the couple at the Los Angeles preschool this week were snapped by Matt Sayles, who also filmed Meghan’s recent tete-a-tete with feminist legend Gloria Steinem. (Interestingly, the one minute, 40 second video was copyrighted by the Sussexes, despite the piece being published by Yahoo’s female empowerment channel Makers.)
Here’s the thing: Taking one’s own snapper along to do good works threatens to make them look like they are planting petunias or handing out pencils to primary schoolers in a bid to stay in the headlines, rather than because they are two lovely people who just care so damn much.
While Harry and Meghan are both clearly driven to make a difference, however, no matter how pure-of-heart they might be, their current charitable approach is rife with pitfalls.
The danger here is that if they continue to roll up to a jumbled series of events, potentially with their own photographer in tow, has the potential to erode their philanthropic credibility. Because, this sort of camera-ready approach could start to make them look desperate: Desperate for kudos; desperate to bask in the warm glow of good PR and even desperate to bolster their relevance at a time when they are establishing their brand in the charity and business worlds.
On Thursday this week it was announced that Harry and Meghan had inked what the New York Times called a “megawatt” deal with Netflix to produce documentaries and family programs for the streaming behemoth.
Less than six months since officially signing off from royal duty, they already have a high-profile commercial deal and a huge Santa Barbara mansion to call home (the first house either has ever owned). Life should be appropriately golden for the Sussexes – they have freedom, an adorable son, an imminent fortune and a koi pond all of their own.
I think we can say for certain, Diana would be incredibly proud. And nothing, can stop the Sussexes now – except themselves.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.