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You don’t need your title, Harry and Meghan – take it from someone who has never used theirs

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, attend the sitting volleyball finals at the 2023 Invictus Games
Harry and Meghan could choose to relinquish their title and be called simply Mr and Mrs Sussex

It’s been dubbed the “nuclear option”, which feels a mite extreme. It sounds suspiciously like something Vladimir Putin might go in for, or someone of his ilk. Still, Bob Seely, the Tory MP, is a former soldier who has written reports on the Kremlin and modern Russian warfare, so he knows a bit about nuclear matters. And he obviously considers the subject very grave indeed, otherwise he wouldn’t be presenting a bill to strip the Duke and Duchess of Sussex of their title. This, Seely has declared, is the “nuclear option” that he believes the pair should face given the “poisonously insidious” race claims in the recent book about the Royals by that eyebrow-coiffeur, Omid Scobie.

According to Seely, Harry and Meghan must be behind Scobie’s claims and, therefore, it’s off with their dukedom. “If someone doesn’t want to be royal, that is a decision we respect,” he says. “But they should not keep the titles and privileges if they trash an institution that plays an important part in our nation’s life.”

Now look, Harry and Meghan, I am no fan of yours. Last week, I gingerly lay myself down on the massage bed for a session with my osteo Hollie – face of an angel, hands of Dr No – and she immediately piped up, “What do you think about all this Royal stuff?” I wanted to say, “I’d rather you did that thing with my neck than formulate any kind of answer.” Perhaps some of you reading this feel the same. Perhaps you would even prefer to sit next to Putin at dinner over one of the Sussexes, by this point, and I wouldn’t blame you.

But now the question of your title has been raised more seriously, Harry and Meghan, and MPs, who should be discussing the NHS or the economy, are going to have to talk about you again. So what I reckon is you should just get rid of it quick. Go on, make the first sensible decision you’ve made in quite some time and beat Bob to it. Announce that you’re relinquishing the title and, going forwards, are quite happy to be known as plain old Mr and Mrs Sussex. It’s a lovely surname; it smacks of A A Milne and flinty, windswept beaches and, er, Brighton. You don’t need the formal bit in front of it. It’s 2023. The only people who have titles these days are, well, most of your family, Harry, but apart from that it’s doddery toffs and people like the newly-ennobled Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton. For two who consider themselves progressive, it seems quite odd to be so keen on such an ancient and unmeritocratic system.

Take it from me as one who has a title but has never used it: life is much easier without one in these days of torrid class war. All right, mine is technically the lowliest title of all (The Honourable), but I still decided long ago that it was something I didn’t want to attach to my name. The changeover happened almost indecently quickly. A few days after my grandfather died, my new bank card arrived one morning. Coutts, which was probably hotter on these things 20 years ago than they are now, had despatched a debit card declaring that I was now The Honourable Sophia Money-Coutts. Doesn’t she sound awful? I decided there and then that it wasn’t for me, unlike my sister who unwisely stuck it on her passport, and for some years afterwards had to stand in front of grim-face immigration officials and explain that her first name wasn’t actually Thehon.

Bob Seely MP is to present a Bill to Parliament to strip the Duke and Duchess of Sussex of their title
Bob Seely MP is to present a Bill to Parliament to strip the Duke and Duchess of Sussex of their title - Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament

They can cause endless problems at airports, in fact. I once interviewed someone at Tatler whose combined name and title was so long that she had to ring up airlines to book tickets, because the little box online was too short for her. “I have to actually call Easyjet!” I remember her saying. Poor thing.

It is cooler not to have one these days and it would be better PR to announce it now before it’s forcibly removed. Although the mechanics of the potential removal, if you’re one of those rare people who are into both obscure laws and aristocratic titles, are oddly fascinating. Seely has cited a 1917 law that was originally passed to strip posh Germans with links to Queen Victoria of their British titles during the First World War. The Titles Deprivation Act 1917 resulted in the Duke of Albany, the Duke of Cumberland and his son, and the Viscount Taaffe all losing their British honours. Although given that they were called Leopold, Ernst, Ernst and Heinrich respectively and they all had Teutonic moustaches, I don’t believe this loss would have exactly unmasked them. It wouldn’t be a great look though, Harry, if you underwent the same process that some of your dodgier German ancestors went through. Cast it off before then, why not?

The only spanner, according to Dickie Arbiter, the Royal correspondent and former press spokesman for Elizabeth II, is that while it’s possible to confiscate the Sussex title, Harry was born a prince and removing that would be “pretty impossible”. So the couple could end up being referred to, colloquially and half-inaccurately, as Prince Harry and Princess Meghan, which might – for Seely and others – be even more galling.

Alternatively, next week there’s a title going up for auction. A genuine title. Or at least more genuine than the ones that you can buy from a catalogue for a chap from the golf club as a wheeze. Lord Walthamstow is flogging his title via Strettons (“an opportunity to acquire this genuine English feudal title dating back to before the Norman conquest”). Formerly known as Phillip Leigh, the retired property developer, who bought it 34 years ago because he’s “keen on history” and lives in E17, now wants to offload the title because his daughter isn’t interested in carrying it on. It can be used on passports, boasts the auction catalogue, “and represents the perfect purchase if you were born or live and work in Walthamstow”.

I’m not saying Meghan would be absolutely delighted with this as a Christmas present, Harry, but if Seely does press ahead with his nuclear option, it might be worth considering. Lord and Lady Walthamstow has a lovely ring to it. The auction’s on Wednesday.

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