March 5, 2021

Over the past month, a new English dialect has mysteriously sprung into existence: let us call it “Sussex-ese”. It was first spotted in the British press in February, when its creator — who shall remain unnamed for now — wrote: “We all lose when misinformation sells more than truth, when moral exploitation sells more than decency, and when companies create their business model to profit from people’s pain. But, for today, with this comprehensive win on both privacy and copyright, we have all won.”

Typified by its remarkable tendency to sound both sincere and insincere simultaneously, this Sussex-ese appeared again in a separate news story this week. “[We are] saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma,” the author wrote. “She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world and will keep striving to set an example for doing what is right and doing what is good.”

No doubt you will have guessed by now how Sussex-ese was given its name. Both of the above statements come from the House of Sussex, specifically from the spokesperson for the Duchess of Sussex and/or the Duchess herself. And I suspect that they won’t be the last — by all accounts, Sussex-ese is here to stay.

As tempting as it may be, it is not enough to dismiss the House of Sussex’s latest statements as bland, sub-Obama pabulum. They almost always have a certain twist of their own; a style which suggests that Harry and, more importantly, Meghan are not only surprised, but almost amazed that anybody might think ill of them. Excerpts from the couple’s upcoming interview with Oprah Winfrey only confirm this.

History is, of course, rife with examples of princes and their spouses expressing their distaste with the lèse-majesté of their critics. But what’s different about Sussex-ese is that it is a creation born not from the Duke’s blue blood, so much as the couple’s unquestionably golden intentions. And as a result, a very modern form of deference is demanded: do not criticise me, for I am doing much good in the world.

Take the first quote above. It relates to the Duchess’s recent successful privacy case against the Mail on Sunday, which published excerpts of a private letter sent by Meghan to her estranged father. Now you could be forgiven for thinking that, even if she weren’t a former actress, the relationship between the wife of the person sixth in line to the British throne and her father is a matter of public interest. You would, however, be wrong — at least that’s the implication of the judge’s decision to halt the trial before witnesses could be called.

But even if you agree with Lord Justice Warby, it is hard to see how “we all won” because of it.  For example, you may not approve of the type of prurient Royal-watcher who wishes to know every detail of the Duchess’s life, but clearly those people don’t view the verdict as a “win”. More importantly, though, there is something deeply unsavoury about the attempt to extrapolate Meghan’s personal victory into a universal one, particularly since most people will never be in a position remotely analogous to the one in which the Sussexes find themselves.

The same can also be said of their response this week to accusations that Meghan bullied two royal aides out of Kensington Palace. Perhaps anticipating that the Sussex’s Oprah interview will show everyone but Harry and Meghan in a bad light, the bullying story may well have been a pre-emptive defence of sorts from London.

Either way, the nature of the Sussexes’ response — talking about how “saddened” they are — was entirely in fitting with the sanctimonious language used by so many public figures today. What is uncommon, however, is for a person of such power as Meghan to deflect the harm caused to her alleged victims by stressing her own victim-credentials.

This is exactly what the Duchess does by saying that she has been “the target of bullying herself”. And, of course, this Sussex-ese makes almost no sense. There is no reason why someone who has been bullied cannot themselves be a bully; in fact, we’re constantly told the opposite. Yet it isn’t until the claim at the end of the statement that the Sussex-ese becomes completely overpowering. We must assume that the Sussexes have some idea, at least, of statements put out in their name. So how could they possibly allow a statement that claims Meghan “is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world” to be published? Try it for yourself. If a person asked if they could describe you as a person who is busy building “compassion around the world”, would you not turn around and suggest that it could be toned down a bit?

That isn’t to say that the Duchess has had an inconsequential career. But appearing in Suits, marrying a Prince and starting a podcast are eccentric ways to make the world a better place — let alone “set an example”. Indeed, what kind of person honestly believes that everyone should look to them as a beacon “for doing what is right and doing what is good”? Even the Archbishop of Canterbury wouldn’t claim such moral authority.

Unfortunately, the rise of Sussex-ese suggests that the Sussexes have drifted away not just from the world that created them but, particularly in the case of Harry, from the world that grounded them. The type of service embodied in both the army and the Royal family is such that you should not have to say that you are saving the world.

And as we can now see, when you do bestow that authority on yourself, your inevitable failure is made all the more bitter. For if the latest bullying allegations are true, they will serve as very public proof that the Duchess of Sussex has failed at her own self-appointed mission. You cannot spread love, compassion and understanding around the world if you are cruel and bullying to the people around you — especially those who are, in hierarchy terms, unquestionably below you.

And that is why the creation of Sussex-ese was never going to be convincing. People do not like being told what to do, think or feel by people they do not admire. As working royals, the Sussexes accumulated a certain amount of respect — but that all vanished when they gave up a life of duty for one that enables them to preach from a number of well-remunerated platforms.

If anything, all Sussex-ese does is allow Harry and Meghan to remain blissfully unaware of their fall from grace. It means that the Sussexes can continue to tell us how to “all win”, how to be good and how to save the world, oblivious to the fact that the further away from royal life they drift, the less moral authority they have. And therein lies the irony of it all: that in trying to escape the Firm, the Sussexes have ended up demanding more deference and behaving with more grandiosity than any British royal for generations.