As the Sussexes embark on their new life, there is one crucial aspect that could be impossible for them to ever achieve.
In the 1953 movie Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn plays a Princess who sneaks out of her country’s embassy for one night of delicious, supposedly anonymous, freedom.
She zips around Rome on a Vespa, drinks and dances with a hunky reporter (Gregory Peck), and tastes the forbidden ambrosia of civilian life. All she wants, for the briefest of windows, is the chance to be just another person on the street.
Ultimately, she has to choose between duty and personal happiness.
On April 1, the full consequences of his and wife Meghan Duchess of Sussexes’ decision to stand down as working members of the royal family will come into effect.
Gone will be their ability to style themselves as His/Her Royal Highness. (Technically, they retain the styling but have agreed not to use it.) So too will their ability to brand themselves as ‘royal’ and his right to wear full military dress.
And to what end? In early January when they first told the world they wanted out as senior members of the royal family, they listed their reasons for wanting to do so including “providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter.”
Weeks later, in an emotional speech at a charity dinner, Harry told the crowd the couple had quit so they could “take a step forward into what I hope can be a more peaceful life.”
On paper, it sounds like a totally understandable, goal: To want to shrug off the pomposity and rigidity of working Windsor life in search of a simpler, less pressured existence.
However it is a deeply flawed plan because it is deeply naive to ever think that either of them could ever live a ‘normal’ life.
The now 35-year-old has clearly yearned for a different, simpler existence for decades. In 2008 he told the Washington Post about his time in the military: "It's very nice to be a sort of normal person for once; I think it's about as normal as I'm going to get."
In 2012 he told CBS: “There's a lot of times that both myself and my brother [Prince William] wish obviously that we were just, you know, completely normal.”
In an interview in 2013 while stationed in Afghanistan he reflected on his time in the military, saying serving in the war torn country was "as normal as it's going to get.”
While the royal clearly craves a different day-to-day life than his gilt-edged upbringing, I struggle to see how he and Meghan can ever truly forge a more quotidian reality.
On a totally practical level, they are going to have to live every day of the rest of their lives surrounded by armed protection officers.
Every time either Sussex (or Archie in the years to come) exits a car or enters a building they will most likely be surrounded by a shield of bulky, gun-toting specialists.
He will never be able to pop out for a litre of milk solo nor will she ever be able to enjoy a cheeky pinot grigio down the pub without a wall of bodyguards nearby.
Their celebrity will follow them wherever they move or however they choose to use their time.
These days he might go by “call me Harry” (as he recently told a roomful of people during one of his last official outings in the UK) but every room he will enter in the world he will be the son of one of the most famous people of the 20th century.
The image of him, a tiny figure head-bowed, walking behind his mother’s coffin all the way from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey is indelibly lodged in the public imagination.
No matter how much Harry might want it to be so, he is yoked with the sort of global fame that a change of postcode or different title will never, ever do away with.
He will never be judged or viewed simply as a man with a passion for environmental causes or as just a father or husband. In his name and DNA he carries a legacy that he can never truly shake off.
Having a connection with the common man and woman was something Diana tried to instil in her boys. She would famously take them out to Kensington High Street, only metres from the imposing front gate of Kensington Palace, for a jaunt to McDonalds for an incognito burger.
Royal biographer Katie Nicholl, writing in Harry: Life, Loss and Love recounts that during one such ‘normal’ outing to a local newsagent the young Prince picked out items that cost more than the amount of pocket money he had. Diana told him he would have to put something back.
But their quest for ‘normal’ is naive. Harry and Meghan will always be the focus of frenzied international scrutiny and to think that interest in them will in any way wane now they are no longer technically royal is laughable. They will, most likely, exist at the centre of a media storm for the rest of their lives.
Things might perhaps be different if he and Meghan were planning on totally eschewing the spotlight from now. Say, if they were planning on settling in say the remote Scottish Pennines or rural Oregon on some vast, luxurious estate where they would spend their days doing whatever it is that wealthy recluses get up to.
Save for a very occasional appearance with the rest of the Windsor clan for family functions, they would for all intents and purposes be able to tototally and utterly retreat from public view.
But that is not what they are likely to do, instead positioning themselves to become global humanitarians of the first order – while also open for business, having signalled their intention to take on commercial opportunities in a quest to become “financially independent.”
Do you see the inherent contradiction here? They want a more peaceful life unfettered by protocol and with far greater personal freedom but they also want to build an international philanthropic brand and earn cash to keep themselves afloat. Both of these are laudable goals however they are mutually exclusive.
If we can judge Harry’s view of ‘normal’ (Meghan has truly had a normal upbringing) based on what they have done this year, it involves moving into a borrowed $20 million mansion, allegedly sending bodyguards on grocery runs (according to UK reports), and giving an, allegedly paid speech to a roomful of JP Morgan investment bankers.
I applaud Harry for not being tethered to the trappings of royalty and being brave enough to turn his back on a life of bowing courtiers and mind boggling grandeur.
But … I think Harry’s quest for normality has the slightly tin-eared ring to it of a very wealthy man yearning for the life he thinks he sees on the other side of the Palace fence.
Like pretty much every other facet of modern life, Harry and Meghan’s plans have most likely been thrown into disarray by the horrifying march of COVID-19 across the globe.
As the world comes to grips with this new reality, billions of us are reassessing our lives as we hunker down indoors.
For all of us in these strange, hard times ‘normal’ has become a highly covetable commodity.
However, there will be a day when our lives return to that. For Harry and Meghan, I’m not sure normal is something they will ever be able to truly find.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles