No I do not mean the duty you pay at Custom but Duty in the classic sense, a moral or legal obligation; a responsibility and a task or action that someone is required to perform. It seems that today many people have forgotten the meaning of duty and put self first.
After the infamous and controversial interview of Meghan and Prince Harry with Oprah, it brought back memories of what duty is like when you serve in the Foreign Service has I did for 34 years and what it actually meant.
I know that for many who do not know the world of service to the Crown, it is very difficult to understand and often the mistake is to think that you can ignore the rules governing your life during your period of service. There are a lot of rules and some require that you put your personal opinions or beliefs on the back seat. All that you do is governed by protocol, precedents, well established rules, duty and nothing else matters.
This is why when people talk about Harry and Meghan pursuing their personal happiness and leaving a toxic environment, I think that some really do not understand what comes first and foremost in the service of the Crown. Harry was born into the royal family and into traditions 1000 years old. That does not change overnight or because fashion dictates it, it’s a progressive process, often taking decades to change somewhat, if at all. Unfortunately Meghan, an outsider and a foreigner, who married into this institution did not appear to understand that by doing so she married into everything that is the Crown. That is what is truly tragic and unfortunate, I blame Harry for not explaining and being truthful with her about the numerous constraints. I blame her for not understanding a system where rank matters a lot, she thought she could ignore long established convention and precedent. She was going to change things, so she believed.
When I joined the Foreign Service, it was made clear to me that I would have to follow the rules and back then during the Cold War and all that it entailed, there were a lot of constraints. Then there was also rules about life on posting and how it would be, not how I wanted it to be. I was given a clear option to walk out the door, before signing legal papers and taking my Oath of Office to the Crown and start my career.
There were rules around security in general and how to handle Secret Documents. How to write and prepare them, if you did not follow the pattern established, you simply had to start over until you got it right. We had to learn how to prepare a diplomatic pouch and how to make knots and how to register them, no mistakes aloud and constantly watched by a supervisor. We had to learn how to write notes and papers and then they would go through vetting by often 6 people up the chain and anyone of them could send it back to you, with notes in red ink, to correct or change what you had done. It could take days to get it right, every word, every coma mattered.
Then the briefings would start before going on posting, on what to wear or not to wear. You were told that you were always on duty 24/7 no matter what. Informal never meant without tie or jacket, even when you travelled on long journeys, looking good was always important. Even if you travelled with small children, arrangements had to be made so to not let personal matters slip into the Official, again you are on duty 24/7 do not forget it.
Before going on posting, we had to have a full medical evaluation, then shots for all manner of foreign or exotic diseases, carry a vaccination booklet with us to show that we had been vaccinated for X, Y, Z. The nurse at Post would call you in for re-vaccination when needed, no you could not refuse a vaccine. If you did, your posting would be cancelled, it also blocked your career progress. There was no discussion possible on this topic.
You were also expected to blend into the culture of the country you served in to a certain degree. Never criticize, never say anything that might be seen as hostile or critical of the country in which you served. Always remember the Official position of the government and stick to it no matter what.
In terms of food, there was no such thing as declaring yourself vegetarian or whatever. You ate everything presented and thanked your host for the dish. Keep the conversation neutral, never criticize or comment negatively the host government or the head of State even if he is a bloody dictator. If your government wishes to send a message, the Ambassador will have a letter to deliver and present, even if it is fairly unpleasant. I remember travelling to a country and having to make a request, only to be screamed at in the most vile way by my host and having to sit there and simply keep silent, recording for my report what was being said. Making a polite exit afterwards. Do nothing, say nothing, that is what is expected by your superiors back home.
Yes Official functions are boring and some are boring to death, but you are there for a purpose and a reason, never forget that. I had to go to lots and lots of Official functions and smile and say polite words. Deliver a message from my government, etc. I did it and live to tell the tale. Sometimes you met nice people, sometimes not. The food was always the same and followed a pattern. Some time is was good other times it was so so.
There were also all manner of rules on when you could go on vacation, following ranking order from most senior to junior. You were assigned a living quarter based on your family configuration and rank at the Embassy. No one asked what you would like, you were assigned a living space and paid rent to your employer who is also your landlord.
You might have to travel during civil unrest or war condition in the country where you lived and worked. It’s your job, no one said it was going to be fun. I remember colleagues going to war zone, or countries in the grip of civil war. You hear gun fire and explosions, in the morning you pass by dead corpses on the streets, picked over by dogs or vultures. Well it comes with the territory, you do your job, trusting that someone back home is looking after your well being.
I could go on writing about all the rules and all the many things we had to do which were part of the job, we accepted. So this is why I have NO sympathies for Meghan and her complaints. I would say to her, look honey, it’s not about you. This is what you signed up for, get it. Please do not drag poor Diana into this story, she died 25 years ago and it is frankly irrelevant now and you are not her re-incarnation. The only thing that really matters in this business, is the Sovereign and service to the Crown, your duty.
Yes, there was loneliness, boredom and sometimes the colleagues with whom you were at post in a foreign country were jerks. So you simply used your imagination and invented some other ways to amuse yourself and this in an age before home computers or the internet.
Finally I would say that other members of the Royal Family had a difficult time of it. Princess Alice, the mother of Prince Philip, her life was very difficult and dangerous. Prince Philip from birth, having to meet numerous difficulties and shunted here and there and then after marrying the future Queen Elizabeth was often ignored and marginalized, he had to wait 10 years or until 1957 before he was made a Prince of Great Britain by his wife. Princess Margaret, Princess Anne, Prince Edward, etc… all had to face challenges. Even Kate Middleton now Duchess of Cambridge and future Queen. It is not an easy life but it is a choice. So as Bertolt Brecht use to say, in life you make your bed and you lie in it.