Here we are, gathered together in the biggest hotel ballroom in New York City, feasting on smoked salmon and sparkling wine to honour the bravest and the best.
In the past, the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award has been given to small fry such as Barack Obama and George Clooney, to Hillary Clinton and Tony Bennett for doing their bit to change the world for the better.
Tonight President Zelensky of Ukraine is being honoured for leading a desperate fight for freedom on the other side of the world. He’s not here in person of course, but it says something — perhaps it says everything — that he is not even the main attraction at this star-studded gala being held by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organisation.
That honour goes to a smartly dressed young couple on the top table who spend much of the evening laughing uproariously with their fellow guests, picking at their vegetarian entrees and exuding a haze of excited self-satisfaction that you can feel all the way back here on table 98.
Top honours were reserved for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who were drinking in the heady delight of being the toast of New York
President Zelensky of Ukraine is being honoured for leading a desperate fight for freedom on the other side of the world. He’s not here in person of course, but it says something — perhaps it says everything — that he is not even the main attraction at this star-studded gala
It is the Duke and Duchess of Sussex of course, drinking in the heady delight of being the toast of New York, readying themselves to get up onstage and receive a prestigious award for their ‘courage’ in standing up to racism within the Royal Family.
Good God. Are they really going to do this? I think to myself as the short ribs and mashed potatoes arrive.
Are they really going to stand up there in front of a few thousand guests and news cameras from around the world, and accept an award that burnishes their own philanthropic credentials while shredding the reputations of the entire Windsor clan, condemning all of them — King Charles and Prince William in particular — to the immutable taint of intolerance and bigotry?
Of course they are. In fact, when the moment comes, they practically skip onto the stage — Harry wearing a lounge suit and an awful smirk, Meghan dressed in white like a dazzling Hollywood bride; one who has spent too long in the wings and is now ready to seize her moment. And how.
‘I just didn’t want to be alive anymore,’ she tells the gala, explaining how life within the Royal Family was so terrible that she considered committing suicide.
This is not news. She first shared this struggle openly last year during the Sussexes’ infamous television interview with Oprah Winfrey. Tonight, Meghan explains that she only went public because, ‘I don’t want anyone to feel alone’.
When the moment comes, they practically skip onto the stage — Harry wearing a lounge suit and an awful smirk, Meghan dressed in white like a dazzling Hollywood bride
They spend much of the evening laughing uproariously with their fellow guests, picking at their vegetarian entrees and exuding a haze of excited self-satisfaction
Coffee spoons are stilled. A murmur of approval undulates around the ballroom. This paragon in Louis Vuitton! She never stops caring, even at the lowest moments in her life. So humbling.
The young man next to me is impressed. ‘I don’t, like, idolise her, but I think she is cool,’ he says.
Meghan burbles on cheerily, full-throttle woo-woo style, about challenges and being brave, about speaking your truth and finding your place in the world. She isn’t really making much sense, but no one seems to care.
‘When you’ve been through anything that’s challenging, and everyone — especially in the past few years with lockdown and Covid, that spike in numbers of people having an experience they might not be voicing — we all need to, when we can, if we feel brave enough, to just speak honestly about your own experience,’ she says. She talks of being ashamed, but not in the way one might hope. ‘Look, I was really ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry especially, because I know how much loss he has suffered, but I knew that if I didn’t say it, then I would do it. I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.’
It is awful that Meghan felt this way, but one has to admire her pluck and resilience in turning that raw, existential despair into what some critics see as the biggest act of anti-British aggression since the Boston Tea Party. But is that really fair? She is only trying to help, after all.
‘And if my experience can help someone else not feel the same way or to know that there’s hope then it’s worth every second of whatever comes with it,’ she says.
The Sussexes’ documentary will air on Netflix tomorrow
As she clutches the microphone, what appears to be Princess Diana’s aquamarine ring sparkles on her finger. At her side, a triumphant Prince Harry glows with approval and pride. And in my heart, I am glad that neither the Queen nor Prince Philip are alive to witness this grisly but typically Sussexian spectacle — treachery masquerading as philanthropy under the glittering Manhattan chandeliers.
As the Sussexes leave the stage, applause thunders around the ballroom, with some attendees even getting to their feet. You can tell that this — this! — was what Meghan thought being royal would be like.
Glamour, celebrity ovations, adulation and the intoxicating fizz of unquestioning worship. Not shaking hands with tea ladies on cold British streets, ceremonial tree planting in provincial towns and being asked impertinent questions about how much her dress cost. This! Much more of this, please.
Earlier in the evening, attendees who had paid at least £4,000 each to attend a pre-dinner VIP cocktail party were a bit disappointed that Meghan and Harry failed to show up.
‘Royalty’s coming,’ said one of the barmen, while expertly mixing a pair of martinis for two guests. ‘We’ve been told not to look directly at them.’
He needn’t have worried. The Sussexes were nowhere to be seen, with access to them limited by wealth and how much attendees were willing to pay to personally experience their pain.
The top tier ‘Pioneer’ package cost £820,000 and included four seats on the top table. Other packages cost £410,000 and £205,000, while bottom-feeder level is around £2,000.
The cheapest tickets come with a guarantee that the Duchess of Sussex will not trap guests in a corner and explain at length how beastly the Duchess of Cambridge is and exactly who made who cry during the Row of the Bridesmaid Dresses back in 2018.
Still, showbiz royalty is here in the form of Gayle King, the powerful CBS News host, friend of Oprah Winfrey and sometime confidante of Harry and Meghan. Gayle is wearing an eye-popping lime green dress that clings to every curve and she exudes brisk in-the-know bonhomie.
Do you really think the British Royal Family is racist, I ask her?
‘No I do not. And neither do they,’ she says, meaning the Sussexes.
Then what the heck are we all doing here, eating mini mozzarella balls on sticks and wondering why host Kerry Kennedy — daughter of Robert F. Kennedy — is wearing such a short dress? Especially when she is going to sit on a stage with Meghan in a side split dress that fabulously reveals most of her legs.
If they think throwing their flesh and blood under yet another woke bus is positive, I’d really hate to see the trail of destruction if they went down a pessimistic path
‘It is for a good cause, for the best cause,’ says Gayle. Yet not for the first time at this charitable event I have the distinctly uncharitable thought that Harry and Meghan are being given this huge, glitzy, empty award for something they did not do in a situation that did not happen. And that this beatification by the Kennedys — the closest thing America has to a royal family of its own — dovetails rather beautifully into their slick, ongoing self-justifying, self-serving, propaganda machine.
There are lots of Kennedys here tonight and most of them introduce themselves as ‘Kerry’s cousin’. I can’t see Rory Kennedy – Kerry’s sister – but she must be here somewhere. Her professional partner at film company Moxie Firecracker, Liz Garbus, has directed Harry and Meghan’s six-part Netflix docuseries, to be released this week. All very cosy! Who knows if Rory personally recommended the Sussexes for this glutinous award, but the mutual benefits for all involved are not inconsequential.
Elsewhere there are little Kennedy children with bows in their Kennedy hair, little Kennedy boys already in training to be Kennedy masters of the universe, Kennedy cousins and sisters schmoozing the rich and famous while energetically promoting the philanthropic Kennedy brand.
Kennedy aides in black cocktail dresses march around with folders as if they were extras on the West Wing, while lawyer Edward M. Kennedy Jr. holds court in the middle of the party.
‘I am the loudest man in the room and I am also the most fun man in the room,’ he tells me. Why is he here? ‘Because I am Kerry’s cousin.’
What does he think of it so far? ‘Everyone in New York loves Meghan and Harry!’ he roars.
Can that possibly be true? Certainly some eyebrows are raised when Meghan rehashes her suicide confession on the Ripple of Hope stage, while not everyone in this city has fallen for their waxed and buffed victimhood.
‘They are some of the most privileged people on the planet,’ a charity officer called Susan Armstrong says. ‘I just don’t get all this pain, pain, pain.’
Towards the end of the evening I look in vain through the Ripple of Hope silent auction lots, hoping to find a gift that had been donated by the Sussexes. Unless they were behind a log cabin holiday in Utah or the Proenza Schouler handbag (minimum bid £900), there seems to be nothing from them — but perhaps their very presence on this glittering night is enough.
Amongst the autographed guitars from Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, actors and actresses you have vaguely heard of are offering themselves up as lunch dates or cocktails, without the dignity of a minimum bid.
Enjoy Lunch With Actress Yolonda Ross (Law and Order) reads one poster. Dinner With Actor Matt McCoy (Police Academy) reads another. They attract little attention. The last time I look, Yolonda is going for about £300. It is absolutely astounding to think that if Meghan had not met Harry perhaps she too would have been way down the pecking order, not at the top table but just another actress on a silent auction date.
Instead she is the star attraction, the queen bee in this high-spending hive of public philanthropy, a woman who has just been honoured for apparently exposing injustice, and speaking truth to power.
I wanted to come to this gala. I wanted to see with my own eyes if the Duke and Duchess of Sussex really would walk out in front of the world to collect a prize for ‘moral courage’ in challenging the Royal Family’s alleged racism. I wanted to see this terrible betrayal up close, to see if there was even a flicker of remorse or sadness behind their calculated exuberance.
And as they threw a blanket of shame over the family he once loved and she once joined, I saw nothing but exultation in their faces.
‘They are very brave,’ says Kerry Kennedy. ‘They are shaping history.’
Indeed they are. Shaping it to suit themselves.