In those halcyon months before the world knew about their secret romance, Harry and Meghan forged a powerful union and a tender love. Together they planned to take on the world, to inspire and empower, and have a go at fixing many of the problems that troubled their generation. Those closest to Prince Harry saw the change immediately.
At a recent dinner for his most personal passion project, Sentebale, the Lesotho charity he set up with his friend and fellow royal Prince Seeiso to help children affected by AIDS and HIV, Harry said: “I have grown up feeling support from so many of you, and watched as you welcomed Meghan with open arms as you saw me find the love and happiness I had hoped for all my life. Finally, the second son of Diana got hitched, hurray!”
No sooner had they wed (in front of an estimated 1.9 billion global audience), than they got straight to work. “We were excited, we were hopeful, and we were here to serve,” he said.
Harry and Meghan brought their special brand of can-do positivity to the royal arena and for the House of Windsor this was gold dust. The couple became catnip for a new international audience hungry for young leaders they could look up to.
For a honeymoon period the couple became the people’s royals. There was a Diana frisson to their warmth, charisma and their ability to connect with everyone they met.
Then a tall poppy resentment kicked in with a jaw-dropping ferocity. Not everyone bought into their progressive ideas. They were branded hypocrites for jumping on private jets while espousing environmentalism and portrayed as “pushy” and “demanding” by a media that seemed determined to pull them down.
In response the Sussex family opted to connect with their followers directly through their own social media channels, garnering millions of followers. But ironically it was in the social media space that Meghan especially faced the most alarming commentary, fuelled by an ugly racist agenda. Controlling the media is still a work in progress for the couple. “The media is a powerful force, and my hope is one day our collective support for each other can be more powerful because this is so much bigger than just us,” Harry said.
Having watched paparazzi hound his mother, this new attack on his wife was a chilling reminder of desperately sad times. Diana had counselled her sons: “If you find someone you love in life, you must hang onto it and look after it …protect it.” And here her youngest, who a few years earlier had admitted “all I’ve ever wanted to do is make my mother proud”, opted to follow his mother’s advice.
For Meghan, the endless barrage of criticism she and Harry faced was neither “fair” nor accurate. “My wife upholds the same values as I do,” Harry has pleaded. Meghan was at a loss to understand the backlash she was facing.
And then Harry dropped a bombshell.
Just two years into the job, with baby Archie not yet a year old, the Sussex family announced they would quit their roles as “senior royals”. They hoped to broker a deal to work part-time for Her Majesty The Queen, dividing their time between North America and Britain. They would become “financially independent”, earning their own crust while also supporting the monarchy.
In the wake of this momentous announcement, hurt, confusion and anger reigned. “I don’t believe Meghan came into the marriage with a pre-formed idea of changing everything, turning over the apple-cart, but the culture shock of joining an ancient and venerable institution and having to follow its rules turned out not to be to her taste, and she started to plan an escape route,” royal biographer Christopher Wilson tells me.
For traditionalists, Harry and Meghan’s demands seemed outlandish and presumptive: from their privileged ivory tower the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were refusing to fulfil their duties to the Crown, it seemed.
“The situation’s unprecedented because Harry has decided to leave the country and will only return occasionally. There is a great deal of anger, especially among the military who were his greatest supporters (and he theirs), that he has just dumped them. The idea that he will be going out making money off a red carpet when he should be turning up on parade hasn’t gone down well,” Wilson explains.
But many others, including those new young fans, felt Harry and Meghan deserved to be free, to choose how they live and work, that it was time the monarchy modernised. “It’s true the House of Windsor has been slow to recognise the need to find an exit-route for those family members who are not royal-central, and the problem can only get worse until the system changes,” comments Wilson.
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