Twelve months after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their shock departure from the royal family, they’re making a life together in LA. But with the agreed one-year review pending, what’s next for the former royals? Here, Carolyn Durand – co-author of best-selling biography Finding Freedom, which the couple are said to have permitted friends to contribute to – explains...
LISTENING TO HARRY and Meghan’s giggles and laughter while Archie shared some of his first words on the Sussexes’ new Archewell podcast, it’s hard to believe that just a year ago this was a couple still in turmoil after being forced to announce to the world their difficult decision to step back as senior working members of the royal family.
‘It’s been a year,’ Prince Harry remarked in the holiday special of their new Spotify venture. Meghan, meanwhile, referred to the ‘unthinkable loss’ that they had suffered after her devastating miscarriage in July, and that the world continues to deal with as the pandemic’s grip continues. Last year was filled with incredible highs and painful lows for the duke and duchess, but their optimism about the future has seen them start 2021 with hope and excitement about the road ahead.
‘To be at the point they are at now, having set up an empire and a charity in just over nine months, shows just how hard they have worked to make this transition a success,’ Finding Freedom co-author Omid Scobie says. ‘But it’s taken a lot of work to get here. The journey has been painful.’
In the end, the work the couple put into drawing up a detailed roadmap of their new hybrid roles did little to help. Their goal may have been to step back as senior working royals and ‘become financially independent while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen’, but few at the Palace, including the monarch herself, saw it as a workable option.
Their freedom came at a cost. For Harry, the most difficult moment was being stripped of his military honours and his role as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador. ‘It stung, and even today he has not been able to move on from that,’ says a source close to the duke. Indeed, his service to the global veteran community – which inspired him to create the Invictus Games – was not only his most important legacy to date, it was also the most meaningful to him. However, while they only left with their private royal patronages in tow, the couple still maintained their future work would ‘continue to uphold the values of Her Majesty’.
The couple also made clear their intentions to reimburse the £2.4 million Sovereign Grant for expenditures related to the refurbishment of their Frogmore Cottage home in Windsor and cover the costs of their own security, a feat that was accomplished shortly after signing a multimillion-dollar production deal with Netflix in the summer.
For Meghan, the challenges of enjoying motherhood while being constantly uprooted have been difficult. Over the past year the family have lived in four homes – from Windsor to Vancouver for almost six months, then a speedy relocation to friend Tyler Perry’s Hollywood Hills property to beat the pandemic travel ban in March, before laying more permanent roots at their nine-bedroom home in Montecito, near Santa Barbara. ‘It’s just been a lot,’ says a friend of the duchess. ‘Their nanny moved back to the UK when they moved to LA because of the pandemic and restrictions left them feeling quite alone. Each move made them feel more displaced.’
Despite the upheaval, Harry and Meghan never lost sight of what was important to them. While their new home country went through various stages of lockdown, the couple remained dedicated and visible as they settled into Californian life, working with local charities and organisations to help where they could – delivering meals
to people in need for Project Angel Food, reading to young children at a local preschool and packing food parcels for at-risk veterans in Compton to name a few of their volunteering efforts.
‘From day one, they were eager to contribute wherever possible and be a part of the community,’ says Omid. ‘Being able to be part of the Covid-19 response was extremely important to the couple and put the focus back on what mattered instead of tabloid headlines.’
While life in California, complete with regular visits from Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland, became idyllic, it was not without its own challenges – especially when it came to privacy. The paparazzi flying drones over their home or taking long-lens photos of Archie through gaps in fences became a very real issue in a country with far less restrictive privacy laws than in the UK. ‘What’s different now, however, is that they can fight back,’ says a source. ‘They will do whatever it takes to keep Archie safe.’
In November, Harry was “deeply saddened” after his request to have a wreath laid in his name at the Cenotaph for Remembrance Day was denied, reportedly a decision made by the Queen herself. He was told family members don’t get to lay personal wreaths – especially if they are a non-working royal. ‘That hurt as much as the day his [military] honours were taken away,’ says a friend.
Though there has been speculation that the Sussexes will request an extension to the agreed 12-month review period that was put in place last March, sources confirm that the couple have no such plans. ‘They really haven’t looked back,’ says Omid. ‘While the door was left open by the Queen, Harry and Meghan have carved out an impressive start to what will be their new family legacy. When their roles came to an end they started from scratch, and in just nine months since then they have navigated a pandemic and set up their non-profit [organisation]. This is only the start.’
The couple had earmarked 2020 as a ‘listening period’ as they planned their next steps, so what of 2021? First, Netflix will see the first fruits of their labour, including an animated series about inspiring women from around the world and a progressive nature series conceptualised by Prince Harry. Working with Netflix has not only established the couple as Hollywood power players, but also allowed them to use creative storytelling to amplify their philanthropic interests and highlight the work of others.
And time apart from family in the UK hasn’t stopped wounds from healing. Prince Charles’s battle with coronavirus brought Harry and his father closer together, as the duke regularly checked in over the phone and video calls. And the Christmas holidays saw the Sussexes exchange gifts and virtual messages with all family members, including the Queen and Prince Philip.
This July, Harry and William hope to be together to unveil a commemorative statue at Kensington Palace on what would have been their mother Diana’s 60th birthday. And, though there is still work to be done on their relationship, the brothers remain united in their commitment to carrying on her legacy, as well as finding justice for the wrongdoings that took place before her death. As the Duke of Sussex said, ‘We are brothers, we will always be brothers. We are certainly on different paths for the moment, but I will always be there for him, as I know he will always be there for me.’
‘We’ve heard so much about the work they are doing behind the scenes and this year we will get to see that work in action,’ says Omid, who notes that the couple will roll out a number of Archewell Foundation projects and initiatives. ‘A year ago they set out to create a better life for themselves and their family, one that they could flourish in while still carrying out work that has social impact. They’ve now achieved that and friends say they are happier than ever.’
‘Finding Freedom’ is out now in hardback, eBook and audiobook (HQ, HarperCollins)