By all accounts, it was one of the most successful royal tours in recent memory. Meghan, in particular, was widely praised after she gave an empowering speech on female suffrage in New Zealand (during which she refrained from using notes and spoke Maori). Then, in a moving moment, the Duchess was seen having a surprise meeting with a 20-year-old student who she had once counselled on Instagram (way before she met Prince Harry) to ‘work hard and be herself’.
But despite the positive headlines on tour, which also saw Meghan navigate the early stages of pregnancy, the pair returned home to a slew of less-than-favourable stories about their extended family. And for once, they weren’t about Meghan’s father. Just days before the tour ended, news erupted of an explosive new biography about Prince Charles (Charles At Seventy: Thoughts, Hopes And Dreams) by royal commentator and Grazia contributor Robert Jobson.
He followed the Prince of Wales and his closest associates around the world for 18 months to gather information for the book. Among his claims was the revelation that there has long been a ‘froideur’ between Princes William and Harry and their father. According to sources, that distance has only recently come to an end thanks to the arrival of Meghan (more on which later).
‘To this day,’ Robert writes in the biography, ‘Charles admits he often finds it difficult to gauge either of his sons’ occasionally unpredictable moods. Both boys blame Charles for being absent through much of their childhood.’
In an exclusive interview with Grazia last week, the royal writer said, ‘The sons have had difficulties with Charles, which the public may be surprised to know. In particular, I know that he was upset and wounded when he wasn’t mentioned as someone who had raised his children in a documentary, Diana, Our Mother: Her Life And Legacy last year. There were also tensions over Diana, with the way that the boys’ mother has been perceived to have been treated.’
Yet, say experts, the princes’ relationship with their father has finally thawed. So much so that Prince Harry gave a moving and warm speech on his father’s 70th birthday this year – to the surprise of many. The reason? Meghan, who is said to have ‘transformed’ the prince’s relationship with Charles and finally brought the pair closer together.
‘Meghan has certainly helped,’ said Robert. ‘She is someone who has been divorced, and who has had family issues herself. She has made Harry look at things from a different perspective, and has shown him that relationships aren’t always black and white with parents or family. Plus, she gets on very well with the Prince of Wales. She has improved the relationship and built bridges between them. In a way, she has been a peacemaker.’
According to a second source, Meghan’s impact on Harry’s character has also helped heal divisions. ‘Meghan has really changed Harry,’ said the royal insider. ‘In the short time that they’ve been together, she’s made him far more emotional and open about his feelings. She actively indulges in the idea that he’s a boy who grew up without a mother and that attitude helps.'
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For the first stop on the royal itinerary, Meghan chose a cream shift dress by Australian designer Karen Gee, paired with Princess Diana's butterfly earrings.
It comes as Meghan and Harry approach their six-month anniversary – time that has been filled with royal engagements, Meghan’s first solo trip and appearances with the wider royal family. Last week, there were reports that Meghan has, at times, slipped up, as she has navigated the difficult job of entering the royal family – and winning over the British public. One report claimed that she was perceived to have ‘disrespected’ the Queen after she failed to wear a hat during her first solo trip with the monarch in May, despite being quietly told to do so. Then, on home turf, an eyebrow-raising story emerged that in her first marriage Meghan had asked her former husband Trevor Engelson, a TV producer, to sign a ‘pregnancy contract’, stipulating that he pay for a personal trainer and nutritionist to help her ‘stay in shape’. It follows near ceaseless headlines this summer concerning her extended family, from her father Thomas Markle admitting that he had lied to (and then hung up on) Prince Harry regarding those staged paparazzi pictures, to her half-sister Samantha Markle publicly criticising her, before turning up at Kensington Palace with a mask of Meghan’s face.
‘As a result of the betrayals in her family, Meghan has maintained an impeccably private social circle,’ said a source. ‘At times, Harry has felt worried that she is not opening up to his circle. With all the press attention, she won’t let anyone in – even his best friends who he has trusted for years. She far prefers to hang out with her own Hollywood circle who she feels she can trust.’
Another source added, ‘Despite Meghan’s apparent confidence, she has been incredibly nervous – especially when it’s come to public engagements. People close to her say she was nervous stepping into the public arena as a royal, and was particularly concerned about how she was going to be received. She’s aware that she’s a different kind of royal and she has, at times, feared that she wouldn’t be accepted by the British public.’
But despite any summer difficulties, Robert, who travelled to Australia and New Zealand with Harry and Meghan during their recent tour, was among those last week to confirm reports that Meghan had passed her first tour with flying colours. ‘She’s very slick and polished as a performer,’ he said. ‘She seems to be doing a very good job. It’s early days, but it’s been a very successful tour. I don’t think she put a foot wrong.’
Now, all eyes are on the pair as they resume their life together back home. And there will be a new way of operating for the young royals: according to a report last week, Harry and William now plan to formally ‘split their courts’ as they increasingly focus on their marriages with their wives and young families.
‘Harry and William are naturally focusing on their marriages, and will pursue their own projects,’ said a source. ‘The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are keen to forge their own path.’