In the unclouded months following their fairytale wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex enjoyed blanket adulation.
Everywhere they travelled – from the four corners of the British Isles to Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji – a joyous welcome awaited.
But according to the biography Finding Freedom, basking in such goodwill wasn’t sufficient for the Sussexes. To many, what they did want seemed unclear and their goals rather ill-formed.
In the unclouded months following their fairytale wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex enjoyed blanket adulation
Back in mid-2018, when the Queen showed Meghan the Royal ropes on a visit to Cheshire, the mood was still upbeat
Back in mid-2018, when the Queen showed Meghan the Royal ropes on a visit to Cheshire, the mood was still upbeat. Asked by a well-wisher that day how she had found her first month as a married Royal, the Duchess simply declared: ‘Wonderful.’
The biography suggests this halcyon phase did not last long.
‘Increasingly Harry had grown frustrated that he and Meghan often took a back seat to other family members,’ it suggests. ‘While they both respected the hierarchy of the institution, it was difficult when they wanted to focus on a project and were told that a more senior ranking family member, be it Prince William or Prince Charles, had an initiative or tour being announced at the same time – so they would just have to wait.’
Instead of taking this at face value – Harry was after all sixth in line to the throne – the book claims that the couple believed they were being held back, their wings clipped.
Yet hadn’t they taken the Royal Family, as the biography suggests, ‘to new heights around the world’ and made it ‘more relatable’ to those who had never previously been interested?
In fact, according to the authors of Finding Freedom, the couple mused that they deserved better, that this wasn’t a matter of hierarchy, but evidence of darker forces at work.
As their popularity grew, so too did their sense of entitlement. Never mind King-in-waiting Charles or William and Kate, the Sussexes were the biggest stars now, so why weren’t they getting top billing? This question, posed in the book, perhaps goes to the heart of their sense of grievance, and grievance is never far from the story woven by authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand.
Critics will argue that however much they railed against the perceived injustices, Harry and Meghan weren’t starring in a Hollywood movie or TV drama but a much longer running show called the Monarchy, with its own time-honoured traditions: duty and tradition chief among them.
A strong sense of hierarchy, of course, is also expected.
They would add that soon after marrying, rather than being observant of the Monarchy’s strictures – knowing their place as some bluntly put it – the couple got above themselves; that they took a ‘holier than thou’ attitude.
Certainly, according to the book, this was the belief of some senior Palace courtiers, the ‘men in grey suits’ as Princess Diana had called them. Harry and Meghan are said to have given this old guard a new name: the vipers. The couple could not, say Mr Scobie and Ms Durand, understand why so few inside the Palace were protecting their interests. They were a ‘major draw for the Royal Family’ but the book claims some courtiers tried to bring them to heel.
The Prince felt that officials ‘simply didn’t like Meghan and would stop at nothing to make her life difficult’.
Change doesn’t happen overnight in the Royal Family. It prefers gentle tinkering to radical modernisation. But Harry and Meghan wanted to move fast.
One way of bypassing protocols and striking back was through their website, sussexroyal.com, which they harnessed as a PR weapon, using it to issue stinging pronouncements both before and after Megxit.
Their statement on their reasons for stepping down caused shockwaves. ‘The aides, including the Queen’s private secretary, Edward Young, were furious,’ says the book.
‘The private offices don’t like that type of behaviour,’ a source familiar with the negotiations said. ‘It is deeply unhealthy and unwelcome.’
But it was the Queen and Prince Philip’s ‘devastated’ reaction that surprised Harry and Meghan most.
An aide quoted in the book said: ‘The Sussexes were very happy when they sent out the statement. They felt they had got back some sort of control.
‘Was this what she [Meghan] wanted right from the start? But at what price? They deeply wounded the family.’
Even the book’s authors acknowledge this was a mis-step.
‘More unsettling, however, was the reaction from the family to the website they had launched,’ says the biography.
A senior member of the household told the authors: ‘The element of surprise, the blindsiding of the Queen, for the other principals who are all very mindful of this, rightfully, it was deeply upsetting.’ Elsewhere the book notes: ‘Even sources close to Harry and Meghan had to admit that the way the couple were forced to approach the situation (mainly in the act of keeping the family and their team in the dark about their website) “created a lot of ill-will in the household and especially in the family”.’
A growing sense of what resembled paranoia enhanced the couple’s sense of isolation. And to the dismay of the Palace, they chose to consult less widely.
Not that they were in any way receptive to advice. A Palace insider told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The idea that anyone could tell the Duke and Duchess of Sussex what to do is just laughable.
‘They wanted to have all the Royal perks and privileges, yet be able to use that to earn millions of dollars with no oversight. That was never going to be possible.
‘Now they blame the institution and cry, “We were left with no choice, poor us”. It’s risible.’
Before their move abroad, initially to Canada, the couple were ‘emotionally exhausted’, according to the book. Such was his sensitivity to criticism, Harry even complained about comments made beneath articles about the couple.
He regretted opening the link to one which said: ‘The world would be a better place without Harry and Meghan in it.’
‘His stomach tied into the same knot every time he saw these sorts of comment,’ says the book.
But it wasn’t just online trolls persecuting Harry. Enemies within the Palace could be just as nasty.
‘Barely a week went by without an aspect of their internal affairs or matters of private discussions being twisted and leaked to the press,’ the authors claim. ‘They felt as though there were very few members of the Palace staff they could trust.’ Before leaving the UK, Harry pressed his case for change to the Queen, his father and a number of key aides.
‘He felt at once used for their [Harry and Meghan’s] popularity, hounded by the press because of the public’s fascination with this new breed of Royal couple, and disparaged back within the institution’s walls for being too sensitive and outspoken,’ claims the book.
It also reveals that Harry and Meghan had initially wanted to create their own individual household in Windsor, where they lived in Frogmore Cottage, after they separated from Kensington Palace.
But senior officials quickly ruled out that option, saying they had to operate under the Buckingham Palace umbrella.
This led the couple to feel increasingly bitter that they were being forced to take a ‘back seat’ to senior family members such as Charles and William.
For months the couple tried to air these frustrations but, they claim, ‘the conversations didn’t lead anywhere’ – which is why Harry was so determined to sort the matter once and for all when he and Meghan returned to the UK after their ‘working holiday’ to Canada after Christmas.
The new biography claims: ‘Everyone had their chance to help but no one did.’
To the couple, persecution manifested itself in all sorts of ways. They were offended when they and baby Archie were left out of the family photos displayed during the Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day.
Palace sources explained that the photos were chosen to represent the line of succession, but this didn’t wash with the Sussexes.
The book claims it was ‘another sign that they needed to consider their own path’.
Elsewhere the book claims: ‘Harry felt as though he and Meghan had long been sidelined by the institution and were not a fundamental part of its future.’
It quotes a source as saying: ‘He feels that there were so many occasions when the institution and his family could have helped them, stood up for them, backed them up, and never did.’
Meghan told friends that Harry losing his honorary military appointments was difficult for him
The book, as reported in The Times, addresses reports that Harry was also angered by the suggestion that Meghan was solely responsible for their decision to quit Royal life. It said it was something he had always hankered after but that Meghan simply ‘opened the door for him’.
As for his wife, she tearfully told a friend in March: ‘I gave up my entire life for this family. I was willing to do whatever it takes. But here we are. It’s very sad.’
While she suffered, so too did Harry. For him the most demoralising aspect of the Megxit deal was being stripped of his honorary military appointments.
Once again it was, believe the couple, all so terribly unfair, and they reportedly regarded it as a tough pill to swallow and one that has been most painful for Meghan to witness Harry having to go through.
‘It’s the one that made Harry emotional,’ said a source.
Speaking about the military appointments, Meghan later told a friend: ‘It was so unnecessary. And it’s not just taking something away from him – it’s also that entire military veteran community.
‘You can see how much he means to them, too. So why? The powers [of the institution] are unfortunately greater than me.’
The book goes on: ‘While the hours crept closer to the couple’s final day as working Royals on March 31, Harry and Meghan continued working. Commitments that had been made long before their January announcement still needed to be carried out, and for both of them, it was important not to let anyone down. Plus, they were at their best when they were busy.’
Royalty as an institution has survived by being more than the sum of its parts, by letting actions do the talking.
This week a new ITV television documentary celebrates the 70th birthday of that most unstuffy of royals, Princess Anne. She says: ‘People talk about being trained to become a member of the Royal Family. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there is no such thing, it’s just learning by experience. But hardly ever does anything go quite according to plan. You have to learn that.’
Harry and Meghan would do well to tune in.