As the rest of Britain basked in the final burst of August sunshine, the mood at Frogmore Cottage in Windsor was gloomy.
Having enjoyed no fewer than three lavish breaks abroad by private jet after preaching to the world about climate change, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex faced accusations of extravagance and hypocrisy.
To top it all, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were enjoying contrastingly glowing media coverage.
The Buckingham Palace PR team and outside PRs behind the fightback including Izzy May, PR to David Beckham, and Sara Latham, former adviser to Hilary Clinton
Duke and Duchess of Sussex visit District Six Museum and Homecoming Centre in Cape Town, South Africa
For Harry and Meghan, a year-long storm of negative headlines was reaching a crescendo.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that it was shortly before this low point that aides warned Harry against taking a private flight to Sicily to attend a Google climate change conference. The Prince ignored the guidance and got on the plane. ‘It came back to bite him – badly,’ a source said.
Hunkered down at Frogmore, and only too aware of the negativity surrounding them, the beleaguered couple knew that their upcoming tour to Africa could make or break their reputation.
Now, a week into the tour, there are signs that they have begun to turn things around. It has helped, sources say, that they are at last ‘really listening’ to the people around them. They include a ‘formidable’ new personal assistant for Meghan and a press officer poached from the Cambridges.
Every aspect of the Africa tour has been meticulously planned and has brought notable successes, from baby Archie delightedly reaching towards Archbishop Desmond Tutu as ‘Arch met Arch’, to a ground-breaking engagement in a township known as South Africa’s murder capital.
The public reaction has been reminiscent of the period around Harry and Meghan’s wedding, when their romance and nonconformity was celebrated. At the time, admitted one aide ruefully, it was all so positive that many assumed the couple were invincible.
And then it suddenly all changed. In public, the couple set out to become ‘woke’ campaigners, with Harry preaching that he would have only two children to help the environment and Meghan scribbling ‘You are loved’ on bananas for sex workers.
Communications secretary Sara Latham is an American-born former adviser to Hillary Clinton having also worked for Bill Clinton
Australian-born private secretary Samantha Cohen (left). Deputy private secretary Heather Wong worked for the US Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration (right)
There were whispers that Meghan was ‘difficult’ to work for and endless stories about staff resignations and a feud with the Cambridges. Then came the constant demands for privacy, confusion over Archie’s birth and the petulant refusal to make public the names of his godparents.
Most significantly, there has been their wilful extravagance, including Meghan’s £300,000 celebrity-filled baby shower in New York and the £2.5 million refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage in Windsor.
It also emerged that Meghan was using an agent, manager and LA-based public relations firm to bolster her image and using her public role to publicise businesses belonging to her friends.
At the awkward launch of his sustainable travel initiative, Harry claimed that he was obliged to use private jets to ‘protect his family’ – even though he had flown to the Google summit in Sicily alone. His ‘tone deaf’ words came after his brother was seen dutifully dragging his own suitcases off a budget flight weeks earlier.
Before Team Sussex headed for Africa, a royal insider said: ‘It’s pretty obvious to everyone that there can be no ifs, no buts, it has to go well for them. All Royal tours are traditionally fantastic opportunities to generate positive publicity, but this one really matters.’
When Meghan suggested she could take on more engagements in South Africa while Harry travelled to other countries, she was advised that they should be kept private to avoid overshadowing him. Uncharacteristically, she accepted the advice without complaint.
Projects manager Clara Madden is New Zealand-born and handed Meghan her bouquet at the royal wedding last year (left). Digital officer David Watkins is a 26-year-old former Burberry employee (right)
Communications officer James Holt headed communications for the Liberal Democrats describes himself as an ‘occasional runner’
Fiona Mcilwham is the incoming private secretary was one of the youngest ever British ambassadors when appointed to Albania
And the new team of aides have orchestrated some ‘magic’ moments: an adorable photo opportunity with a young baby, dancing, hugs and genuine poignancy as Harry walked in his mother’s footsteps in a minefield in Angola.
After meeting Angolan president Joao Lourenco yesterday, Harry today begins the next stage of his tour in Malawi, where he will visit a school before reuniting with his wife and son in Johannesburg. Yesterday, Meghan was seen carrying Archie on to a scheduled BA flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg.
It also emerged that she last week quietly hosted a group of female community leaders including Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, who in 1956 led 20,000 women on a march to protest against apartheid laws.
While they have made good use of traditional photocalls, the Sussexes have still taken the chance to unleash some of their famous ‘star power’ – with Meghan delighting a meeting of teenage South African girls by telling them: ‘I am here as a woman of colour and as your sister.’
According to Dickie Arbiter, who worked as a press secretary for the Queen and Prince Charles for more than a decade, the secret to creating a successful tour is utilising the particular strengths of the travelling Royals. He said: ‘When I was planning tours for the Prince of Wales, his interests would be vastly different, not just the environment and development, but selling UK PLC – a whole different ball game.
Markus Anderson (centre) and Izzy May (right), an outside PR, who may be one of the contenders for the role of godparent to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s baby
‘Here, you’ve got Harry and Meghan, a young couple in their 30s, with interests in the social field. They are very informal, which is no bad thing. When you’re dealing with social issues, as they are, it is better to be informal than be aloof. They are just the right people to do that kind of thing.
‘If you are dealing with youngsters who have mental health problems, you don’t want someone in a suit and tie standing over them.’
Crucial to the popularity drive is the newly formed ‘power’ team, and the couple’s new-found willingness to listen to them.
Prince Harry, pictured arriving at Luanda airport before his departure from Angola on Saturday, is set to travel to Malawi, the next stop on his 10-day tour of Africa and the final destination before rejoining his wife and son in South Africa
Archie was last seen on Wednesday during tea with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town. During the meeting Meghan said her son would have to get used the cameras in his life
The team, combining Palace old hands and new faces, has been carefully assembled.
Samantha Cohen, a former aide to the Queen, has acted as private secretary to Harry and Meghan since May last year. A source said: ‘Samantha has known Harry for many years and recognises they needed help. She is leaving after the tour but has been in the position to offer a bit of constructive criticism and has been listened to.’
Also on the trip has been Fiona Mcilwham – who this newspaper exclusively revealed was to be their new private secretary.
During his time in Angola on Friday, Prince Harry visited the same minefield where his mother walked through in January, 1997. The Princess of Wales, right, had visited Huambo to bring global attention to the crisis of landmines
Meghan (pictured) tied an orange ribbon around the painted veranda of Clareinch Post Office, where University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana was killed on Saturday, August 24. The Duchess shared this image on Instagram on Friday
Second-in-command is Sara Latham, who started as Communications Secretary for the couple earlier this year. The former White House aide is admired by Harry and Meghan and fiercely protective of them in her dealings with the media. The Sussexes have also permanently recruited James Holt, who previously led communications for the Royal Foundation, the charity headed by the Cambridges.
Holt has worked at Kensington Palace for several years – as well as for the Liberal Democrats – and is passionate about many of the causes championed by Harry and Meghan.
Australian-born Marnie Gaffney – an experienced and highly efficient Palace aide – has also been assisting the Sussex PR team.
Harry’s assistant private secretary, Heather Wong, is said to have done ‘invaluable’ work behind the scenes, with one friend describing her as ‘extremely intelligent, bright as a button and very trustworthy’.
Another recent appointment is a new personal assistant to Meghan, known only as ‘Maria’.
With a background in fashion, she is thought to have helped the Duchess with her sensible and well-researched style choices for the Africa tour, including a black and white wrap dress by ethical Malawi-based brand Mayamiko, who donate £1 for each garment sold directly to the Mayamiko Trust, which helps fund sewing and tailoring training for local women.
After starting the royal tour together in Cape Town, Prince Harry left his wife and son to visit Botswana, Angola and Malawi. He will then rejoin his family in Johannesburg for the final few days of the trip before they all fly back to London
Yet, despite all their hard work, the Africa tour has not totally restored the Sussexes’ reputation.
The global gaze will not be deflected and it remains to be seen if aides in Buckingham Palace will be able to work effectively with their brasher American PR cousins in continuing to burnish the couple’s image.
‘At the end of the day, Meghan is used to a celebrity life and is not completely willing to give this up,’ said an insider. ‘That will always be a sticking point.’
Above all, sources say the couple need to learn that their public image is not indestructible.
One said: ‘What happens next? It takes more than one successful tour to turn around a year of bad headlines.
‘Not much thought or planning has gone into the next few months, so they will have to work very hard to ensure they continue to ride this new wave of popularity.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s royal tour schedule
Day One – 23 September
The tour began in a township in Cape Town, South Africa where Prince Harry and Meghan joined children at a workshop that teaches children about their rights and provides self-defence classes.
The couple also toured District Six Museum to learn about the work done to reunite people affected by the apartheid.
Day Two – 24 September
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex travelled to Monwabisi Beach nearby to learn about Waves for Change’s therapy programme for those who have been affected by violence.
Prince Harry then joined the City of Cape Town Marine Unit to learn about the work done to combat illegal poaching.
In the afternoon, Meghan and Harry visited the oldest mosque in the country and finally attend a reception at the British High Commissioner’s Resident.
Day Three – 25 September
The Sussexes accompanied by baby Archie met the anti-Apartheid Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mrs Tutu at their legacy foundation.
From here, Their Royal Highnesses’ programme split – The Duke will travel onwards to Botswana while The Duchess remains in South Africa.
Meghan then remained in South Africa, visiting the Woodstock Exchange that encourages female entrepreneurs.
Day Four – 26 September
The Duke made a working visit to Botswana, first travelling to Chobe Forest Tree Reserve to join schoolchildren to plant trees and raise awareness of the fragility of these vital ecosystems.
Prince Harry then spent the evening of 26th September at a new HALO Trust demining camp.
Meghan Markle took part in a Women in Public Service breakfast at the High Commission in Cape Town.
Day Five – 27 September
The Duke remotely detonated a mine in a field outside Dirico. He saw aspects of the legacy that his mother Princess Diana started in raising awareness for the threat of landmines.
He later met members of the local community and victims of landmines. His Royal Highness will give remarks about the importance of continuing de-mining.
Day Six – 28 September
The Duke has attended an Audience with Angolan President Lourenço at the Presidential Palace.
He then visited the Maternity Hospital Lucrécia Paim to see the work of a project spearheaded by First Lady Ana Dias Lourenço ‘Born Free to Shine’ which focuses on preventing HIV/AIDS transmission from mothers to babies.
Meghan, meanwhile, visited a memorial to a young South African woman whose rape and murder inspired thousands of people to protest the country’s high rate of sexual violence.
Day Seven – 29 September
The Duke is set to arrive in Lilongwe, Malawi in the morning. He will later visit Nalikule College of Education and interact with a network of young women who are supported to attend and complete secondary school with the help of UKAid bursaries through the Campaign for Female Education.
The Duke will then attend an Audience with the President Peter Mutharika, and in the evening attend a Reception hosted by the British High Commissioner.
Day Eight – 30 September
Prince Harry will fly in to Liwonde National Park to pay tribute to guardsman Mathew Talbot of the Coldstream Guards, who lost his life in May 2019 while on an anti-poaching patrol.
His Royal Highness will witness an anti-poaching demonstration exercise conducted jointly by local rangers and UK military deployed on Operation CORDED. To conclude,
His Royal Highness will dedicate Liwonde National Park and the adjoining Mangochi Forest to the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy project to protect parkland from deforestation and other similar activities.
Day Nine – 1 October
On the last day of his solo leg of the tour, the Duke will visit the Mauwa Heath Centre before heading back to South Africa.
Her Royal Highness will attend a round-table discussion with the Association of Commonwealth Universities in Johannesburg. The Duchess will meet academics and students to discuss the challenges faced by young women in accessing Higher Education.
Day Ten – 2 October
Have joined back up the previous evening, the Duke and Duchess will visit a township near Johannesburg to meet with inspiring local youth.
They will also meet with Grace Machel, the widow of the late President Nelson Mandela. To close the tour, Their Royal Highnesses will attend an audience with President Cyril Ramaphosa and his wife Dr Tshepo Motsepe. The royals will depart for London that evening.