It was 10 days of royal perfection. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, with adorable baby Archie in tow, charmed Africa on their first royal tour as a family. Then, without warning, a bombshell: the announcement that Meghan was launching a legal battle against the Mail On Sunday, which reproduced a letter she wrote to her father.
The news was accompanied by an emotional statement, written by Harry and published on a newly set-up website, separate from their official one. After more than a week of smiling public appearances in South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Malawi, the announcement shocked both the Palace and media, but sources tell Grazia that this is a sign of things to come as the couple mount their fight back.
Harry and Meghan had boarded their flight to South Africa in the knowledge that the pressure was on. ‘Ahead of the tour, I was told by a senior Palace source that there was a lot riding on their trip,’ says Katie Nicholl, one of the press team that accompanied them. ‘It had to be a success, and the Sussexes needed to turn their public image around.’ This followed a summer of royal controversies, over everything from their house renovation to using private jets.
So ending the tour with such a statement might seem a surprisingly divisive move, but a source tells Grazia that it was an emotional reaction, rather than one of pragmatism. That was certainly evident in the letter, with Harry writing, ‘I have been a silent witness to her private suffering for too long,’ and, ‘Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people.’
So what had prompted the move? ‘Harry and Meghan are kept briefed throughout the tour on how the public is responding,’ says our source. ‘So they were aware of how positively the media was depicting them. After a year of stinging criticism, such a turnaround was the last straw; they found it grossly hypocritical and felt that they had to speak out.’ Harry was, Grazia understands, asked to reconsider the move by senior staff on his team – they feared that the good work achieved during the tour would be eclipsed – but he chose to speak out regardless.
While Palace aides have said the timing was to do with legal factors, sources close to the prince have told Grazia that Harry wanted the statement to be released before their return to Britain, for maximum impact. It is also possible that Schillings, the legal firm renowned for celebrity clients, which Meghan chose to represent her instead of the royal family’s usual firm, Harbottle & Lewis, was also keen to make the announcement while the world’s cameras were still fixed upon them.
‘Harry is totally focused on Meghan,’ a Palace source explains. ‘He will do anything to protect her, and feels responsible for the press attacking her.’ For him, her opinion surpasses anyone else’s, and that goes right to the top. ‘Remember, he wouldn’t shave off his beard for the wedding, even though the Queen asked him to, because Meghan hadn’t seen him without one.’
For Harry, the echoes of his mother’s death grew too loud. ‘I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person,’ he wrote. ‘I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.’
‘Harry wears his emotions on his face,’ says Angela Levin, who accompanied him on his royal duties for a year, and has met him at his old home at Kensington Palace. ‘Watching him, you see a charming, charismatic person. But then a cloud comes over. He is almost haunted. He is terrified of losing Meghan the same way he lost his mother.’ Ironically, however, PR Mark Borkowski believes Diana would have advised against these actions. ‘Diana knew more about media than any PR,’ he says.
Prince Charles is said to be ‘surprised’ by the outburst, but will stand by the couple.
‘You’ve got to play a poker game.’ Indeed the royal family’s usual attitude to scrutiny is: ‘never complain, never explain’. ‘I’m astonished that Harry released the letter now,’ adds Angela. ‘The tour has had rave reviews. Meghan has been seen at her best. Archie has been cooed over. But no Harry has changed the focus entirely.’
Journalists in South Africa reporting on the tour say the atmosphere changed overnight. ‘The day after the bombshell, it was awkward and uncomfortable, and it was tense between Harry and the press pack,’ a source says. ‘There was a sense of disbelief about it all, especially the timing.’ A royal reporter, who asked not to be named, got the impression that ‘most of [the royal staff ] did not know this was coming’
The same is thought to be the case for Palace aides, who were informed of the High Court case, but had no idea that Harry would release a public statement. ‘The consensus in the Palace is that the statement is far too emotional,’ a source tells us. ‘They believe the royal family are supposed to conduct themselves in a certain way, and not through emotional outbursts. It has not gone down very well.’
But higher up the ranks, the view is more nuanced. Prince Charles is said to be ‘surprised’ by the outburst, but will stand by the couple. ‘He adores Meghan,’ a source says. ‘He thinks she’s a wonderful influence on Harry.’ Meghan’s own father, Thomas, is yet to address the controversy: sources tell Grazia that he has pledged to keep quiet in the hope of an eventual reconciliation.
Now that the bombshell has dropped, the couple will ponder their next steps. Palace aides say that so much planning has gone into the tour, there hasn’t been much time to think through the next few months, during which the spotlight will shift to William and Kate anyway, as they head to Pakistan. This will offer Harry and Meghan some respite. Pursuing the lawsuit will take up much of Meghan’s time, but she is unlikely to back down. ‘Harry is defiant,’ a source says. ‘If the safety of his family is put into question, then he will move mountains to protect them.
As such, royal insiders aren’t surprised by continued rumours Meghan and Harry are looking for respite by spending more time abroad. ‘They have apparently sounded out sources in Botswana about buying a lodge there,’ says Katie. ‘And with Meghan keen for Archie to spend more time in America, a second home in the States is something they are said to be seriously considering.’
Nevertheless, with the case set to run and run, Harry and Meghan’s fight is only just beginning.