It is hard to believe that five years ago today, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle rode through the streets of Windsor in an Ascot Landau carriage, cheered by adoring crowds on their wedding. At the time, household staff weren’t entirely confident the relationship would go the distance – “no one could see it lasting longer than three years”, according to one insider. Yet as the couple celebrate their “wood” anniversary, Harry and Meghan have proved their doubters wrong.
While their relationships with their own families might not be what they once were, the marriage appears to be going strong, despite the couple’s outwardly diverging priorities.
The Duchess once described them as moving together “like salt and pepper” but they seem to be heading in opposite directions – Meghan looking forward while Harry dwells on the past. The extraordinary events of this week – with the couple claiming they had been “involved in a near catastrophic car chase at the hands of a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi” in New York – seem to expose a chasm between her desire for fame, and Harry’s quest for privacy.
Amid much talk of a “Meghanaissance”, Meghan, 41, initially appeared to bathe in the flashbulbs as she made her first official public appearance since the Coronation, at the Women of Vision Awards. Dressed in a £1,500 gold Johanna Ortiz dress, £1,000 Tom Ford stilettos and a matching £900 Carolina Herrera bag, as she collected her award she told those present: “You can be the visionary of your own life.”
The couple say that after the event, they were subjected to a two-hour “relentless pursuit” by a “gang” of at least six paparazzi. New York City authorities have stated that although photographers made their journey “challenging”, “there were no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests”.
In pictures of the couple leaving the event, Harry’s discomfort was etched on his face as he used his phone to film the action from the back seat.
The Duke is already trying to reform the British press in his late mother’s memory. Describing it as his “life’s work” in an interview with ITV’s Tom Bradby in January, he is currently waging four separate legal battles against three different newspaper groups over illegal information gathering, phone hacking and a story he claims to be libellous. He is also suing the Home Office over the removal of his taxpayer-funded security, and the Metropolitan Police’s refusal to allow him to pay for close personal protection while in the UK.
The events of this week raise questions over whether the couple will extend their campaign for privacy to the US. They may wish to team up with other high-profile figures such as the Clooneys, who attended their London wedding five years ago. George Clooney, whose wife Amal is a human rights lawyer, has spoken about the issue before, writing an open letter after photos of their daughter were published online.
However, questions have been raised over how such a campaign sits with the Duchess’s plans to build her “global enterprise”. Meghan signed with leading global talent agency WME in April, amid talk of more “content creation”, a Dior clothing deal and the revamp of her defunct lifestyle blog The Tig.
Given this potential conflict, it is little wonder, then, that the couple have cut quite separate figures lately – with Harry travelling alone to the Coronation on May 6, leaving Meghan in Montecito with their two children, Archie, who turned four that day, and Lilibet who turns two next month.
The last time the Sussexes were photographed together in public was at a basketball game in Los Angeles last month, when they missed the opportunity to smooch on the “kiss cam” that pans in on couples in the stands. Some took the normally tactile couple’s reluctance as a sign all may not be well between them after Meghan’s absence from Harry’s promotional book tour fuelled split rumours.
Such is there independence from each other that the owner of a leading hotel chain in Montecito recently told The Daily Telegraph they have a room set aside for Harry where he occasionally stays on his own.
The Duke has also been known to stay at the uber-exclusive San Vincente Bungalows when visiting LA, which is a two-hour drive from the couple’s £11 million mansion.
“That seems to be his escape place,” said a source of the super secretive and selective members’ club in West Hollywood, which – unlike the Soho House chain also frequented by the Sussexes – bans journalists from joining. A refuge from the rigours of parenting two children under four, Harry has apparently stayed there after attending Barry’s Bootcamp, a high-octane cardio fitness class, at the nearby Beverly Center. One friend described the couple as “like any parents of such young kids: frazzled.”
They added: “They are really happy together and live this idyllic life in Montecito, which is essentially a giant gated community of multimillionaires.
“But at the end of the day, they’ve been through a lot and I think they’ve both felt quite ground down by it all.
“They’re like any married couple, five years in.”
As a Californian, born and bred, Meghan appears more settled than Harry who, by his own admission, still feels torn by his British ties. As he wrote in his book: “I love my mother country and I love my family and I always will.” Although he has repeatedly spoken of embracing the Santa Barbara lifestyle, it is no secret that the Duke – cut off from his family and many of his friends – is heavily reliant on his wife’s social circle.
When they first started dating, Harry was Meghan’s protector, guiding her through a royal life that was alien to her, but now the roles have been reversed and it is the Duke who appears to be struggling to find his way.
That may explain why he is still partially on British time – apparently staying up late into the night, gaming.
Yet with many of his old set still feeling aggrieved at having essentially been “ghosted” after he married Meghan, patience appears to be wearing thin even among his most stalwart supporters.
As one insider explained: “Nobody really speaks to him any more and even the people who have remained by his side have lately begun to fall away because he is so consistently negative. He’s often complaining and rarely asks after others. People had stuck with him because they blamed Meghan for isolating him and cutting him off from his friends and family. But he hasn’t done anything to help himself. Now they just see him as completely lost.”
Harry himself referred to the fact that William regards him as “deluded” – but that sentiment also seems to be shared by those in what he once referred to as his “circle of trust”. The word “narcissistic” also creeps into a lot of conversations about the couple.
According to one former military colleague: “No one in the forces has got any time for him at all, which is such a shame because he was hugely popular. You can blame Meghan, but he’s brought a lot of it on himself.”
While fully supportive of Spare, the media-savvy Duchess let it be known she raised gentle concerns about whether it was the right move. As a source said at the time: “Is this the way she would have approached things? Possibly not. But she will always back him and would never have got involved in promoting such a personal project. This was about his own life, his own journey and his own perspective.”
But with speculation about plans for her own memoir, the Duchess will want to avoid any more negative publicity diminishing the Archewell brand after the couple’s approval ratings have fallen to near Duke of York levels.
If her relaunch doesn’t go to plan, however, a blame game is likely to follow – and as someone who once worked for the couple noted: “When you’re that angry with the world, it leaves little time for romance.”