‘ARE you having a nice day, ma’am?’ asked the black driver earlier this week as I settled down in the back seat of his cab.
‘I’m very busy going round TV studios to talk about Meghan and Harry,’ I replied.
‘That woman!’ he snapped. ‘She’s got him round her little finger. She was after his money and title and now she’s got it she’s off.’
‘Some people say she hasn’t felt welcome in the UK because she’s mixed race.’
‘No,’ he said firmly. ‘It’s just an excuse. I feel sorry for the prince.’
I do too. I began writing Prince Harry’s biography three years ago and spent well over a year accompanying him on various engagements, and chatting with him at Kensington Palace. I found him to be charismatic and witty, and I loved the mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He wears his heart on his sleeve, which perhaps is partly why he makes instant connections with people of all ages and types. It was amazing to watch how easily he made damaged or terminally ill children laugh, and gave physically and psychologically damaged ex-service men and women hope for the future.
Harry has been less successful in finding someone to love him who could also cope with life under the media spotlight. He believed he had found that person in Meghan Markle. When she made her public debut as Harry’s official girlfriend at the 2017 Invictus Games in Canada, cameras focused on her gazing adoringly at him whenever he was on stage. In retrospect it could have been the start of her acting out a role that convinced many, but not all, of her naturalness.
They made a habit of holding hands – sometimes Meghan also hugged Harry’s arm – on royal engagements on behalf of the Queen, something I thought rather odd for a couple in their mid-thirties. Move on just a few weeks and first impressions could have been that Meghan was the royal and Harry the novice. She gave speeches at official visits, leaving Harry looking lost as he hovered in the background. She has since answered questions on his behalf even when reporters directly address the prince. I even saw her pass flowers from well-wishers during walkabouts to Harry to hold, a job usually handled by junior staff.
It was obvious, however, that Harry was proud of and besotted with his wife-to-be and announced before their lavish May 2018 wedding that ‘What Meghan wants, Meghan gets’. He still desperately wants to please her, rarely sees his old friends, has given up smoking, taken up yoga and announced that he is a feminist. Nearly a year later the couple moved from Kensington Palace to Windsor.
This meant Harry would see much less of Prince William and Kate. Although the brothers have had their moments, Harry told me before the marriage that William was ‘the only person I can trust and say anything to’. Last September Harry revealed in a TV documentary that he sometimes can’t get out of bed in the mornings because he is so worried about all the problems in the world.
Imagine then how painful it must have been for him the following month on the penultimate day of their (until then) hugely successful tour of South Africa, when Meghan choose to voice self-pitying comments about how unhappy she was in one of the poorest countries of the world. ‘I am existing, not living,’ she said in front of her husband of less than two years. No wonder Harry looked so stressed. He hinted that they might leave the UK, when in fact plans for exactly that were already well under way. It was later revealed that they secretly registered a new website sussexroyal.com last March, and in June they trademarked their name on more than 100 goods and activities.
Harry adores and admires his grandmother the Queen, and she him. She likes to have her family with her at Balmoral in the summer and Sandringham for Christmas. Yet the Sussexes declined both invitations, despite the fact she is nearly 94 and has had a horrible year. Prince Philip is unwell, and Prince Andrew’s friendship with a paedophile led to his being asked to step back from royal duties. To rub salt into Her Majesty’s wounds, the excuse in the summer was that baby Archie, then four months old, was too young to fly. But then the three of them flew by private jet to stay with Elton John. They also chose Canada over Sandringham for Christmas.
Then came the bombshell announcement that Harry and Meghan no longer wanted to be senior royals and they would live in Canada and perhaps later Los Angeles. Or both. The announcement, which by-passed the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William, made Meghan’s view of the royal family and perhaps the British people very clear. Harry no doubt agreed with it too, but what a heart-rending choice to decide whether to follow the woman he adores and their son Archie, or stay closer to his family to help his aged grandmother. No wonder he looks crushed. There was also a dark cloud hovering in the background that if they didn’t get what they wanted, they might well give a ‘tell-all’ interview.
It was an unprecedented crisis, but on the same day as the rushed summit at Sandringham a touching, gentle and upsetting statement was released in which the Queen chose to speak as a grandmother rather than the head of state. She referred to the couple as Harry and Meghan and mentioned the word ‘family’ eight times. It was obvious that she was very worried about Harry’s state of mind and realised that the Palace had been outsmarted, at least for round one.
How has it come to this? An insider told me that Meghan thought that marrying a British prince would give her the much-longed for opportunity to become a global figure on the world stage and campaign for her often Left-wing and woke causes. She got it wrong, but has been at work remedying the situation and is in line to make millions.
What about Harry? No one knows what goes on between a couple behind closed doors but in public at least it’s obvious that Meghan takes the lead far more than Harry.
I fear there will be turbulent times ahead. I hope he won’t become just be a useful stepping stone and that she won’t tire of a special man who has given her his all.
Angela Levin is a journalist, royal commentator and author of the biography Harry: Conversations with the Prince.