For Meghan Markle, it was a non-negotiable.
Yes, she was well aware of how things had unfolded each of the three times sister-in-law Kate Middleton gave birth, from the moment it was announced she had been admitted to London’s St. Mary’s Hospital “in the early stages of labor” until she made her appearance atop those steps—fresh blowout and high heels in place—mere hours after she was safely delivered of her sons and daughter.
But some three-plus decades of protocol, Prince Harry‘s late mom Princess Diana being the first to submit to the postpartum photo call, weren’t enough to convince Meghan that she need gussy herself up mere hours after bringing life into the world. (In fact a source told The New York Post she “felt sorry” for Kate having to endure such a public moment at such a vulnerable time.)
Nor was she interested in releasing such personal details as the names of her doctors or even the place in which she labored, though the release of the birth certificate reinforced the popular assumption she was taken to London’s Portland Hospital in the dead of night mere hours before Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor‘s May 6 arrival after attempting a home birth at Frogmore Cottage, their newly refurbished Windsor flat.
Keeping such details close to the vest has been an intentional decision for the pair. “They want to be in control when it comes to managing the media,” a source told Vanity Fair. “They have also agreed they want their son to have an ordinary childhood, not one lived out in the public spotlight.”
For the couple, celebrating the one year anniversary of their groundbreaking nuptials today, that meant keeping the world waiting just a few extra days, until their pre-arranged May 8 press call with a handful of select outlets. And while the new mom, 37, looked no less radiant than Kate, she made it a point to wear a knotted Grace Wales Bonner trench dress that accented her still-deflating bump as if to remind everyone that this is what normal looks like mere days after creating a human. (Minus the fact that she wasn’t in sweats and appeared to have been tended to by a team of skilled makeup and hair professionals.)
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Of course there’s very little that’s normal about being wed to a prince sixth in line for the British throne. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are destined for a life in the most glaring of spotlights where every move they make is celebrated and dissected in equal parts and it’s not as if either of them has the option of holding down a standard 9-to-5.
But unlike his big brother Prince William, whose future as the presumptive King of England has been laid out since birth, “spare heir” Harry has always been afforded a bit of flexibility. For the 34-year-old and his bride that has translated into some boundary-pushing, finding ways they can mold their roles to suit their own sensibilities.
And while a Sunday Times story about the couple moving overseas to Africa for several years, combining their charitable interests on the continent with their roles as Commonwealth ambassadors, proved to be exaggerated, subsequent reports suggest the two very much intend to spend a large chunk of their time out of the country.
“They are thinking about the future,” one source told Vanity Fair. “Harry was always referred to as the spare, but he’s not the spare any more. This is about him and Meghan finding meaningful roles for the future. It’s about Harry redefining his role and him and Meghan finding a new role in the Royal Family and creating their own place in the institution.”
For the past several months, they’ve been working to carve out their own slice of The Firm, starting their own Sussex Instagram account, along with their own office, to be based miles away from William and Kate’s Kensington Palace outpost. They even made a play for full autonomy, until Queen Elizabeth II determined it’d be better to have them folded under her Buckingham Palace jurisdiction.
Though interest is nowhere close to waning for Harry and his bride, he seems well aware that there’s always other royal stars on the horizon. As he put it to biographer Angela Levin in a 2017 interview with Newsweek, “I feel there is just a smallish window when people are interested in me before [William’s kids] take over, and I’ve got to make the most of it.”
And why shouldn’t he and Meghan want to strike out on their own considering the former actress has been viewed largely as an outsider from the time her secret romance with Harry was revealed, a woman who not only dared to be divorced, American and biracial, but also hold and disseminate entirely progressive views. Buoyed by a toxic mix of snootiness, misogyny and, sadly, racism, critics were quick to take aim at her interloper status and any trait they felt deemed her not worthy of her position in the royal clan.
Newspapers put out articles about how “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton”, (a move that prompted Harry to take the unprecedented step of calling out “the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments”) while pointing out mom Doria Ragland‘s dreadlocks and the fact that her dad Thomas Markle is an expat that lived just south of the American border in Mexico. They nicked her for daring stepping out for their engagement press conference sans panty hose and for posing in a semi-sheer Ralph & Russo couture ball gown for their stunning pre-wedding shots.
Alexi Lubomirski / Kensington Palace
And just when the hate was reaching an unbearable level, the royal-to-be went and proved that she just might be everything the monarchy needs.
Their wedding ceremony at Windsor’s St George’s Chapel, precisely one year ago today, was already set to be groundbreaking. “It was deemed a royal union fit for the twenty-first century and a turning point for the monarchy,” royal biographer Katie Nicholl wrote in Harry and Meghan: Life, Loss and Love. “Meghan was the first mixed race divorcee to marry into the royal family, something that, decades ago, would have been unthinkable.”
But then the former actress deftly turned the affair into a progressive celebration of inclusivity and her multi-cultural background, complete with a gospel choir’s rousing rendition of Ben E. King‘s “Stand By Me” and a much-celebrated sermon on the redemptive power of love delivered by Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, the first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.
“The ceremony was a departure from tradition,” Nicholl wrote, “and captured the imagination of the world.”
Ben Birchhall/pool photo via AP
Markle and her man haven’t let up since. Whether avowing himself as a feminist during an engagement in Birkenhead or penning motivational words onto bananas set to be delivered to sex workers and women dealing with addiction and homelessness, the couple continue to bump up right along the border of views that royals are permitted to publicly hold. (The Queen, for example, made it a point to be behind the wheel of her Land Rover when the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia visited her Balmoral estate in 1998, nearly two decades before women in his country would be permitted to drive, but would never express her opinions on political matters such as abortion or Brexit.)
They lean over barriers to dole out hugs to the hordes that gather for their walkabouts everywhere from Nottingham to Australia’s Bondi Beach and, on occasion, fly directly in the face of the unspoken no selfie rule.
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Like Diana, who went a long ways in changing views towards AIDS patients when she reached her ungloved hand out to a man stricken with the disease in the late 80s, they trend toward issues that are largely stigmatized. At an International Women’s Day panel put together by the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust in March, Meghan spoke about the lack of access to sanitary pads for young women in certain developing countries.
“At the end of the day, we’re doing our part just to normalize the conversation,” she said, per The New York Times. “That’s the first step. This is 50 percent of the population that’s affected by something, that can also end up creating the most beautiful thing in the world. So it’s a strange one that it’s ended up becoming so stigmatized.”
Her thoroughly modern take, left those at the gathering impressed. “I can say, growing up in Britain, if a member of the royal family had talked about periods 10 years ago, I think I would have fallen off my chair,” journalist and panel chairwoman Anne McElvoy told the paper. “I think she has kind of moved the dial. I think the rewards now very clearly outweigh the risks.”
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Together, she and Harry have also highlighted organizations that, as they put it on their Instagram, “promote mental well-being, mental fitness, body positivity, self-care, and the importance of human connection.”
Africa represents another shared interest. Harry, who based his HIV charity Sentebale in Lesotho and Botswana, spent some two months doing conservation projects in the southern part of the continent. He also followed in his mom’s literal footsteps, touring the minefields of Angola with Halo Trust, for which he’s served as patron since 2013, while Meghan was part of a clean water initiative in Rwanda in 2016.
As such it seems entirely likely the couple will plan an extended stay or multiple visits to various countries in the continent.
“It was always Meghan’s dream to spend time in Africa because of her roots. She has always wanted to be a humanitarian who travels around the world and she’s loved for that in the States,” an insider told Vanity Fair. “My experience of her was that being a respected humanitarian really mattered to her. She’s got her pick of where to go now and which charities to work with, she didn’t have that platform as much when she was a celebrity.”
From those first initial dates, including their third, a spontaneous getaway to Botswana, the pair have envisioned charting a course as philanthropic jet-setters. “Before they were engaged, they talked about being roving royals—the ones who were going to travel around the world, be international, affect change,” another friend told the outlet.
So, yes, weeks, or even months, abroad certainly seem to be a part of the couple’s longterm vision for their charitable future.
“These discussions, which the couple are driving, are very much embryonic,” an insider told Harper’s Bazaar. “Both the duke and duchess are keen to balance projects in Britain and overseas, particularly countries in Africa. There are many exciting possibilities…but moving away for years? That’s not an idea they are throwing around. We’re talking a few months away or a series of trips.”
After all, they did just finish a lengthy and extensive overhaul of their new Windsor digs. “Britain is their home,” a friend tells Harper’s, “and where they want to raise their family.”
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Specifically in Windsor, which has proven just far enough removed from London’s glaring eyes. That’s where they’ll bring up their little boy, who is to be known as Master Archie rather than a Prince, a Lord or even the Earl of Dumbarton, a title that could have been passed down from his father.
Eschewing a so-called “courtesy title” for their son is just the latest sign that the pair are serious about giving Archie as regular a childhood as possible. “The fact that they have chosen not to use a title suggests they want this baby to have a relatively ordinary life,” royal historian Professor Kate Williams told Vanity Fair. “When Archie is older he will likely have to go out and get a job. He will be a minor royal and will have to be prepared for a life of work.”
His position at eighth in line suggests he’ll never be tapped for official duties and save for the more-or-less required showings at major events such as Trooping the Colour, he’ll be able to grow up in relative seclusion at Windsor Castle, with its acres of private grounds, not to mention the high-tech security cameras and sensors the couple are said to have installed.
And for now they’re keeping their circle incredibly tight, with Vanity Fair reporting that Meghan’s mom has taken on the role of de facto nanny and cook, meaning the couple haven’t had to hire a slew of strangers. “There’s no chef, no valets, just them which is how they want it to be,” a friend told the mag. “Of course they will have help in time, but they don’t want to be surrounded by staff at the moment.”
A nanny is a likely addition in the near future, potentially an American one, in contrast to Prince George, Prince Charlotte and Prince Louis‘ minder Maria Borrallo, who was trained at Britain’s prestigious Norland College. And that’s just one way the duo are likely to stray from the parenting standards set by William and Kate.
Though the Cambridges have made it a point to give their kids a somewhat regular childhood complete with dirt, bugs and pizza, those in the know anticipate Harry and Meghan pushing things even further.
“Meghan’s going to bringing up her baby in a rather stiff upper lip world and I think she will make sure this child has as relaxed an upbringing as possible,” said royal historian Williams. “She’s a fun and exciting person and I think she’ll be a great mum. I don’t think we’ll see her pushing a Silver Cross pram but I can see her taking the baby to yoga and baby groups and doing those sort of fun things.”
It’s also likely she’ll take a cue from Diana, who made it a point to have her little princes wait in line whether it was at an amusement park or to meet Santa. “Meghan will take her kids on a subway. They’ll have chores, and jobs one day,” royal contributor Omid Scobie told Us Weekly. “They won’t be spoiled.”
Much like Meghan was exposed to object poverty during visits to Jamaican slums as a child and Harry tagged along on Diana’s trips to homeless shelters, Archie will be introduced to many different ways of life, with the pair likely to take trips everywhere from their beloved Botswana to Canada, where Meghan was stationed during her seven-year run on Suits, to her native California.
“For Meghan, it’s just as important for Archie to learn about her family history as it is for him to learn about his royal ancestors, so she plans to go on a trip to L.A. with him once she’s comfortable taking him on a plane,” a source told Us Weekly.
And as much as certain upper-crust sects won’t ever approve of the Americanization of a royal heir or even Meghan’s refusal to toe the line and simply submit to a public birth, her unique approach to life in The Firm is winning her plenty of fans. “People are delighted that Meghan is doing things differently,” royal author Ingrid Seward insisted to People.
At the time she was speaking on Meghan’s decision to skip the “circus” of photographers who would be sure to be posted up outside St. Mary’s Hospital, but she might as well have been referencing the new duchess’ entire raison d’être.
“Meghan likes to do things her way,” the source told Us Weekly. “She’s a very strong woman who wants to use her role to modernize the monarchy.”
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