Getty Images; Instagram; Melissa Herwitt/E! Illustration
At the milestone age of 1, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor has already seen three continents and lived in three countries.
He was born on May 6, 2019, less than two weeks shy of his parents’ first wedding anniversary, at Portland Hospital in London, after which Prince Harry and Meghan Marklewhisked him away to their freshly renovated home, Frogmore Cottage, in Windsor. His name still only known to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the time, he appeared in his first news footage when he was 2 days old, cradled in his dad’s arms, outside Windsor Castle.
Soon his full name would be revealed, along with a photo of Queen Elizabeth II meeting her seventh great-grandchild—whom, presumably at his normalcy-seeking parents’ request, would not be getting a royal title.
“It’s magic,” Meghan said about becoming a mum. “It’s pretty amazing and, I mean, I have the two best guys in the world, so I’m really happy.”
The astounding, surprise-a-day joy that filled their lives the day their son was born hasn’t dissipated a bit over the past year. But when a journalist checked in with them in October during their trip to Africa with their then-6-month-old son, “happy” wasn’t the word anyone would use to describe the couple.
When Tom Bradby, whom Harry had known for years and trusted with what turned into an unprecedentedly raw interview for ITV, wondered what sort of effect that the pressure she felt amid the relentless media scrutiny of every move she made was having on her physical and mental health, Meghan replied, “I would say—look, any woman, especially when they’re pregnant, you’re really vulnerable and…so that was made really challenging. And then when you have a newborn,” she sighed out a laugh, “you know.”
“And especially as a woman it’s really, it’s a lot,” Meghan continued, “so you add this just on top of trying to be a new mom or trying to be a newlywed, it’s just…yeah, well, I guess—and also thank you for asking, ’cause not many people have asked if I’m OK. But it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.”
Asked if it would be fair to say she’d been struggling, she replied, “Yes.”
The interviews, part of the ITV special Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, got even more intense when Harry admitted that seeing a horde of camera flashes couldn’t help but still remind him of his own mother, Princess Diana. She was picked over by the press throughout her public life—which was basically the entirety of her adult life, having started seeing Prince Charles when she was 18—and hounded by paparazzi until the very end, when the Mercedes speeding her away from the Hôtel Ritz in Paris, as the driver tried to lose the photographers trailing them, smashed into a pillar. The Princess of Wales died a few hours later from her injuries at the age of 36. Harry was 12 1/2.
While he has maintained a cordial relationship with Britain’s bevy of royal correspondents, especially in recent years as he’s grown out of his rowdy adolescent ways, there has never been any love lost between him and the tabloids. So when Meghan also told Bradby that she had brushed aside her friends’ warnings that the British tabloids would “destroy [her] life” if she got involved with the U.K.’s most eligible bachelor, her regular critics (and some new ones who didn’t like being lumped in with the repeat offenders) had a field day explaining all the ways she had flubbed being a royal and was dragging Harry down with her.
And while there were plenty of defenders who championed Meghan’s decision to speak so candidly about what it was like as a new mom living the fishbowl existence, it was the beginning of the end of their attempt to go with the working-royal flow.
“I will always protect my family, and now I have a family to protect,” Harry told Bradsby.
It had become strangely easy to forget that he and Meghan were busy adjusting to life as parents—not a circumstance the papers ignored, but one that somehow afforded the couple no grace period whatsoever after it became clear that they weren’t going to play the game as usual. That started with their departure from the royal-birth-protocol the media had come to expect, most recently established for the modern era (social media announcements along with the easel outside Buckingham Palace, etc.) with the birth of Kate Middleton and Prince William‘s three children.
For starters, no one knew for sure which hospital Harry and Meghan planned to use, if any, with Portland not being identified until Archie’s birth certificate was made public. Then announcements were compressed, with the one revealing that Meghan was in labor not coming until 45 minutes before the baby was born.
But perhaps most offensive to the press was Archie’s relatively private christening, which of course included the release of a few photos (the Sussexes weren’t exactly being hermits) but otherwise shut them out. Harry and Meghan also chose to keep the identities of Archie’s godparents under wraps, which was made out to be a cardinal sin.
theroyalfamily via Instagram
Behind closed doors, at least, life with Archie at Frogmore Cottage was delightful.
“He has the sweetest temperament, he’s really calm,” Meghan shared with reporters when introducing her son to the world.
“His looks are changing every single day,” added Harry, holding what was widely agreed to be his mini-me in his arms, “so, who knows [whom he’ll resemble more]?”
So far, parenting was “amazing,” the new father also said. “We’ve only been at it two and a half, three days, but we’re just so thrilled to have our own little bundle of joy, to be able to spend some precious times with him as he slowly starts to grow up.” As they slightly angled Archie so the photographers could get a clearer glimpse, Harry quipped, “He’s already got a little bit of facial hair as well.”
His first public Dad joke.
In a speech he gave that July at the inaugural National Youth Mentoring Summit, Harry began, “I’m struck by a few things today, most of which is the power of the invisible role model. The person who may be sitting here today that doesn’t realize that someone looks up to them that—for that person—you inspire them to be kinder, better, greater, more successful, more impactful.
“Perhaps it’s the newfound clarity I have as a father knowing that my son will always be watching what I do, mimicking my behavior, one day maybe even following in my footsteps.”
Not that one had to be a parent to be a role model, he added, but you never know whose life you can affect for the better by taking time to help, or even by just setting a good example with your own behavior.
“My mother, Princess Diana, was a role model to so many, without realizing the impact she would have on so many lives,” Harry continued. “You don’t have to be a princess or a public figure to be a role model, in fact it’s equally valuable if you’re not because it’s more relatable.”
Toby Melville /PA Wire
Meghan was seen in public a few times, first at the annual Trooping the Colour parade in June with the rest of the family, but overall she remained on maternity leave for five months. Admittedly excited to jump right back into her good works, she had already started working on some projects close to her heart—in July she was revealed as the guest editor for the September issue of British Vogue, and she returned to public life Sept. 12 for the launch of the capsule collection she collaborated on for Smart Works, which provides professional attire for job-seeking women.
Controversy ensued, because of course it did, whether it was Meghan’s choice of women to spotlight in the issue or Harry’s chat in the magazine with primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall, in which he said that they planned to have no more than two children because that was better for the environment—which juxtaposed with the couple’s use of private jets sounded a little tone deaf to some.
But at the same time, all part of the ongoing simultaneous dismantling and building up of Meghan as one of the best things to happen to Britain’s royal family in a generation, every little snippet about life at home with Archie was cherished.
“I’ve got to get back to the baby, it’s feed time,” she told the Smart Works crowd, making headlines around the world.
Yet the balance they were attempting to strike between their own public lives and privacy for their son, which started with their decision to leave Kensington Palace—where Kate and William, cousin Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank, and various older relatives of the queen live—for Windsor, felt increasingly unobtainable.
After the Africa trip, Harry and Meghan planned a six-week break from work, which included a trip to California to visit Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, for Archie’s first Thanksgiving. When Christmas came around, they opted to skip the queen’s annual celebration at Sandringham, ritually punctuated by the family’s Dec. 25 walk to church, in favor of a more private holiday. Kate and William haven’t gone every single year since marrying in 2011, either, but combined with the ITV interview, their “much-needed time off,” rumors of a William-Harry feud and all the rest, it just seemed indicative of bigger issues at hand for the Sussexes.
Sure enough, on Jan. 8, after months of talking about it but without telling the queen that that would be the day, Harry and Meghan announced their intent to step back from full-time royal life, as well as become financially independent and split their time between the U.K. and North America while still doing their best to represent the queen and country.
It turned out they had rung in 2020 with Archie in a massive waterfront estate on Vancouver Island, Canada having been Meghan’s adopted home while she filmed six seasons of the USA drama Suits. That’s where Meghan stayed with Archie as talks began between Harry, William, their father Prince Charles, and the queen and what, exactly, this break from the Firm would really look like. And it’s where Archie stayed when Meghan flew back England to participate in her last handful of engagements as a senior royal.
As it turned out, there was no such thing as part-time. Instead it was decided that as of March 31, they would sponge the term “royal” from their future business and charitable endeavors, and would not lose but would no longer use their HRH titles or present themselves as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in public life.
Just in time for that historic transition, the world more or less shut down. Prince Charles tested positive for COVID-19 and spent weeks in self-isolation in Scotland with Duchess Camilla. The queen and Prince Philip left London to ride out the government’s physical-distancing directives at Windsor Castle, from where Her Majesty delivered only her fifth televised special address in her 68-year reign to help reassure the nation that all would be OK in the end. Kate and William and their three children settled in for the TBD-just-how-long haul at their Norfolk estate, Anmer Hall, though they’ve also been to Sandringham to put together food deliveries for isolated pensioners in the area.
Meanwhile, Meghan, Harry and Archie packed up and moved to Los Angeles, where they’ve been busy keeping up with their various commitments—now under the umbrella of their new charitable organization, Archewell (derived from their son and the Greek word Arche, meaning “sources of action”)—with video meetings. The couple also emerged on Easter weekend—with gloves and cloth masks—to deliver meals to the homebound for Project Angel Food.
“As we can all feel, the world at this moment seems extraordinarily fragile,” read the final post from the Sussex Royal Instagram account on March 30, the day before that chapter of their lives officially closed. “Yet we are confident that every human being has the potential and opportunity to make a difference—as seen now across the globe, in our families, our communities and those on the front line—together we can lift each other up to realize the fullness of that promise.”
Overall, however, much more like normal people than they usually are, Harry and Meghan have simply been staying home (in an undisclosed, tightly secured, very nice location).
“Like many parents, they are focused on Archie and their family as well,” a source told E! News in April. “They are trying to make the best of it and are enjoying all the time together as a family.”
“So much family time that you almost think, ‘Do I feel guilty for having so much family time?'” Harry said on a video chat with a couple of families in Britain who are caring for children with serious health issues, the talk facilitated by the charity WellChild. “You’ve got to celebrate those moments where you are just on the floor rolling around in hysterics. Inevitably, half an hour later, maybe a day later, there’s going to be something that you have to deal with and there’s no way you can run away from it.
He added, “Talk about super parents… There’s so much respect for all you guys.”
Instead of a big (or any significantly sized) party for Archie’s first birthday, Harry and Meghan will be connecting with family and friends via FaceTime—as they did on the queen’s 94th birthday a couple weeks ago—and celebrating with homemade treats at, well… at home.
“They are taking the lock down very seriously and so far they haven’t seen anyone, not even Doria,” a friend of the couple told Vanity Fair‘s royal correspondent Katie Nicholl. “I expect they will celebrate Archie’s birthday with a little gathering.”
The proud parents will also release a rare new photo of their son, just as Kate and William did for Princess Charlotte‘s big 0-5 over the weekend (and Prince Louis‘ 2nd birthday in April), because the beast always gets fed on birthdays. (We don’t even want to see what would happen should that ritual be skipped, especially since Harry and Meghan also openly informed a handful of British tabloids that they would no longer be engaging them, so buh-bye.)
Has there been a better time to be only a year old and therefore blissfully unaware of all the craziness unfolding in the world?
But even when this particular bout of madness ends, Harry and Meghan have made it clear, practically every step of the way, that they’ve given up working-royal status for the good of their family.
“Even after lockdown is lifted they plan to keep him away from the cameras,” another source told Nicholl. “They want him to have an ordinary childhood away from the cameras.”
There are places with fewer cameras to live than Los Angeles, but with Meghan’s own mother in close proximity (eventually, at least), other families around who get what it’s like to be the object of rapt fascination, and plenty of resources at their disposal to ensure that Archie is kept safe as he slowly grows into the world around him, they have a shot at being just your average super-famous family.
If that’s the goal, they’ve come to the right place.
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