The Duchess of Sussex flew back to Canada yesterday, leaving Prince Harry to deal with the fallout over their ‘abdication’ crisis.
The Daily Mail has learnt that Meghan returned to North America, where their eight-month-old son, Archie, had been left with his nanny. She may stay there for the foreseeable future.
Sources said she ‘hadn’t planned’ to remain in the UK for long, after arriving back in Britain on Monday at the end of the family’s seven-week hiatus from royal duties in Vancouver. She spent just three days in Britain.
The remarkable development – described by one royal insider as ‘simply astonishing’ – came as the Queen last night ordered her warring family to hammer out a solution that will allow her grandson and his wife to quit frontline royal duties.
On a day of behind-the-scenes drama, the monarch convened an extraordinary series of calls between herself, the Prince of Wales, Prince William and Harry. She told them to come up with a ‘workable solution’ to the crisis within days, and tasked aides with presenting a series of options to put to the unhappy couple.
Insiders last night predicted that Harry, 35, and Meghan, 38, would be allowed to keep their royal titles and also enjoy a measure of the independence they have demanded.
But they added that the couple’s string of demands had sparked a genuine crisis which will not be easy to solve.
As a sign of how serious and sensitive the issue has become, Home Secretary Priti Patel has been asked to take part in the negotiations.
She will be tasked with ensuring the couple’s ongoing security is not compromised, but she also has to monitor the cost to taxpayers if they split their lives between the UK and North America.
The Mail can also reveal:
- The couple secretly registered their new Sussex Royal website as early as last March without telling the Royal Family;
- Harry ignored a personal request by the Queen to keep negotiations about his wish to break free private and not make a public statement;
- The couple also chose to disregard pleas from their closest aides on Monday night that they should hold off from releasing a statement out of respect for his grandmother;
- Sources said Harry had even suggested his mental health would be at risk if he didn’t facilitate a change in his position;
- The Royal Family are not planning to strip Harry and Meghan of their titles as courtiers fear it would look vengeful and reminiscent of the treatment meted out to Harry’s mother, Princess Diana;
- Scotland Yard announced it would carry out a full review of the couple’s security as the costs of their taxpayer-funded police protection looked set to spiral into the millions.
Yesterday palace insiders were still reeling from the Sussexes’ decision to release a bombshell statement on Wednesday night, in which they announced their plans to step back as senior members of the Royal Family and work to become ‘financially independent’.
Although the Queen, Charles and William had been told of their plans a week earlier, the couple ‘detonated the nuclear button’ by announcing their intention and launching a glossy new website without warning anyone.
In a terse statement in response, Buckingham Palace made clear its displeasure. It said it understood the couple’s desire to do things ‘different’ but stressed these were complicated matters that needed to be worked through carefully.
Senior royal aides made clear the Queen was deeply hurt by her grandson’s actions, while other family members had reacted furiously to Harry and Meghan’s arrogance. Yesterday, however, sources told the Mail that after an emotional 12 hours, matters had calmed and everyone was ‘working with a clear head’.
‘One of the things the family has learnt over the years is that if you don’t move quickly and leave things like this that the fester,’ said a source. ‘And that would benefit no-one in this case.’
It is understood the Queen initiated the series of calls involving herself at Sandringham, Charles at Birkhall (his Scottish seat), William at Kensington Palace and Harry – without Meghan – at Frogmore Cottage.
As a result they agreed to instruct staff, led by their respective private secretaries, to work ‘with pace’ on a series of proposals which would allow the couple to find a solution they were happy with.
‘The bigger the crisis, the calmer the Royal Family seem to get,’ said an insider.
‘There is a pragmatic attitude that seems to run through the Queen and Prince of Wales. They are not railing against whether the situation is right or wrong, they just know this needs to be dealt with. They have accepted it and are trying to resolve it.
‘The interesting bit will be the next part when, presented with a series of possible scenarios, will they [the Sussexes] accept them or will they brief that they are being forced to do something against their will? And no-one knows the answer.
‘Is there any version of a solution that they will deem acceptable?
‘They have talked in broad brush strokes about what they want, this hybrid model of being a member of the Royal Family, but even they haven’t nailed down the fine detail and may say that they don’t like what is being put on the table.
‘What does being a progressive royal mean?’
Sources said that nothing was set in stone but that lessons had been learnt from the past, and despite the late Princess of Wales giving up her HRH title, people still blamed the Royal Family for that decision.
‘I don’t think anyone wants to go down that road with her son,’ they added.
One source told the Mail yesterday that Harry had privately been consulting friends about his plans as far back as late spring.
Countdown to chaos: How royal aides fought bitterly for 24 hours to urge Harry and Meghan not to announce their plans to step down… but they ignored them and left the Queen furious
It was early November when the call came through to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s taxpayer-funded home, Frogmore Cottage, at Windsor. On the line, unusually, was the Queen.
It is important to stress from the start of this insight into what has unfolded over the past 48 hours that the monarch doesn’t just call anyone, not even her own family. They call her.
But the 93-year-old felt that she had no choice.
Since no one else could get any sense out of her brooding grandson, not even his own father, she had decided to try herself.
‘Harry,’ the Queen asked, ‘will you be coming with the family to Sandringham for Christmas?’
That he hadn’t even had the courtesy to tell his own grandmother that he and his family were considering alternative plans for the festive season speaks volumes, I am told.
Finally stung into action, the prince – in conjunction, of course, with his wife, Meghan – realised he had to make a decision.
The message was relayed back to the Queen, two days later, that Harry, Meghan and baby Archie would be spending the ‘holidays’ (to use an Americanism) abroad… and his staff were whiplashed into action to find them somewhere to stay.
On this occasion, the Queen agreed to soothe the inevitable frenzy of speculation the Sussexes’ decision would prompt once it became known they would be absent from Sandringham, by allowing Harry to publicly state it was made with her support.
The Queen has learned from past mistakes in cutting off royal brides from their families and understood that Meghan, already so far from home, would want to spend her first Christmas as a new mum with her own mother.
But, sources tell me, the incident was the most telling sign so far of the sixth in line to the throne’s growing distance from his own family – which now seemed even to extend to his beloved grandmother.
They plotted to go it alone in Canada
It was on that seven-week hiatus from official duties in Canada that the couple finally decided to go ahead with their much privately talked-about plan to step back from royal life.
They had already been secretly ‘plotting’ for months, insiders tell me, with a small group of friends and advisers in North America, including the aggressive Hollywood crisis management company Sunshine Sachs where Meghan’s friend, Keleigh Thomas Morgan – who represented the former actress when she was appearing in the hit legal drama Suits – works with power-broker attorney Rick Genow, business manager Andrew Meyer and talent agent Nick Collins.
Back in March, Harry and Meghan secretly registered their royal website, sussexroyal.com, and enlisted a small, trendy creative firm in Meghan’s hometown of Toronto – the same firm was also responsible for her now defunct lifestyle website, The Tig – to build it for them.
Other sources in the UK have told me that Harry and Meghan first raised the issue of a retreat from royal life with them in May. Nothing, however, had been put into practice – or discussed with the Royal Family. But holed up in splendid isolation, far away from their loyal team of Buckingham Palace advisers (who had a weekly conference call with them but were largely, and humiliatingly, kept out of the loop) and surrounded by ‘like-minded’ family and friends, the couple made the decision that they were ready to go it alone.
‘They were away for seven weeks in a vacuum, thinking and plotting, winding each other up,’ says a source. ‘This has been a long time coming in many ways, but the conclusion has been worryingly swift.’
Then they went nuclear
One of the triggers, it appears, was the release over Christmas of a new portrait of the Queen with her immediate heirs – Charles, William and George – and the focus on them in her annual address to the nation.
But as one source told me yesterday: ‘Yes, the Prince of Wales has made clear that he wants a streamlined monarchy in the future, but Harry has always been told that he and Archie, as heirs to the throne, are part of that.
‘Of course, this might mean an adjustment to how things are done but they are not being frozen out.’
But other insiders tell me that the couple have long felt that their ‘superstar’ power is ‘rolled out’ by the Royal Family when it suits them, only to be quickly ‘constrained’ because so many of them are ‘jealous’ of their popularity.
‘Whether it’s true or not, and people’s opinions on this vary, they are very, very exercised about this and very, very angry,’ said one. Nine days ago, it is understood they told senior family members by phone, ahead of their return to the UK, that they wanted to step back as ‘frontline’ royals.
While the Queen, Charles and William were shocked, crucially, however, no one said no.
‘The response was, OK, well come back and let’s sit down and talk about this,’ the source added.
‘To say that conversations about this were at an early stage is an understatement. The couple only told everyone just over a week ago. And the reaction was actually very positive.
‘Do the family want this? Of course not. But if [Harry and Meghan] do, then we will work this out.’
Unfortunately for the monarch and her heirs, matters weren’t moving as swiftly as the Sussexes wanted, it seems. Returning from Vancouver on Monday, energised and raring to go, the couple decided to ‘go nuclear’ and make their decision public, in flagrant disregard of the Queen’s request to let the family sort the matter out before it was revealed to the world.
A bitter battle with aides
Aides were summoned to Frogmore Cottage on Monday night and informed of their decision – and spent the next 24 hours ‘trying their damndest’ to persuade them to hold fire.
‘Harry and Meghan’s team did everything they could to stop the statement from coming out.
‘The couple were told that not only was this hugely disrespectful to their family but they were shooting themselves in the foot,’ one insider has told me. ‘At that stage nothing had been ruled in or ruled out concerning their future roles.
‘And they were openly warned that in choosing to say publicly that they wanted to work towards becoming financially independent, for example, several options open to them would be automatically taken off the table.
‘But they were having none of it. Their minds were made up.’
Staff put a brave face on the behind-the-scenes turmoil as they accompanied the duke and duchess on a rather bizarre engagement on Tuesday to ‘thank’ the people of Canada via the country’s High Commissioner to the UK for their hospitality… for a holiday that the couple fought tooth and nail to keep secret. But the bitter internal battles raged on Tuesday night and through to Wednesday – all without the knowledge of the Royal Family – with Harry and Meghan being strongly advised that their ‘hare-brained and unrealistic’ plan to forge a ‘one foot in, one foot out’ approach to being royals was unworkable and potentially catastrophic.
They would listen to no one but each other, however, and decided to ‘push the nuclear button’ that very evening.
The Queen was hurt … and furious
As revealed in yesterday’s Daily Mail, the couple opted to release their personally penned statement without informing the senior royals first. The Queen, Charles and William all watched it go live at 6.30pm. Immediately, the phones began to ring in London, Sandringham and Charles’s Scottish seat of Birkhall. Senior members of royal household staff, on their way home to their families, turned round and raced back to their offices.
One described being forced to take part in two simultaneous conference calls, with a phone on each ear.
At 8.13pm a statement was released by Buckingham Palace – bypassing Harry and Meghan’s office, in a sign of the Queen’s displeasure – which tersely acknowledged what they had done but stressed that these were ‘complicated issues’ that still needed to be ‘worked through’.
The message was clear. While the family were not angry at them wanting out, they were furious at the way they had done it. And more than that, hurt. ‘The Queen has been deeply distressed by this,’ one insider told me, ‘and more than that, her authority within the family has been directly flouted by her own grandson.
‘While the family aren’t given to express their feelings in public very often as they know anything that is issued by the Palace has to stand the test of time, everyone was in lockstep over this.
‘Harry and Meghan needed to be told.
SO, WILL WISE HEADS PREVAIL?
‘The last 12 months have not been plain sailing for Her Majesty, to put it mildly, and then now this,’ the source added. ‘Everyone believes the Sussexes have been deeply disrespectful.
‘To put out a statement to say they are collaborating with the Queen. Who in the world says that? You are not equal to the Queen, everyone in the family knows their place… except, it seems, them.’
Fortunately, after an ’emotional’ night, wise heads yesterday appeared to have prevailed.
After conference calls with Charles and William, the Queen called a meeting yesterday afternoon between each of the four royal households – Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, Kensington Palace and the Sussex team – and ordered them to find a workable solution to the problem within days.
Much has yet to be done and whether any of it will placate this hot-headed and emotional couple remains to be seen.
But as Harry and Meghan should know by now, nothing will be allowed to jeopardise the future of the monarchy.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail, Rebecca English