How Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Have Found Happiness Despite a Challenging and Turbulent Year

The couple is now settled into their Santa Barbara home and looking forward to their next chapter.

meghan markle prince harry
(Image credit: Future)

Writing about the royal family often means documenting major historical milestones. From jubilees to royal weddings to Prince Andrew’s dramatic fall from grace (opens in new tab), these standout moments are the peaks of activity that propel the monarchy into the global spotlight. But it's often the more intimate encounters that stick in the mind.

For me this year—and it is hard to believe it was even this year because so much has happened since—there is one such moment: when Meghan said her final farewell to staff on March 9, 2020 inside Buckingham Palace, and I somehow found myself with a ringside view (opens in new tab). I can remember standing in the 1844 room (which is decorated with many colors but I only recall that day as a mass of pale blue and gold) next to two other journalists when Meghan entered to meet Commonwealth scholars. I remember how polished she looked, how poised she seemed in her stiletto heels, and I remember how emotional she was once most people had gone and she said a final farewell to staff.

meghan markle

'Meghan at her final private solo engagement as a working royal earlier this year.' 

(Image credit: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex / Chris Allerton)

There is always tension when a member of the royal family enters an engagement; people are nervous, they want to make the right impression in a small amount of time, and everyone wants everything to go to plan. But that day there was also tension of a different kind. The scholars were delighted to be inside Buckingham Palace, but their patron was walking away from royal life following a very public and acrimonious split with “The Firm.” Negotiations over the Sussexes’ future were complete—a decision had been made, and announced, back in January. But the opulent surroundings were at odds with my feeling that we were still standing in the battleground.

Since then, so much has changed, and it goes without saying that the pandemic has dominated the year for everyone. For this reason, we perhaps don't have a full sense of how the Sussexes intended their new life would look (particularly when it comes to, for example, how much time they may spend in the UK). But it has also become clearer and clearer over the course of the past nine months that the couple is not looking back. They may technically be in a transition period until next March (opens in new tab), but their independent life is rapidly taking shape in a way that seems increasingly incompatible with any kind of return to the royal fold.

commonwealth day service 2020

'Harry and Meghan arrive at the Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey, one of their final engagements as working royals. ' 

(Image credit: Mark Cuthbert)

First, there is the matter of money. In a move that swiftly silenced critics of their financial ties to the British public, Harry and Meghan have paid back the £2.4 million of taxpayers’ money used to renovate Frogmore Cottage (opens in new tab), and have also paid some rent upfront so they can use the property when they return to the UK. They are no longer receiving financial support from Prince Charles and have bought their own home in Santa Barbara. Just recently, Meghan announced her first public investment in California-based oat milk superlatte firm Clevr Blends (opens in new tab). There is a multi-year production deal with Netflix (opens in new tab), rumored to be worth anything up to $150 million—and there is also a seemingly financially-lucrative podcast deal with Spotify (opens in new tab).

All this is significant because Harry and Meghan’s central goal in leaving royal life was to become financially independent, and they have managed it. But in doing so they have also created a huge chasm between how they operate and how the royal family operates. The royal family is funded by the British taxpayers in exchange for the public duties they perform. Profiting privately from their status is frowned upon, but also not necessary because they have the luxury of public money and other income streams—such as the Duchy of Lancaster (opens in new tab) for the sovereign and Duchy of Cornwall (opens in new tab) for the heir—to fund their lifestyles and interests.

general views of frogmore cottage

'A view of Frogmore Cottage.' 

(Image credit: GOR)

Other than once a year when the royal accounts are opened, the financial setup of the monarchy usually goes by largely unremarked upon. But Harry and Meghan’s departure thrust the issue of money into the spotlight and also exposed the absence of clear guidelines when convention is abandoned. On the one hand, is it not legitimate that eyebrows are raised over the signing of lucrative commercial deals when their profiles exist because of the royal family? On the other hand, if the Sussexes are not taking any public money and intend to use their position for good causes then what basis does anyone have to suggest they shouldn’t get on with their lives in this way? Is the conflict they find themselves in not merely a reflection of the paradox that is monarchy in a modern democracy?

Those close to Harry and Meghan accept that at times, it has been a challenging, even turbulent year, which is hardly surprising given the pandemic. But the Sussexes have also faced personal struggles in 2020. Most notably, Meghan’s moving op-ed about suffering from a miscarriage over the summer (opens in new tab) spoke for itself in powerfully depicting the devastating impact of such an experience.

The couple is now settled into their Santa Barbara mansion, but spent the first part of the year with their son Archie shuffling between other people’s homes in Canada and the US. They would have been back to the UK were it not for the pandemic, but it’s increasingly clear that the US will be their main base.

Meghan told journalist Emily Ramshaw in August “It’s good to be home (opens in new tab),” and the change in her demeanor from last year is obvious even over video calls. Despite her acting background, there was no hiding the strain she was under when she spoke to ITV for a documentary (opens in new tab) during her final royal tour in South Africa in September 2019. Her most recent appearances have been a complete contrast, full of easy confidence.

meghan markle archie reading

'To celebrate Archie’s first birthday, Harry and Meghan released a video of the Duchess reading a book to her son.' 

(Image credit: The Duke of Sussex/@SaveChildrenUK)

But what of Harry? A picture has often been painted of a Prince in turmoil, torn between different sets of responsibilities. There is no doubt that at times he has been deeply frustrated with the consequences of his decision—which saw the couple walk away from more royal responsibilities than they initially wanted to in order to have their freedom. This was laid bare when he was unable to be officially represented paying his respects at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. Instead, the Prince visited a cemetery in L.A. (opens in new tab), his unofficial public act of remembrance dividing opinion and underlining the huge challenges that remain with the new setup.

Those with understanding of the situation point to the fact that Harry’s links with the military are a big concern and consideration for him, “because of his connections and closeness to it all and what it means to him,” says one. There is no doubt that the Prince will maintain a strong link to the military community through his Invictus Games and other charitable work. But he has had to walk away from his honorary military appointments, and it’s hard to see how he can ever return to them while he is not a working royal.

There is also a question of exactly how his relationship continues with some other organizations, such as the Rugby Football Union and Rugby Football League. He has retained his official positions and maintained contact this year, but these groups traditionally have working royals as their patrons—the Queen passed both patronages to Harry in 2016—meaning they fall into a slightly different category than the charities he set up or took on in a more personal capacity. For Harry and Meghan’s small team remaining in the UK, there is still plenty to work out.

prince harry meghan markle

'Harry and Meghan marked Remembrance Sunday in L.A.'

(Image credit: Lee Morgan)

There is no doubt that the Sussexes continue to polarize opinion, with people often having strong views either way. But, as is often the case, the reality does not fall into such extremes. Does Harry miss certain aspects of his life as a working royal? Most likely, yes. But does that mean he is unhappy with his choice? No.

One friend described the idea that Harry had been pulled away to live a life Meghan wanted as “ridiculous.” “He felt that he had to do something to protect his family and create a better life for his family,” the friend said. “I think that the life they are now living in California with their house and the work that they are able to do, the charity work they are doing, and Archie growing up; they are really happy.”

In March, Meghan said a tearful goodbye to royal life. Today, it’s hard to argue with the notion that she and Harry are well on the way to living their American Dream.

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Victoria Murphy
Victoria Murphy

Town & Country Contributing Editor Victoria Murphy has reported on the British Royal Family for nine years. She has interviewed Prince Harry and has travelled the world covering several royal tours. She was the Daily Mirror's Royal Correspondent and is a frequent contributor to Good Morning America.