What It's Like to Go on Tour with Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan
There’s a certain type of magic that happens on royal tours, one that has me convinced the Duke and Duchess of Sussex might actually possess some sort of Harry Potter-like wands, reserved only for use during official engagements. Case in point: Their visit to Australia, a country severely affected by its worst drought in over half a century.
When Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s small Royal Australian Air Force plane touched down in Dubbo, one of the biggest farming states in New South Wales, the dark clouds rolled in and the heavens opened, soaking the bone-dry terrain with more rain in one day than the past six months. It was an answered prayer for the 38,943 locals whose farming community has seriously suffered from failing crops. Almost half the population celebrated the miraculous change in weather at a picnic with the royal couple. Everyone, including Harry and Meghan, was soaking wet, but it didn’t matter.
"Their visit was a boost to the city’s morale in a way I can’t thank them enough for," Councillor Ben Shields, Mayor of Dubbo, tells BAZAAR.com. "The day brought a much-needed ray of hope to many."
It’s this magic touch that's dramatically shifted the mood towards the British royal family in Australia. Gone is the demand for a Republican referendum; in its place, 16 straight days of every major television network in the country championing Harry and Meghan. If the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 2014 Oz trip saw then-one-year-old Prince George christened "the Republican slayer" by national press, this trip saw the Sussexes leave the anti-monarchy movement well and truly defeated.
“Harry has become like a son to this country... and the visit was also about welcoming Meghan into the family, too,” Australia’s Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, whose Admiralty House estate became the couple’s Sydney base for several days, tells BAZAAR.com. “Everyone loves them.”
Indeed. Going on tour with the Sussexes is what I can imagine Beatlemania was like in the '60s. From country to country, we witnessed seas of excitable crowds fill the streets with banners, gifts and (in many cases), eyes full of tears. While royals pulling in big crowds is no new feat, there was something different about Meghan and Harry’s oceanic visit. People from all walks of life came out to see the couple—many there just to catch a glimpse of Meghan, who has brought much-needed modernity to the royal family.
Young people who never had interest in the British monarchy have suddenly become engaged with the royals in a way never seen before. From Indigenous Australians to teenage girls and boys, many of the fans I met during the trip told me how they saw Meghan as a symbol of female empowerment or a face that represented them in a way other members of the royal family have not. Many were in the crowds for hugs or selfies, but there were just as many who simply wanted to say “thanks.”
"It’s cool to think there are young girls who look at the Duchess of Sussex and think ‘Hey, she kind of looks like me.’”
“For me, Meghan represents someone in the Palace I never thought I’d see... a major societal change," says Sherry-Rose Bih, an African-Australian social enterprise entrepreneur who spent time chatting with the Duchess at a reception for young leaders in Melbourne. “Her role in the royal family is extremely important and relevant. It’s cool to think there are young girls who look at the Duchess of Sussex and think ‘Hey, she kind of looks like me.’” Meghan may have only married Harry five months ago, but she has already rewritten what it means to be regal and royal.
The announcement of Baby Sussex offered another one ofthosemagic moments. It certainly took the press by surprise when, during a pre-tour briefing usually reserved for mundane logistical information, a small group of us were ushered to a corner of the room to receive a phone call from Kensington Palace’s head of communications back in London.
The news came through quietly (on an old iPhone 6, perched on a teacup and saucer in a rather low-tech attempt to amplify the tinny loudspeaker) but it was big: “The Duke and Duchess are expecting a baby... We’ll be sending out a statement in about 15 minutes.” Cue mad panic and slight hysteria.
The pregnancy announcement made Meghan’s accomplishments during the tour even more impressive. Though she's doing everything for two, the Duchess of Sussex still proved herself a formidable force in the royal family, appearing unfazed by the overwhelming number of engagements, hysterical crowds on walkabouts, and major jet lag a source says took her over a week to conquer.
During their travels, Meghan gave three formal speeches (more than any other royal consort has done on tour), all carried out flawlessly as she championed female empowerment and equal rights and gave support for the Armed Forces.
At Fiji’s University of South Pacific, I watched as she spoke eloquently and passionately about the importance of universal education. More often than not, royal speeches are prepared with the help of a Palace aide, but not this one. Meghan wrote the entire three-minute speech from scratch and barely looked down at her slightly-crumpled printouts (covered in hand-written notes) as she spoke to hundreds of inspired students in the lecture theater.
For the Duchess, this tour has been her first opportunity to put into action the months of prep that preceded the 16-day trip. “Meghan takes the work very seriously,” a Palace source tells BAZAAR.com. “She reads every note, learns every name and every story. Her enthusiasm is impressive and infectious.”
With such dedication, it’s no surprise that just a few days into the tour, the Australian media quickly dubbed her, "Queen of Hearts."
And despite scaling back on a few engagements (at the request of Prince Harry and Kensington Palace aides, who felt she should pace herself), the four-months pregnant Duchess showed no signs of faltering. “It’s just increased my respect for the role that she’s playing at such an often-tiring time,” says New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, who spent three days with the Duke and Duchess during the tour. “I have real empathy and I think she’s incredible.”
But while the tour is meticulously planned by the skilled team at Kensington Palace, it’s the small, unscripted moments where the real magic often happens. From Meghan’s concern (and wobbly chin) when she noticed small children standing in the pouring rain for her at a Queens Canopy unveiling in Redvale, New Zealand, to requesting plates of uneaten cakes be shared with school kids who waited all morning outside an Wellington cafe to say hello,these candid moments show the real, human side of Harry and Meghan that no amount of prep can convey. And who can forget the banana bread?
But it’s not just Meghan changing the rules. Prince Harry did more than his fair share to challenge the perception of the once-stuffy British establishment. Shirts unbuttoned, ties banished (he only brought two for the entire four-country tour), and a refreshing candidness when it came to speaking about his own struggles ensured he remains the most relatable royal family member.
At a meeting with mental health advocates in Wellington, New Zealand, I watched him open up about his experiences with depression and counseling to teenagers experiencing similar struggles. I was even more impressed when Harry allowed me to pull up a chair and listen as he and Meghan discussed the negative effects of social media and online gaming with other young people.
Harry’s dedication to humanitarian causes, particularly injured servicemen and women, also shone throughout the tour, with the proof of his hard work surrounding him and Meghan every day. At a small reception with the Duke and Duchess in Sydney, Invictus Games Ambassador Leesa Kwok told me her husband’s life was transformed by the sporting competition Harry founded. “It saved him from suicide and our family from darkness... it brought him back into our lives,” she said of husband Jamie Tanner, who has competed in the last three games. “This event, which is just for wounded, injured, and ill veterans, is so much more than just sport. It’s about motivation, health, people, and purpose. I don’t think Harry realizes just how much he has done for this community.”
The tour also showed just how seriously the Duke is taking his appointment as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador, with a heavy focus on empowering young people from all walks of life. This theme drove the tour from start to end.
"I don’t think Harry realizes just how much he has done for this community.”
“They’re both passionate about what they do,” Invictus Games ambassador David Beckham, who was in Sydney for the sporting event, tells BAZAAR.com of the couple. “I think people can see how important the issues they focus on are to them. You only need to look at the size of the crowds to get an idea of how much that means to the public.”
As for my favorite moment from the trip? With just a few minutes of the tour left, Harry and Meghan briefly ditched Palace aides, security and myself (I was the reporter covering that specific engagement) to walk the last stretch of Rotorua’s beautiful Whakarewarewa Forest alone. It made little sense at the time, as they had already spent the past 20 minutes walking through the woods—until 24 hours later, when a photo of Meghan, in Harry’s jacket and cradling her bump, appeared on the Kensington Palace Instagram account. Turns out Harry simply wanted to take a photo of his wife—and child-to-be—against the stunning redwood trees. “It was spontaneous,” a source close to the couple tells BAZAAR.com.
Video: What's It Like On Tour?
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