Why are the Duke and Duchess of Sussex stepping back? A look at the past 18 months

8 January 2020, 20:59

The Royal couple on their tour of South Africa
The Royal couple on their tour of South Africa. Picture: PA

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have said they plan to “step back” as senior royals and will instead split their time between Britain and the US.

The couple made their dramatic decision to quit after a turbulent year, which included rows over privacy and the launch of legal action against the press.

Harry and Meghan's statement announcing their decision soon after their return from a six-week break in Canada refers to their "many months of reflection and internal discussions".

But what prompted the couple to step out of the spotlight?

Here’s a look at the past couple of years for Harry and Meghan and what’s caused their move away from the rest of the royals.

Harry and Meghan announced their engagement at Kensington Palace
Harry and Meghan announced their engagement at Kensington Palace. Picture: PA

The wedding

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle married at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 19 May 2018.

The huge celebration cost around £32 million and was broadcast live on TV, with around 28 million viewers in the UK and almost 30 million in the US.

The royal baby

The couple announced Meghan’s pregnancy on 15 October, five months after they married.

Ahead of the baby’s birth, Meghan attended an exclusive baby shower, with the private jet journey and penthouse suite, reportedly funded by friends, said to have cost £300,000.

In April 2019, Harry and Meghan moved into their new home in Windsor, Frogmore Cottage, after building work was completed ahead of the arrival of their baby.

Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor was born on May 6 weighing 7lb 3oz.

Two days later, he was introduced to the world at a photocall in the castle's St George's Hall, with Meghan declaring: "It's magic, it's pretty amazing. I have the two best guys in the world so I'm really happy."

The couple with baby Archie
The couple with baby Archie. Picture: PA


Harry and Meghan kept Archie's birthplace a secret but inevitably his birth certificate later showed he was born at the private Portland Hospital in London.

Privacy was also a key part of the royal christening, which was held in July in a small chapel inside Windsor Castle.

Royal baptisms are traditionally private but Harry and Meghan went one step further by going against convention and deciding not to announce Archie's godparents, with the couple facing criticism from some quarters.

Photographs were taken by their personal wedding photographer Chris Allerton, with a couple of images released publicly afterwards.

Frogmore Cottage

The duke and duchess faced further problems when it emerged in financial accounts that the refurbishment of their new home, Frogmore Cottage, had cost taxpayers £2.4 million.

Some groups questioned why the public's money had been "thrown" at Harry and Meghan while public services were under financial pressure.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Picture: PA

Rifts and changes

There were big changes for Harry and Meghan behind the scenes as reports of problems between Meghan and the Duchess of Cambridge, and then Harry and his brother the Duke of Cambridge, refused to subside.

The Sussexes split their household from Kensington Palace, setting up their own at Buckingham Palace with a separate head of communications and their own SussexRoyal Instagram account.

They then left the Cambridges' Royal Foundation to start a separate Sussex Royal charity.

Sources denied there was a feud, saying it was "largely about preparing both couples for their future roles, which are obviously on divergent tracks".

Private jets

Harry and Meghan came under fire in the summer over their use of private jets after taking four flights in 11 days, despite championing environmental causes.

Sir Elton John escalated the situation by stepping in to defend them, saying he provided them with a private flight to "maintain a high level of much-needed protection".

Harry explained his use of private planes, saying he spends "99 per cent of my life" using commercial flights, but occasionally needs to ensure "my family are safe".

Meghan, Archie and Desmond Tutu
Meghan, Archie and Desmond Tutu. Picture: PA

Visiting South Africa

The couple made their first royal tour with baby Archie in September to South Africa, with Harry also heading to Angola, Malawi and Botswana.

Baby Archie stole the limelight as he received a tender kiss on the forehead from Archbishop Desmond Tutu while in the hands of his mother.

Harry brought back memories of the visit of his mother Diana, Princess of Wales to Angola, as he walked through a minefield in Dirico to see the work of a landmine clearance charity.

In a private visit, Meghan tied a ribbon at the memorial to murdered University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana, to pay her respects and show solidarity with those who have taken a stand against gender-based violence.

Legal action

The couple's high-profile tour of Africa, carried out at the request of the Government, was overshadowed on the penultimate day.

It was announced Meghan had begun a lawsuit against the Mail on Sunday over an alleged breach of copyright and privacy, after it published a private letter between her and her estranged father.

The newspaper said it would be defending its case vigorously.

Then Harry launched a scathing attack on the British tabloid press, accusing them of a "ruthless campaign" against his wife, adding: "I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."

Harry later filed his own proceedings at the High Court, against News Group Newspapers, which owns The Sun and the now-defunct News of The World, and Reach plc, which owns the Daily Mirror, in relation to the alleged illegal interception of voicemail messages.

The Royal family in happier times
The Royal family in happier times. Picture: PA

Television documentary

In an ITV documentary filmed on their Africa tour, the couple opened up about their struggles.

US-born former actress Meghan said she had tried to cope with the pressures of her new royal life by putting on a "stiff upper lip" but she was not prepared for the intensity of tabloid interest.

She admitted to feeling vulnerable, saying: "It's not enough to just survive something, that's not the point of life. You have got to thrive."

The duke, questioned about an alleged rift with the Duke of Cambridge, said he loved his brother dearly but they were "on different paths" and have "good days" and "bad days" in their relationship.

He described his mental health and the way he deals with the pressures of his life as a matter of "constant management".

It was announced the Sussexes and Archie would be spending Christmas with Meghan's mother Doria Ragland, and not with the Queen at Sandringham, and later Harry and Meghan began a six-week break from royal duties to recharge.