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Can Harry and Meghan really live the quiet life in Canada?

Sarah Caden

The Duchess of Sussex is laying the groundwork for the couple's move to North America and it will be far different from their life of duty as senior royals, writes Sarah Caden


The informality of Meghan meeting women’s groups in Canada last week

The informality of Meghan meeting women’s groups in Canada last week


The informality of Meghan meeting women’s groups in Canada last week

As the royal family gathered to hammer out Megxit, the women who matter went back to work. Neither of these women was at the summit, but Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle will prove the real players, long-term.

Last Wednesday Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, headed to Bradford with her husband to visit a community centre. She had a smile for everyone, danced with a cute toddler and wore a Zara dress - reportedly discounted to £19 in the sales - which then sold out in a matter of hours.

She and William were full of praise for a royal-themed tier cake, surrounded by cupcakes, each decorated with photographs of the royal pair from childhood to the present day. The highlight was their amusement and amazement at the photograph of a young William, which they both initially thought was a snap of their daughter Charlotte.

The previous day Meghan Markle was photographed boarding a seaplane in Canada, leaving her bolthole in Vancouver Island, we later discovered, to visit the offices of an at-risk women's centre.

The group posted pictures on Facebook after the visit, a line of women with arms around one another and Meghan in the middle of the line. She beamed in the photo, as she had seemed to beam in the photographs as she boarded the plane, in jeans and boots and a fur-lined Parka.

"Look who we had tea with today!" said the women's centre in a Facebook post. "The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, visited us today to discuss issues affecting women in the community."

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Still the duchess, so, but no longer subject to the stuffy old duties that her sister-duchess Kate is still up to.

Two women, both pressing the flesh and raising awareness and reaching out and endeavouring to make a difference with smiles on their faces. But two women worlds away from each other, one seemingly fascinated by her face on some buns, the other, well, suiting herself.

Because visiting organisations and charities she was interested in was always something that Meghan Markle did. She always wanted to be a force for change, she always espoused that as part of her public profile and, in many ways, that interest might have helped her believe she'd fit in to the royal way of life.


The formality of a royal visit when William and Kate went to the Khidmat

The formality of a royal visit when William and Kate went to the Khidmat


The formality of a royal visit when William and Kate went to the Khidmat

This week, however, "friends" claimed that once Megxit was done and she and Harry were free of his princely commitments, Meghan felt able to breathe again. She had been stifled, she had felt constrained and limited and now, at last, Meghan could do some real good without the royal restrictions. She also visited a Vancouver group called Justice for Girls last week, who later tweeted pictures - in black and white, a Harry and Meghan favourite - of Meghan at a bog-standard office break-out room table, a mug of a hot drink in her hand, having a laugh with a volunteer. All casual, unstructured and modern, and a clear signal of how things will be done, the new Sussex way.

However, although Meghan was always committed to doing community good, her profile before her marriage was that of a mid-range celebrity. Now she's one of the most recognisable women in the world and not only that, but she still has royal ties that are way beyond her previous life.

The royal experience, despite all the noise around the personal stress and distress of Harry and Meghan, has ultimately been good for her. We saw that last week when she was snapped around Vancouver. She not only looked happy, but she looked relaxed. Better, she looked relatable in her flat boots and her posh-mom-on-the-school-run Parka.

And, relatable just might trump royal in the modern long game, as most women look on Meghan and Kate in their endeavours last week and don't have to think hard about what they'd favour for themselves.

Coverage of Megxit has focused a lot on the duty upon which Harry and Meghan seem to have turned their backs, but that is possible of little interest to the younger audience to whom they hope to appeal and to watchers on the other side of the Atlantic. North Americans don't set much store in self-sacrifice and that's clearly where Meghan wants to make her mark.

Harry may have dutifully stayed in London for the week, hanging on for what might have been his last royal commitment, the launch of the 2021 Rugby League Cup in Buckingham Palace last Thursday, but at the same time staff were being let go at their Windsor home, Frogmore Cottage.

Meghan, it was reported, planned never again to live in the UK in a "meaningful way". In other words, Harry might want to come visit the olds and do the rounds from time to time, but Meghan has moved on.

Last Thursday Meghan was photographed again in Vancouver, driving herself to the airport, security detail in tow, to pick up her friend and Pilates teacher Heather Dorak.

There were reports that her designer friend Misha Nonoo, whose super-rich Italian wedding Meghan and Harry attended last year and who reportedly introduced the couple, was also on her way to Canada to help Meghan with her relaunch. Little things like this make you realise just why Meghan wasn't keen to do the British thing and make her role in the monarchy work.

That would have required a little stepping back, lying low and taking stock, letting all the fuss around them die down and then re-emerging with a smile as wide as Kate Middleton's.

That would have required a degree of self-sacrifice that it's possible Meghan Markle wasn't willing to make. Which is not to say that this makes her a bad person or a bad influence on her husband, who has left behind, with his senior royal status, a lot more than she has.

It merely says that she wasn't willing to keep calm and carry on, probably because she saw no value in it.

Royal wives, all of them, put up with a lot. Camilla took a lot of abuse before she found the beloved status she enjoys today. Fergie and Diana had their day.

And Kate Middleton was dismissed as Waity Katy, the wallflower who hung on in there while William dithered about committing, before she became who she is now, the woman who will probably do most to restore royal confidence in the years to come.

Kate Middleton, who is due to visit the Republic in March with William, is perhaps the ultimate swan: serene above water, but doing god knows what paddling furious underwater. That's the choice and commitment she made. That's the choice and commitment Meghan Markle wasn't interested in, and, perhaps, Harry was an open door waiting to be pushed when it came to unhitching himself from his birthright.

One of the most interesting pieces written in the UK papers last week was by a journalist who spent more than a decade writing about Harry, and to whom he had confided a desire to quit his UK commitments and become a tour guide in Africa. In other words, to go away and live a low-key and quiet life.

He's going away all right, but Meghan is there ahead of him, already laying the ground for their new life.

It's not one's faces on a tray of buns, and it's unlikely to be stuffy and constrained by duty, but it's no quiet life, you can be certain.

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