CNR – How Harry and Meghan found comfort in California

The Telegraph How Harry and Meghan found comfort in California
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© Provided by The Telegraph Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex with Archie – CBS

Eccentrics, exiles, inventors, hippies, criminals: for more than 150 years, all have come to California seeking a new life in a place where their old world can’t touch them.

And, as we found out in Oprah’s two-hour interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, royals can do the same.

While the programme was full of accusations and revelations, in the background we also learned a lot about the life the Sussexes have established with their son Archie in the upscale seaside town of Montecito.

In particular, we saw a different side of Prince Harry, roughly 4,700 miles away from his royal duties and more than 6,800 from his service guiding in air strikes and piloting attack helicopters for the British Army Air Corps.

This is what we learned about the life described by Meghan as “greater than any fairytale you’ve ever read”, mixing sun-soaked idyll, subdued domesticity and star-studded affluence in equal measure.

Wearing wellies, keeping chickens

a group of people standing next to a fence: Oprah with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in their chicken coop - CBS© Provided by The Telegraph Oprah with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in their chicken coop – CBS

Oprah’s interview opened with a bucolic scene: Meghan kneeling among a host of meandering chickens inside a large wire enclosure, wearing what looked like a country-side style wax jacket.

Nearby, Harry sat quietly in the shade, wearing wellie boots and a pensive expression as he played with one of the birds.

This was “Archie’s Chick Inn”, where the couple keep chickens rescued from factory farms. The sequence, coming after Meghan spoke about the gap between her “naive”, “fairytale” expectations and the reality of life inside the institution of the British monarchy, already implied that this scene was the real fairytale.

“What does it feel like, here; what’s the word?” asked Oprah. “Peace,” said Meghan. She was, she said, excited about “being able to live authentically” and “get back down to basics”.

Lodging with the stars

a man standing in front of a fence: Meghan Harry - CBS© Provided by The Telegraph Meghan Harry – CBS

The Chick Inn is no ordinary farm. It stands in the grounds of the Sussexes’ reportedly $14.7m (£10.6m) mansion, which makes them neighbours with Oprah and other moneyed residents.

Indeed, the actual interview took place between two grand, ivy-covered stone pillars in the house of a mutual friend, who went discreetly unnamed (according to the Daily Mirror, it belongs to TV anchor and longtime friend Gayle King). It was a sign of how closely the Sussexes now rub shoulders with southern California’s Hollywood elite.

That is nothing new for Meghan, whose time in television and associated fame brought high-profile friends such as tennis star Serena Williams, Oscars “best actress” Halle Berry,  She’s All That star Gabrielle Union, The Good Place lead Jameela Jamil, stylist Jessica Mulroney and make-up artist Daniel Martin. All of them issued statements of support and solidarity before or after the interview.

The pair had cause to call on that network after their British taxpayer-funded protection was revoked. Arriving in California from Canada in March 2020, apparently just days before the US locked down, they were put up in Los Angeles by director and producer Tyler Perry, who also paid for their security detail.

text, application: Harry and Meghan© Provided by The Telegraph Harry and Meghan

California was ‘not the plan’

Tyler Perry’s role speaks to the unplanned nature of the Sussexes’ flight from Britain. About an hour and a quarter into the interview, they revealed that their departure in 2019 had been sparked by a “constant barrage” of hostile – and, Harry said, often racist – press coverage, pushed to “breaking point” by “the firm’s” alleged coldness to Meghan’s suicidal feelings.

The couple initially fetched up in British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada, with the intention of continuing to serve the Queen in a Commonwealth nation. South Africa and New Zealand were also on the cards, with the Sussexes hoping to emulate less senior royals who tour the world and assist charity work with little controversy.

That contradicts some earlier reporting that had suggested Los Angeles was a long-term goal. Either way, Meghan’s statement that the coronavirus caught them by surprise will echo many commoners’ experience.

“We didn’t plan,” said Meghan. “We needed a house and [Tyler] offered security as well, so he gave us breathing room to try to figure out what we were going to do.”

Harry continued that security was removed at “short notice”, saying: “Suddenly it dawned on me, ‘hang on a second. The border’s going to be closed, we’re gonna have our security removed, who knows how long lockdown is going to be, the world knows where we are, it’s not safe, it’s not secure. We probably need to get out of that.”

The childhood Prince Harry never had

a group of people walking on a beach: harry meghan archie - CBS© Provided by The Telegraph harry meghan archie – CBS

One of the stand-out moments was a black and white home video of Archie running across a beach, with the scenery beyond appearing cloaked by the thick fog that sometimes clings to California’s coastline and nourishes its famous redwood forests.

This, Harry said, was what he most appreciated in his new home: “an outdoor space where I can go for walks with Archie, and we go for walks as a family and with the dogs”, as well as hikes and trips to the beach, “which is so close”.

One of the most quietly emotional moments in the programme came when Harry incidentally reflected on his own childhood, growing up in a different era of royal protocol and seclusion.

“The highlight for me is sticking [Archie] on the back of the bicycle, in his little baby seat, and taking him on these bike rides – which is something I never was able to do when I was young,” he said.

“I can see him on the back, and he’s got his arms out, and he’s like ‘wooooh!’, chatty, chatty, chatty”. He said Archie, who tells adults to “drive safe” whenever they leave the house, is at a stage of exuberantly naming the things he sees: “Palm tree! House!” His current favourite word is “hydrate”.

“And I do think to myself – wow,” said Harry.

Harry finds his centre

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There was always a sense in Harry’s royal career that he was doing anything he could to escape. From his Army service, through his game of strip pool in a Las Vegas hotel, to perhaps his marriage itself, he has frequently strained against the strictures of royal custom and obligation.

In the interview, though, we saw a Harry who seemed relaxed, even at ease with himself. It is not an uncommon feeling for Europeans who find new homes on the other side of the American continent.

It matched Harry’s description of his home life when interviewed by James Corden last month, in which he described nights in with Meghan watching Netflix and mornings when Meghan makes breakfast with a waffle maker sent by the Queen.

His feeling of freedom was made explicit in his talk of his brother, William, and father, Prince Charles, remaining “trapped” in the palace archipelago. Prompted by Oprah to say whether Meghan “saved” him, he said she had “without question”.

His brief allusion to “a bigger force” being involved suggested a spiritual dimension to that answer.

One small but telling sign that the Prince feels at home in Golden State came during a serious moment. “For me, I’m just really relieved and happy to be sitting here, talking to you with my wife by my side,” he said, holding Meghan’s hand.

Linguists refer to the way American accents pronounce the T in the middle of some words – such as “winter” and “metal” – as flapping or T-voicing. To British ears, this often sounds like a D. It did not detract from the weight of the moment, and if anything added to it, when that distinctive phoneme tentatively voiced itself in the Duke of Sussex’s “sitting”.