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The Sussexes’ thoughts about moving to a Commonwealth country were aired during their bombshell Oprah Winfrey interview, when the duchess revealed at the time they wanted to “take a step back” and had suggested New Zealand, South Africa or Canada.
Dame Patsy revealed details about her discussions with the duke and duchess in an interview with the Associated Press, ahead of the governor-general stepping down from her post in October when her five-year term ends.
She recalled the couple were tired, adding: “I remember they’d just been down to the Abel Tasman National Park when we sat down and had a drink, and they said that they could imagine living in a place like this and wondered whether we thought it would be theoretically possible. Even possible for them to have a place in New Zealand.
“Of course, we said, ‘Sure. It would be fine’. There are lots of opportunities to live in New Zealand, but that would be something that they’d have to explore.
“They were looking at how they might raise their family. And obviously they’ve made some decisions since.”
Harry and Meghan had visited New Zealand over a few days at the end of October and beginning of November 2018, the last stop in a hectic 16-day royal tour of the South Pacific.
Dame Patsy said she did not view it as a formal request for assistance but more of an informal discussion about the couple’s hopes for the future.
She said they seemed impressed with access to the outdoors and their interactions with New Zealanders.
During the month of October, former royal aide Jason Knauf, who at the time worked for the Sussexes as their communications secretary, made a bullying complaint against the duchess to the Duke of Cambridge’s then private secretary, in an apparent attempt to force Buckingham Palace to protect staff.
Meghan revealed in her Winfrey interview how a few months later in mid-January 2019 when pregnant with son Archie, she told Harry she was having suicidal thoughts and said to her husband she could not be left alone, when he suggested she not attend an event at the Royal Albert Hall.
The Sussexes’ decision to leave the UK was effectively made a year after their New Zealand trip when, following a royal tour to southern Africa, they travelled to North America for a break in autumn 2019 and never permanently returned.
The governor-general was asked about her relationship with the Queen and added that she regularly expresses her confidential views of what is happening in New Zealand with its head of state, such as the nation’s response to the pandemic.
She said the communication “is quite touchingly old-fashioned, by letter”.
“She has told me on the times that I’ve seen her that she finds it interesting to have a personal perspective on what’s happening,” Dame Patsy said.
“As she says, ‘I like to know what’s happening between the lines’.”
Many people in New Zealand believe the country should become an independent republic but Dame Patsy said she believes the Queen should remain the head of state because the arrangement works and has strong historical links.
She said New Zealand has a special connection to the monarchy because its founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed by Maori and a representative of Queen Victoria.
Asked about a future scenario in which a monarch might turn out to be dictatorial or autocratic, Dame Patsy said the same scenario with an elected president would be likely to be worse.
“We’ve seen how that doesn’t work in other countries in the world,” she said.
“But actually, because the monarch is much more of a theoretical construct, a figurehead rather than an actual ruler, I think it gives us a measure of safety, constitutional safety.”
She said she agreed with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s assessment that there was currently little appetite among New Zealanders for a constitutional change, and that people were concerned about more pressing issues such as climate change, inequality and the pandemic.