Our one-to-one conversation took place during a royal tour of New Zealand as his 10-year career as Captain Harry Wales was drawing to a close. A few weeks earlier, in February 2015, I had broken the story that Harry had decided to end his active military career after serving two tours on the frontline in Afghanistan with distinction.
“What are you going to do next?” I asked the prince, who was then 30. “You’ll probably know before me,” he joked, in a nod to my story. But he soon became reflective. He wanted, he said, to use his celebrity for the good of others.
It was clear that he didn’t really want to leave military service, a career he loved, and would miss the camaraderie — but he felt the time had come. Only one of his peers who had joined at the same time as him, he said, was still in the military, and he really didn’t want to “fly a desk”.
It was time to spread his wings. We spoke about his plans to focus on his charity work and desire to spend “a significant period abroad” on field projects in Africa, which he later did.
But mostly he was driven to give back to those military men and women who had been seriously injured in the field or had suffered mental trauma. Within a couple of years, Harry was rightly being lauded for his humanitarian work, especially in creating and developing his Invictus Games — which have been likened to an Olympics for injured military personnel.
It has been his major achievement. With the Invictus Games, he has given hope, pride, a sense of being part of a team and belief back to so many of his brothers and sisters in arms profoundly impacted by their time in the military.
“No one leaves a battlefield unchanged and not all scars can be seen,” Harry said. “In a world where so many have reasons to feel cynical and apathetic, I wanted to find a way for veterans to be a beacon of light, and show us all that we have a role to play.” He went on: “We all win when we respect our friends, neighbours and communities. That’s why we created Invictus.”
After years of being dubbed the rebel prince, with unwanted headlines about cavorting nude in Las Vegas or wearing a Nazi uniform at a fancy dress party, he had turned a corner.
He has grown in stature as a royal having been given a special role as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador by the Queen. Harry is now much more focused and driven and is determined to make his Queen, country and family proud.
In Meghan he has not only found the woman of his dreams, but a kindred spirit. Her African-American heritage had drawn her to helping the sick and poor children of Africa long before she met Harry. His work with Sentebale, the charity he established in memory of his mother Diana to support children affected by HIV in Lesotho and
Botswana, has been another of his great achievements.
Clearly, it is a cause Meghan will support him with. After all, Botswana is special to them. It is where they fell in love under the stars on a camping holiday early in their romance. It is also the hotly tipped destination for the newlyweds’ honeymoon.
Meghan, like Harry, is driven to help others, to speak out for those whose voices might otherwise not be heard.
Harry was born into privilege and, by the time they met, Meghan was also wealthy, having made a success of her acting career with a starring role as Rachel Zane in Suits. But both wanted to give something back. Before wiping her charity slate clean on entering her new royal world, Meghan was a UN women’s advocate and publicly supported Emma Watson’s He For She campaign. She was also an ambassador for Canada’s World Vision Clean Water campaign and as part of that role, she travelled to Rwanda.
Commenting on how she managed to combine her acting career with her humanitarian commitments, she said: “While my life shifts from refugee camps to red carpets, I choose them both because these worlds can, in fact, co-exist. And for me, they must.”
The Queen is keen to use their combined skills to connect with the next generation of the Commonwealth. One of their first tours will be to Australia, then on to Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand in October.
In this monarchy in transition— despite now being sixth in line to the throne as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s young family expands — Harry and Meghan will play a key role on the world stage.
As Harry revealed in April, she is “hugely excited” to help young people’s voices be heard around the Commonwealth with him. Delivering his first speech as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador, it was heartfelt when he said he was “incredibly grateful” that the “woman I am about to marry” would be joining him in his new job.