'That was the master plan': Why Harry and Meghan were going to California — just maybe not so soon

Prince Harry and Meghan’s move from Canada to California in recent days seems likely to have been the inevitable end goal for the couple who have officially started their life outside the senior ranks of the Royal Family this week. It just came sooner than might have been expected.

Concern over travel from Canada to U.S. during pandemic may have spurred sudden move

Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, arrive at the Endeavour Fund Awards in London on March 5 in one of their final engagements before stepping back as senior members of the Royal Family. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

In the end, it really isn't a surprise.

Maybe the timing is unexpected, but Prince Harry and Meghan's reported move to California in recent days seems likely to have been the inevitable end goal for the couple who this week officially started their life outside the senior ranks of the Royal Family.

"They were always heading to L.A. That was the master plan," Katie Nicholl, Vanity Fair's royal correspondent, said via email.

But as with so much else in the world right now, the coronavirus pandemic may have prompted a change in their plans, and moved up the timing of their departure from Vancouver Island, where they had been living with their young son, Archie, since November.

"I think with North America shutting down because of COVID, they decided to move to California sooner," said Nicholl.

"Meghan wants to be near her mum [who lives in Los Angeles], which is understandable at this time, and they clearly have projects in the pipeline and wanted to get to L.A. as quickly as possible."

Harry and Meghan arrive to attend the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London, England, on March 9. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

Still, it's a move that raised some eyebrows in the U.K., and leaves lingering questions about why they decamped so soon from Canada, which seemed to be in line as their temporary home at least for a little while as they seek to carve out a new life of financial independence.

"Their early announcements suggest that they might have hoped to undertake royal duties on a part-time basis, and a home in the Commonwealth might have been part of the plan if Prince Harry had retained his role as a Commonwealth youth ambassador," Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris said via email.

But things didn't work out that way, with Harry giving up that role as part of the agreement for him and Meghan stepping back from official duties.

"Instead, they are pursuing independent careers in addition to their philanthropy," said Harris, "and are following outside opportunities such as Meghan's recent project narrating the Disneynature documentary Elephant."

That documentary is set to premiere on Disney+ on Friday, and has received mixed reviews in the U.K. media, with comments ranging from the Telegraph calling Meghan a "snug fit for this sweet nature doc" to the Guardian saying she adds "schmaltz" to the "Disney yarn." 

Thanks to Canada

Harris said the short duration of their stay in Canada is also "perhaps surprising" given the fact that their last public appearance as senior members of the Royal Family came at the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey earlier this month, and they visited Canada House in London in January to express their thanks for the hospitality they had received while in Canada over the holidays.

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The move to California, according to various media reports, may have taken place about 10 days ago. 

It also raised questions in some quarters in the British media about whether the couple should have considered going back to the U.K., given the serious circumstances surrounding the pandemic, and came at the same time as Harry's father, Prince Charles, tested positive for the coronavirus. (He has since come out of self-isolation, and a palace official has said he is in good health, the BBC reported.)

Royal expert Richard Fitzwilliams told that the timing of their Hollywood move might be perceived by some as selfish.

While the timing was driven by the "imminent closing" of the border between the U.S. and Canada, Fitzwilliams said "the image this will create is that they are on a journey for themselves at a time when their undoubted global reach could give some succour to others."

Could have 'won praise'

Fitzwilliams also suggested the couple missed an opportunity by not returning to the U.K. 

"If they had temporarily returned to Britain, whatever their personal feelings, this would have been a selfless move and it would have won universal praise."

Harry, top centre, and Meghan sit behind Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, during the Commonwealth Service. It was Harry and Meghan's last official engagement as senior members of the Royal Family, (Phil Harris/The Associated Press)

But returning to the U.K. might not have been easy — or perhaps realistic right now.

"Frogmore Cottage, their house in Windsor, would have been a very safe place to self-isolate, and Harry must, of course, be anxious about his father and his grandparents [Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip]," royal biographer Penny Junor, author of Prince Harry: Brother Soldier Son, said via email.

"But equally, Meghan's mother is in L.A. It must have been a tough choice, but having made their decision to step back, it would have been difficult to reverse that decision so quickly in order to show solidarity."

Not right now

Nicholl said she can't see Harry and Meghan moving back to the U.K. at the moment, given that they have just moved to L.A. 

"And with the royals in isolation, there isn't much they can do, although I suspect Harry will probably be feeling far from home right now," Nicholl said. 

"They won't want to take any risks by travelling, and their priority is to keep Archie settled and in a routine. I think they will come to the U.K. when it is safer to do so."

There could also have been basic logistical challenges that kept them from crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

"A few weeks ago, a return to the United Kingdom certainly would have been a viable option for Harry and Meghan, but there are now fewer planes crossing the Atlantic because the United States has banned all but essential travel from the United Kingdom and Europe," said Harris.

Harry and Meghan visit Canada House in London, England, on Jan. 7, in thanks for the warm Canadian hospitality and support they received during their stay on Vancouver Island over the holidays. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images)

Such a trip could also have renewed focus on their travel, which was criticized last summer when they made four private jet flights within 11 days.

"If Harry and Meghan were to return to the United Kingdom at this time, they would likely attract criticism for travelling on a trans-Atlantic flight during a pandemic," said Harris.

Other factors that could have played into the decision to go to California include questions of taxation and residency.

Security considerations?

"The decision to move to Los Angeles may also have been influenced by security considerations," said Harris. "During their time in Canada, Harry and Meghan received British and Canadian security, but they will engage private security services in the United States."

President Donald Trump tweeted on the weekend that the U.S. wouldn't be paying for their security, and a spokesperson for the couple said they had no plans to ask for such support.

As much as the move means Meghan, a former actor who grew up in Los Angeles, is back in familiar territory, questions also remain regarding Harry's feelings toward the move.

"I would be surprised if all of this has made Harry happy," said Junor.

While he may be trying to make Meghan happy by taking her back to her home, her job and people she knows and loves, Harry is moving away from what is familiar to him, Junor suggested.

"But in so doing, he has left his home, his job and everyone he knows and loves. I fear there are going to be some very difficult times ahead for him."

What's next for them isn't clear. In a social media post earlier this week, they told supporters "you've been great," and said they "look forward to reconnecting with you soon."


Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.