World·Royal Fascinator

Harry and Meghan take their 'farewell tour' — but their new life may not be as peaceful as they hope

Nearly two months after Prince Harry and Meghan said they want to step back as senior members of the Royal Family, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are back in London for what some are calling their "farewell tour." But there is no guarantee their new life will give them the peace they say they want.

Duke and Duchess of Sussex return to London from Canada for their final official engagements

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, arrive at the Endeavour Fund Awards in London on Thursday. The event is part of their 'farewell tour': the couple step back from duties as senior members of the Royal Family at the end of March. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

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Nearly two months after Prince Harry and Meghan's seismic revelation that they want to step back as senior members of the Royal Family, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are back in London for what some are calling their "farewell tour."

The "tour" offers an eclectic mix of events — from support of charitable endeavours to Harry officially opening a motor racing museum to their attendance on Monday at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey.  

There, much scrutiny will be placed on their appearance with other senior members of the Royal Family, including Harry's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, his father, Prince Charles, and his brother, Prince William, and his wife, Kate.

"They are taking a huge step in giving up royal life — it is all Harry has known — and I would think that he in particular will have very mixed emotions" over the next few days, said royal biographer Penny Junor, author of Prince Harry: Brother Soldier Son.

On Thursday night, it was all smiles as Harry and Meghan attended the Endeavour Awards.

Harry and Meghan cheer on a wedding proposal as they attend the annual Endeavour Fund Awards at Mansion House on Thursday in London. The Queen seems to be leaving the door open for the couple to return to the Royal Family fold if they so wish: a 12-month review is part of the plan. (Paul Edwards/Getty Images)

"One of the main thrusts of Harry's work has been motivating injured ex-servicemen and women, and this is what the Endeavour Fund Awards are all about," Junor said via email.

"Interestingly, they were set up by the charitable foundation he and Meghan used to share with William and Kate, but from which they broke away before leaving royal work entirely."

Meghan is also expected to attend an event Sunday marking International Women's Day.

"Meghan taking part in International Women's Day is very much a reflection of her personal and strongly held interests," said Junor.

This weekend's events are widely thought to be their last official royal appearances before they step back from duties as senior members of the Royal Family on March 31.

Whether the events were chosen specifically for that or were in their royal diaries long before their decision to step back was announced isn't clear.

Harry speaks with a Formula One driver at the Silverstone racetrack on Friday in Northampton, England. Royal life is all he has ever known. (Getty Images)

"Their engagements are usually planned months in advance," said Junor. "Either way, these are causes close to their hearts."

The Commonwealth Service will see them at an event that is also very close to the Queen's heart.

"Both Harry and Meghan were given really central roles within the Commonwealth by the Queen, and I think it's important to her that if they're going to be in the U.K., they turn up for this," said Philip Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London.

Some of those roles will be given up. Others have been retained as the couple steps back from official duties but keeps some of their private charitable interests.

As much as there may be a sense of finality about the weekend's events, there is also a sense that the Queen is leaving the door open for a return if they wish. The arrangements for stepping back include a review after 12 months.

"Clearly the way is being left open for future conversations concerning their role," said Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris.

"There have been a number of unexpected developments in the Royal Family in recent months and there may well be more going forward."

One thing is more certain, however — it's unlikely their new life, which has seen them settle on Vancouver Island, will rid them of something that had clearly been a difficulty for them.

"While they may be hoping that they will be able to lead a more private life in [the] future, so far there is no indication that the tabloids plan to leave them in peace," said Junor.

Soft diplomacy on display

Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, visit a traditional family-owned Irish pub on Thursday in Galway, Ireland. The couple toured Ireland for three days this week as Harry and Meghan arrived in the United Kingdom. (Arthur Edwards/Getty Images)

While the Royals may try to avoid any overt public displays of politics, they don't shy away from soft diplomacy.

That's been front and centre this week as William and Kate visited the Republic of Ireland, and will be at the heart of trips Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, make later this month to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus and Jordan.

All of this comes in the shadow of Brexit, which included much concern over what would happen with the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. And it was hard not to see the spectre of the U.K.'s departure from the European Union in the speech William made in Dublin on Wednesday night.

"As we look ahead to some changes in our relationship, we must never forget how far we have come together in recent decades in transforming the relationships across our two islands," he said.

The Queen made a historic visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011, which Harris said "was seen as key to addressing the difficult historic relationship between Britain and Ireland."

William and Kate help prepare soup during their visit to Savannah House, a residential facility run by charity Extern, in County Meath, north of Dublin, on Wednesday. Their tour came at a delicate time because of a growing interest in Irish unity. (Gerry Mooney/AFP via Getty Images)

Charles has also visited, including a 2015 trip to the site of the murder of his great uncle and mentor, Louis Mountbatten, at the hands of the Irish Republican Army.

"There's some evidence there's a growing interest in Ireland in Irish unity, so certainly this is a delicate time for the members of the Royal Family to visit Ireland," said Harris.

But it was a warm Irish welcome all around for William and Kate during their three-day visit, which included sombre moments as they laid a wreath at a memorial to those who died for Irish independence, and lighter moments as they sampled Guinness and tried their hands at everything from juggling to hurling.

"'I just love them' — hundreds welcome British royals to Galway," read a headline in The Irish Times on Thursday.

Cyprus is another member of the European Union, so that visit by Charles and Camilla later in March falls in line with a recent trend of European visits by members of the Royal Family.

"In terms of the visit to Jordan, the British and Jordanian royal families have a warm relationship and Prince Charles has a lot of interest in interfaith dialogue," said Harris. 

William and Kate take part in some hurling and gaelic football on Thursday in Galway. (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

"It's an opportunity for Charles and Camilla to serve in a diplomatic role and to be able to assist with relations between the United Kingdom and Jordan."

While such trips are part of the regular royal routine, they may be receiving more scrutiny right now because they stand in marked contrast to the other more personal royal news dominating the media lately — the departure of Meghan and Harry from the senior ranks.

"Now, what might be seen as routine royal visits are attracting a lot of attention, as there's a lot of interest in how the roles of  senior members ... are being organized," said Harris.  

"It's been noted Charles has 51 engagements in nine days — so are their schedules going to grow busier or will we simply expect to see fewer overseas tours going forward?"

One other question still outstanding: Will there be a high-profile visit to Canada this year? No official word on that yet.

Not on the taxpayers' tab — after March 31

It was a question that loomed over Harry and Meghan and their time in Canada for weeks: Would taxpayers be covering the costs of security for the couple while they are in the country?

Finally, the federal government had an answer the other day, and it was multi-pronged. Yes, the government had been helping out with security since they arrived in November. But no, there won't be any more support after March 31, when Harry and Meghan are no longer carrying out official duties as senior members of the Royal Family.

The decision left the Canadian Taxpayers Federation "pretty pleased," federal director Aaron Wudrick said.

"There are not a lot of issues where I get a lot of proactive phone calls and emails from people who are upset, and this was one of them," he said. "So I think those people are going to be pleased they're not going to be on the hook for the Duke and Duchess after the end of March."

People wish the couple well, he said. "It's not personal."

Harry and Meghan won't be here in any official capacity, and that makes a difference, Wudrick suggested.

"They're essentially viewed by most of the public as wealthy celebrities, and like any wealthy celebrity that moves here, there isn't really any obligation for everybody else to pay for things like their security."

Wudrick said it was "a bit surprising" to learn how long the government had been paying for their security. While the couple had arrived in November, their presence here was not publicly confirmed until just before Christmas.  

"As much as I think some people might still be upset about the fact we paid at all, I think what's more important is that … Canadians are not being asked to pay indefinitely for them."

Royals in Canada

Queen Elizabeth II was greeted by smiles and plenty of flowers in Vancouver, B.C., after arriving from Victoria aboard the Royal Yacht on March 9, 1983. Her warm reception in Canada may foreshadow a level of interest in Harry and Meghan that may keep them from the quiet life they desire. (Nick Didlick/Canadian Press)

Harry and Meghan may be seeking a quieter life on Vancouver Island, but other Royals received a rousing welcome when they came for official visits to British Columbia.

An estimated 15,000 people were on hand when Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip arrived in Victoria on March 8, 1983, the Globe and Mail reported. A "bathtub flotilla" and a crowd estimated at more than 10,000 welcomed Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip when they arrived in Nanaimo a couple of days later.

"The security all but vanished and children ignored rope cordons when nearly everyone who lives in this Vancouver Island city turned out yesterday to see the Queen," the Globe reported.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is seated next to Queen Elizabeth at an official dinner he hosted in her honour in Vancouver on March 10, 1983. Thousands of people turned out for their arrival in British Columbia. (Peter Bregg/The Canadian Press)

The four-day visit to British Columbia also took Elizabeth and Philip to Vancouver, Vernon, Kamloops and New Westminster, and came at the end of a month-long tour to the U.S. West Coast.

Royally quotable

William and Kate prepare to lay a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance, which remembers those who fought for Irish freedom, in Dublin on Tuesday. (Gerry Mooney/AFP via Getty Images)

"It is right that we continue to remember those who suffered as a consequence of our troubled past. And whilst many wrongs have been done, it is important that we are not bound by these."

— Prince William speaks at the Museum of Literature in Dublin as he and his wife, Kate, visit Ireland.

Royal reads

  1. Harry teamed up with American rocker Jon Bon Jovi at the studio made famous by The Beatles. [CBC]

  2. Is something going on behind the scenes at two royal Instagram accounts? It's a very interesting question. [New York Times]   

  3. Seeds from wild carrot, clover and orchids and other plants in Prince Charles's garden at his country residence are being added to a "doomsday vault" in Norway. [Daily Mail]

  4. Queen Elizabeth went to the headquarters of MI5 the other day, and praised intelligence workers for the "tireless work" they do. [ITV]

  5. Just what is life like for the personal protection officers who are with members of the Royal Family? [ITV]

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