She strode to the podium in a monochromatic red ensemble with red trousers, blouse, scarf and pumps, her hair pulled back in a long ponytail. Harry, watching from the sidelines, wore a navy suit and tie.
The duchess greeted the clapping crowd and pronounced it “very nice to be back in the U.K.”
Meghan recalled her first time at the event in 2014. “I was the girl from ‘Suits,’ and I was surrounded by world leaders, humanitarians, prime ministers and activists that I had such a deep and long-standing respect and admiration for,” she told the delegates. “And I was invited to pull up a seat at the table.”
The crowd whooped approvingly as she looked over at her husband and smiled. “To meet again here on U.K. soil, with him by my side, makes it all feel full circle,” Meghan added.
She spoke of representation, inclusion and access, and applauded attendees for being ambassadors for shifting the global perspective “to one of curiosity over criticism.”
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It’s the second time Harry, 37, and Meghan, 41, have been in Harry’s homeland in two months, after a brief trip in July for grandmother Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. They made only one public appearance then and spent most of their time behind closed doors with their children, Archie, 3, and Lilibet, 1, at Frogmore Cottage in Windsor. (This time the kids are not with them.)
They have not said whether they plan to follow the same low-key approach beyond their three announced public appearances – which include stops in London and Dusseldorf, Germany – for charities they described as “close to their hearts.”
The couple, who now live in California, also visited the U.K. briefly in April, on their way to attend the Invictus Games in the Netherlands. They dropped in for a quick chat with the queen at Windsor Castle, but were never seen in public.
The Sussexes should not expect to be welcomed with open arms for this visit – especially not by the British media, which greeted their arrival with headlines describing them in terms such as “tragic” and “delusional.”
Nearly two-thirds of Britons are unsympathetic toward the couple, according to recent polling by YouGov.
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Nor should anyone expect a warm reunion with Harry’s royal relations, including father Prince Charles and brother Prince William.
Key relatives are out of town or busy. The 96-year-old queen, who is at her Scottish vacation castle, Balmoral, is dealing with ongoing “mobility” issues.
She had to pull out of attending her beloved Braemar Gathering, the 900-year-old Highland Games event nearby, which she has never missed in her 70-year reign. Charles and his wife, Duchess Camilla, and the queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, attended in her place.
The queen will stay put at Balmoral and spend Tuesday carrying out her constitutional duty as head of state to swear in Liz Truss as the new head of government to replace outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
It’s the first time in her reign (14 prime ministers) this transition has taken place away from London.
Meanwhile, the relationship between the Sussexes and the royal family remains icy in the wake of their stunning departure in 2020 and head-smacking TV interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021.
And looming on the horizon is Harry’s “intimate and heartfelt” memoir, expected to be published by Penguin Random House by the end of the year.
For months, royal commentators have been wringing hands that Harry’s book will be a full-on attack on his family and on the monarchy, a chance for him to release pent-up resentment of how “the institution” has treated him, his wife, and his late mother, Princess Diana.
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Love them or loathe them, few Brits are indifferent about Harry and Meghan, it appears.
“I’m puzzled why they are coming,” read one of the many headlines in the Daily Mail last week about the couple’s visit.
One tabloid interviewed people on the street in Manchester before the Sussexes’ One Young World appearance.
“They’re not welcome,” Helen Jones, 52, a lifelong resident of the U.K.’s second-largest city told the Express. “I’m not sure why they have decided to come back, I don’t think they’re very popular here.”
But they’re still popular with at least some charities and socially conscious organizations, such as the One Young World summit, described as a conference of more than 2,000 of the “brightest young leaders from every country and sector, working to accelerate social impact.”
On Tuesday, they’ll go to Dusseldorf to promote “One Year to Go” to the next Invictus Games, to be held there in September 2023. The international athletic competitions for wounded warriors and veterans were founded by Harry in 2014 and continue to be one of his most admired causes.
On Thursday, the couple will return to London to attend the WellChild Awards, the annual gala for a charity that helps to support seriously ill children and their families. Harry has been its patron since 2007.
Harry and Meghan’s U.S.-based Archewell team have given few details about what else the couple might be doing during the visit, nor have they discussed the sensitive issue of their security protection while they are in the U.K.
Harry, who cited safety threats as one of the reasons why they left, is in litigation with the government over whether he and his family should get high-level royal protection, and who should pay for it, when they are in the U.K.
Harry and Meghan can count on at least some support from admirers this week: From budding young world leaders. From sick-but-valiant children. And from wounded warriors pushing themselves in athletic competitions. For now, it may be enough.
Contributing: Kim Willis
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