The Duke and Duchess of Sussex made headlines on Jan. 8 when they announced they’d be stepping down from their roles in the British royal family, leading many to speculate what led to their decision and what was in store for the couple going forward.
Since officially stepping down in March, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have relocated to Los Angeles with their son, Archie, and have continued the philanthropic work that has been at the core of their relationship since they began dating in 2017.
Despite the constraints placed by the coronavirus pandemic, the couple has made numerous virtual appearances over the last nine months to spotlight issues like gender inequality, racial injustice, voter suppression and veterans affairs. They’ve also slowly started building their budding media empire with major deals with Netflix and Spotify, all while establishing their new charitable foundation, Archewell.
January: The Announcement
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex sent shockwaves across the world when they announced on Jan. 8 that they’d be stepping down as senior members of the royal family.
“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” the couple wrote on their joint Instagram account. “We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty the Queen.”
The announcement came after the royal couple — Markle in particular — faced intense scrutiny by the media, which led to the couple filing several lawsuits against British tabloids and making public statements about how the coverage was impacting their mental health.
It was reported that Prince Harry and Markle were in discussions with the royal family for months over their decision to step back from their roles, however, were rushed to put out their Jan. 8 statement because the news was leaked to a tabloid.
Buckingham Palace followed the couple’s statement with one of its own, stating: “discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
Later in the month, Buckingham Palace announced that as part of Prince Harry and Markle’s decision to step back as senior royals, they could no longer use their HRH royal titles and were required to step back from their royal duties in full, including Prince Harry’s military associations.
February: Withdrawing “Sussex Royal” Trademarks
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex reaffirmed they were launching a new charitable organization as part of their new life outside of the royal family, a venture they had started working on the previous year when they broke off from the joint charity, The Royal Foundation, that Prince William and Prince Harry had set up together in 2009.
While they had been working on the launch of their new charity, which they revealed would be called Sussex Royal The Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex last year, their decision to step down from the royal family interfered with their plans.
The royal couple had filed numerous trademarks under “Sussex Royal” on June 21, 2019, for an array of goods and services, but ultimately withdrew the application on Feb. 21 because they were no longer able to use the word “royal” in their branding.
“While the Duke and Duchess are focused on plans to establish a new nonprofit organization, given the specific U.K. government rules surrounding use of the word ‘Royal,’ it has been therefore agreed that their nonprofit organization, when it is announced this spring, will not be named Sussex Royal Foundation,” a spokesperson for the couple said in a statement.
March: Their Farewell Tour
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex returned to London in early March for their final royal duties before officially stepping down from their roles.
Prince Harry and Markle’s last engagements, dubbed their “Farewell Tour,” ran from March 5 to March 9 where they made appearances at the Endeavour Fund Awards, the Mountbatten Festival of Music and participated in events for International Women’s Day.
On the last day of the tour, the duke and duchess joined other members of the British royal family at the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey. The couple traveled without their son Archie for their last royal engagements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was increasing its global spread in early March.
After their final engagements, Prince Harry and Markle returned to their Vancouver Island home where they’d been staying since announcing their split from the royal family in January. It was later reported that the couple and their son left Canada and relocated to a private complex in Los Angeles.
Since relocating to California, the duke and duchess have continued their philanthropic work. The couple started working with Project Angel Food, a charity that provides meals to individuals impacted by illnesses, and made personal food deliveries to those in need in the Los Angeles area.
Their last official day as working royals was on March 31.
April: Archewell Foundation
Prince Harry and Markle finally revealed their new nonprofit organization, Archewell, on April 6.
The couple plans to use the organization to create a multimedia educational empire, a well-being web site and offer emotional support groups, among other things. The previous month, they had filed several trademark requests under Archewell with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for goods and services such as apparel, education materials, magazines, films, podcasts and more.
The charity’s name was partially inspired by their son, Archie, and from the Greek word “arche,” which means “source of action.”
The Duchess of Sussex also returned to the film industry in April, lending her voice to the Disneynature documentary, “Elephant.”
It was reported that Markle landed the voiceover deal last year thanks to her husband. At the London premiere of “The Lion King” in 2019, Prince Harry was seen in a video where he’s telling former Disney chief executive officer Bob Iger that Markle was interested in doing voiceovers.
May: Archie’s First Birthday
The duke and duchess celebrated their son Archie’s first birthday by teaming with Save the Children’s #SaveWithStories campaign, which raises funds for children impacted by the pandemic.
The couple released a video to the organization of Markle reading baby Archie one of his favorite books, “Duck! Rabbit!” to support the cause.
June: Markle’s Commencement Speech
Markle was one of many high-profile figures that spoke at virtual graduation ceremonies this spring. The duchess spoke at her own alma mater, the Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, addressing the class of 2020 on their accomplishments while also touching on the recent police killings of unarmed Black people across the country.
“George Floyd’s life mattered, and Breonna Taylor’s life mattered, and Philando Castile’s life mattered, and Tamir Rice’s life mattered,” she said, “And so did so many other people whose names we know and whose names we don’t know. I’m so sorry you have to grow up in a world where this is still present.”
The duchess then talked about how the silver lining she sees in the issue is that people are coming together to stand in solidarity against racial injustice.
“You are going to be a part of this movement,” she said. “I know that this is not the graduation that you envisioned. And this is not the celebration that you imagined, but I also know that there is a way for us to reframe this and to not see this as the end of something, but instead to see this as the beginning of you harnessing all of the work, all of the values and skills you have embodied over the last four years. Now you channel that and all of that work gets activated.”
Additionally in June, Prince Harry and Markle hit a roadblock for their Archewell charitable organization when their trademark application was in standstill due to several issues with the initial application. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office stated the couple’s description of certain goods and services were “indefinite and too broad” and asked the couple to “describe the product, its main purpose and its intended uses.” The standstill is common in the trademark application process.
The couple has since revised and resubmitted their Archewell trademark application and are waiting for official approval.
July: Girl Up Leadership Summit
Markle joined the Girl Up Leadership Summit on July 14 as a keynote speaker, where she spoke about breaking barriers to make progress on issues like gender equality and racial injustice.
“Girl Up members are organizing Black Lives Matter protests around the world, creating films to encourage your peers to become activist leaders,” she said. “You are reforming the criminal justice system. You are telling your school boards we need more mental health resources for all ages. You’re leading coalitions to end gun violence. You are standing up and demanding to be heard, yes, but you are also demanding to own the conversation.”
She also spoke about the importance of creating a healthier digital community to aid in this progress.
“Your generation is often referred to as digital natives, and you understand that our online world has the power to affirm and support as much as it does to harm,” she said. “We are not meant to be breaking each other down. We are meant to be building each other up, so use your voice both on and offline to do just that — build each other up and support each other. Your voices are those of truth and hope. And your voices can and should be much louder.”
August: Teaming With Gloria Steinem
Duchess Meghan teamed with activist Gloria Steinem in August for a conversation on the importance of voting for Makers Women. The two women appeared in a short video together and Makers Women released a full transcript of the interview.
Markle and Steinem spoke about the pivotal role that Black women play in each election, specifically within the Democratic party.
“We’ve been rescued by women of color in all of our recent elections because of a vote of conscience and compassion,” Steinem said. “The heart of the Democratic party has been Black women, actually, and now there is a potential vice president who is Black and that’s exciting.”
Markle responded with: “I’m so excited to see that kind of representation. You know, for me, being biracial, growing up, whether it was a doll or a person in office, you need to see someone who looks like you in some capacity. As many of us believe, you can only be what you can see. And in the absence of that, how can you aspire to something greater than what you see in your own world? I think maybe now we’re starting to breakthrough in a different way.”
Steinem later revealed she teamed with Markle again in September to cold-call voters to make sure they would participate in the upcoming presidential election.
September: Major Deal With Netflix
Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan revealed one of their biggest ventures in September since stepping down from the royal family: a multiyear deal with Netflix.
The couple is working with the streaming service to create documentaries, docuseries, feature films, scripted shows and children’s programming. The duke and duchess will appear on-camera for their documentary programming, but Markle has no plans to take on any acting roles.
“Our focus will be on creating content that informs, but also gives hope,” the couple said in a statement. “As new parents, making inspirational family programming is also important to us.”
Later in the month, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle participated in Time Magazine’s “Time 100” television special on Sept. 22 where they appeared in a pre-recorded video discussing the importance of voting in the upcoming U.S. presidential election and the harm that hate speech and misinformation can have.
“Every four years we are told the same thing,” Markle said. “That this is the most important election of our lifetime. But this one is. When we vote, our values are put into action and our voices are heard. Your voice is a reminder that you matter, because you do and you deserve to be heard.”
The appearance was met with some criticism, as it’s long been considered taboo for British royals to become involved in another country’s politics.
Markle made another pre-recorded appearance in September during Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit, where she gave more details about the couple’s Archewell foundation.
The duchess spoke about the couple’s interest in working with issues such as veterans affairs, the environment and women’s rights. However, she also stated that online hate speech and misinformation can at times interfere with this type of work.
”If you continue to hit this brick wall of, at the moment, what is happening in the digital and online space, then in many ways it’s like taking two steps forward and five steps backward,” Markle said. “So part of our focus with Archwell is to just ensure that we are helping foster healthy positive communities, online and off, for our collective well-being.”
October: Time 100 Talks Special
The royal couple teamed with Time Magazine again in October to host a special episode of its Time 100 Talks series.
The episode, titled “Engineering a Better World,” included guests such as Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, Rappler chief executive officer and executive editor Maria Ressa and Center for Humane Technology president and cofounder Tristan Harris, among others.
November: Markle’s New York Times Op-Ed
Duchess Meghan penned an emotional op-ed for the New York Times on Nov. 25, titled “The Losses We Share,” where she revealed she had suffered a miscarriage over the summer. She started the piece recounting a typical July morning when she was getting her son Archie ready for the day.
“After changing his diaper, I felt a sharp cramp,” the duchess wrote. “I dropped to the floor with him in my arms, humming a lullaby to keep us both calm, the cheerful tune a stark contrast to my sense that something was not right. I knew, as I clutched my firstborn child, that I was losing my second.”
She went on to reflect on a viral interview she gave during the couple’s royal tour of Africa in 2019, where the journalist asked the duchess if she was OK after dealing with negative publicity through her pregnancy. Markle responded with: “Any woman, especially when they’re pregnant, you’re really vulnerable, so that made it really challenging. And then when you have a newborn, you know? And especially as a woman, it’s really, it’s a lot. You add this on top of just trying to be a new mom or trying to be a newlywed.”
She also thanked the journalist for asking if she was OK, as not many people had asked her that since joining the royal family. Markle’s honest reply resonated with many and was considered a pivotal moment in the lead up to the couple’s decision to step down from their royal roles.
In grappling with the grief surrounding her miscarriage, Markle went on to write that the way to begin healing was to first ask “Are you OK?”
“Are we?” she asked. “This year has brought so many of us to our breaking points. Loss and pain have plagued every one of us in 2020, in moments both fraught and debilitating.”
She then listed many of the year’s harrowing moments, such as the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, peaceful protests on police brutality that turned violent and the mounting death toll caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Markle concluded the piece by stating the importance of human connection and compassion in getting through 2020’s many challenges.
“We are adjusting to a new normal where faces are concealed by masks, but it’s forcing us to look into one another’s eyes — sometimes filled with warmth, other times with tears,” she wrote. “For the first time, in a long time, as human beings, we are really seeing one another. Are we OK? We will be.”
December: Podcast Deal With Spotify
Prince Harry and Markle signed their second major joint deal on Dec. 15 with Spotify. The multiyear deal is between the audio streaming service and the royal couple’s newly formed audio company, Archewell.
Through the partnership, the royal couple will host and produce podcasts that “uplifts and entertains audiences around the world” and “spotlights diverse perspectives,” according to Spotify.
Their first podcast is a holiday special released later this month that features “stories of hope and compassion from inspirational guests in celebration of the new year.” Their first complete series will debut on Spotify next year.
Just a day prior to the Spotify deal, it was reported that Markle made her first public investment in Clevr Brands, a wellness start-up that specializes in oat milk lattes.
“This investment is in support of a passionate female entrepreneur who prioritizes building community alongside her business,” Markle told Fortune magazine. “I’m proud to invest in [ceo Hannah Mendoza’s] commitment to sourcing ethical ingredients and creating a product that I personally love and [that] has a holistic approach to wellness. I believe in her, and I believe in her company.”
Earlier in the month, Markle also made a surprise appearance during the “CNN Heroes” special on Dec. 13, where she appeared in a pre-recorded video thanking essential workers who provided food to immunocompromised people and those in need during the pandemic.
“These individuals stood up and made sure the most basic needs of our communities were met,” she said. “They made sure that those around them did not have to suffer in isolation. They nourished their neighbors in more ways than one and they showed us, all of us, that even in the darkest times, when we come together we have the power to remind someone else that there is hope and that we will be OK.”
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