Harry and Meghan's regret: Sussexes missed Queen's final years

Harry and Meghan’s lost years with the Queen: How a bitter family rift, scathing attacks on the family and bombshell interviews drove the Duke and Duchess of Sussex from Her Majesty – and meant she hardly knew Archie and Lilibet

  • Death of Queen Elizabeth II has been announced at the age of 96, ending longest reign of any British monarch
  • The last few years for the monarch and her grandson the Duke of Sussex, 37, were tense 
  • Meghan Markle, 41, and Prince Harry had only seen the Queen in person a few times in 2020
  • Monarch barely knew great-grandchild Lilibet. It is thought they met just once 
  • Comes after Megxit and Prince Harry and Meghan’s ongoing explosive press interviews 
  • Full coverage: Click here to see all our coverage of the Queen’s passing

Prince Harry arrived at Balmoral an hour-and-a-half after it was announced that his grandmother the Queen had died aged 96. 

The Duke of Sussex, 37, had spent time in the UK in the last week but it is not thought he made the journey to Balmoral to see his grandmother in the days before her death. 

It marks the end of a difficult chapter in the relationship between the Queen and her grandson and his wife, Meghan Markle, 41.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to step back as senior royals in 2020 and decamp to California in March of that year effectively severed the close relationship that Prince Harry had enjoyed with his grandmother during much of his lifetime. 

The bitter family feud followed in the years after the couple chose to live in the US – with Harry remaining at war with the brother and father he once held so dear. 

The couple have also presented an apparent resistance at visiting the UK, citing ‘security concerns’, although they did manage to see the Queen at least twice this year. It had looked like Harry’s relationship with his grandmother could be reduced to Zoom calls during the final years of her reign. 

Prince Harry has landed in Aberdeen – shortly after the death of his grandmother, the Queen , was announced

In happier times: The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and Meghan Markle’s mother Doria Ragland photographed with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in June 2019, shortly after the birth of Harry and Meghan’s son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor

Earlier in the year the Queen faced a blow when the Sussexes (pictured on September 6) did not return for the Duke of Edinburgh’s memorial service in March 2022, despite knowing that the Queen had already made the decision to reduce her royal workload and was ‘slowing down’ 

Earlier in the year the Queen faced a blow when the Sussexes did not return for the Duke of Edinburgh’s memorial service in March 2022, despite knowing that the Queen had already made the decision to reduce her royal workload and was ‘slowing down’. 

But they returned to see the Queen in April after flying into the UK, stopping at Windsor on their way to the Netherlands for the Invictus Games. That was said to have been Harry’s first visit since July 2021, and Meghan’s first since 2020.

Senior royal sources described the meeting as ‘very cordial’ and ‘incredibly warm and good natured’. Harry later broke his silence on the secret gathering and put a positive spin on it, saying the Queen would have ‘loved’ to be at the Invictus Games. 

At the meeting, the Sussexes reportedly opened the door to return from the US for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. And they then returned in June for the historic event when the Queen got a chance to meet their second child Lilibet for the first time.

It is understood Meghan has remained in London today, but will not attend the WellChild awards. The duchess could potentially join Harry in Scotland at a later date, a source said. 

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth waits in the Drawing Room before receiving Liz Truss for an audience, where she invited the newly elected leader of the Conservative party to become Prime Minister and form a new government, at Balmoral Castle, Scotland, Britain September 6, 

Ms Markle called the Queen ‘warm and inviting’ in the explosive Oprah interview, with the monarch apparently one of the few royals who she regarded with warmth. The Queen and Meghan Markle pictured in June 2018 while on a public engagement together in Widnes

In their now infamous 2021 tell-all television interview with Oprah Winfrey, the couple, who currently live in a $14 million mansion in Montecito with their two children, Archie and Lilibet, claimed they maintained a close but long-distance relationship with the late monarch. 

The Sussexes’ grand gesture of naming their daughter Lilibet – brother to Archie – after the Queen’s childhood nickname was hollowed by the fact Her Majesty only got to meet her great-granddaughter in person once, undoubtedly a source of great sadness to the Queen. 

In the interview with US TV star Winfrey, which was broadcast across the globe in March 2021, the Duchess of Sussex had only kind words to say about her grandmother-in-law. 

Speaking with affection in her voice, Ms Markle said: ‘ The Queen has always been wonderful to me. I just really loved being in her company… she’s always been warm and inviting and really welcoming.’

Prince Harry and Meghan made a low key appearance at the first day of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations. They were seen on a balcony on Horse Guards Parade in June, after being denied a place on the Buckingham Palace balcony due to the fact they are no longer working royals 

Harry and Meghan released an image of their daughter Lilibet enjoying her first birthday in the grounds of Frogmore Cottage in June 2022. The couple brought their daughter to the UK for the first time during their visit to the UK for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

Harry and Meghan spoke with great affection about the late monarch in the now infamous 2021 television interview with Oprah Winfrey, calling the Queen ‘wonderful’

However, the Duchess’ remarks outlining her apparent fondness for Britain’s longest reigning monarch were greatly overshadowed by allegations of racism against the royal family. 

The couple’s bombshell that a senior royal had expressed ‘concern’ about Archie’s skin colour before he was born was quickly and firmly denied – but the emotional fractures left by the accusations are still yet to properly heal.

The explosive interview sent shockwaves through the royal family and marked a turning point in the couple’s relationship with the Queen.  

Prince Harry maintained that ‘time heals all things’ while hinting at the deep-rooted rift with Prince William and Prince Charles, but ultimately his relationship with his beloved grandmother became a casualty too of the biggest feud the royal family has seen since Diana, Princess of Wales’ famous Panorama interview with Martin Bashir in 1995. 

The last time Meghan would be pictured publicly with the late Queen was at Westminster Abbey for Commonwealth Day back in March 2020, when the Duchess fulfilled her final royal engagement – with relations between the Cambridges and the Sussexes clearly strained. 

On that day, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were not part of the Queen’s procession through Westminster Abbey at the start of the Commonwealth Service as they made their final official appearance as senior royals.

Unlike the previous year, Harry and Meghan were conducted to their seats at the church in London, rather than waiting for the Queen’s arrival and walking through with the monarch and key royals as they did in March 2019.

The pair then departed for Canada, and ultimately California, where they stayed for two years largely without returning to the UK. 

Security concerns for his young family was the reason cited for Prince Harry’s infrequent visits to see his beloved grandmother – but many will criticise the Sussexes for not spending more time with the Queen in the twilight of her life (Pictured: Grandmother and grandson share a smile at the wedding of Lady Gabriella Windsor in May 2018) 

A lifetime bond broken: Prince Harry largely maintained only an online relationship with his grandmother during the last years of her life (Pictured: Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Harry (left) and Prince William on the balcony at Buckingham Palace for Trooping The Colour, 11th July 1988)

While the Duke of Sussex has only ever spoken about his late grandmother with fondness, his rift with Prince Charles and Prince William ensured his bond to the Queen was fractured in her final years

A kiss for Gan-gan: Queen Elizabeth and Prince Harry attend the annual Chelsea Flower show at Royal Hospital Chelsea in May 2015

In July 2021, Prince Harry and his brother were visibly awkward in each other’s presence as they unveiled a long-planned statue of Diana, Princess of Wales, in the gardens of Kensington Palace. 

The Duchess of Sussex also didn’t make the journey across the Atlantic when the Duke of Edinburgh passed away in April 2021.   

Prince Harry, while cordial with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was already signed up to write the £14.7million ($20million) memoir that would further estrange him from his family – and he fled back to California with the rift with his brother still going strong. 

In April 2022, it appeared the tides were turning when Harry and Meghan visited the Queen for supposed ‘olive branch’ talks at Windsor Castle.

They are understood to have met the monarch for just half an hour before flying out to Holland for the Invictus Games on what was the couple’s first public appearance in Europe together in two years.

After the ‘peace’ summit, it was then reported that the Sussexes had been invited to appear on the Buckingham Palace balcony during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, in what was widely interpreted as a sign that tensions had cooled somewhat.

But speaking to the Today show about his meeting with the Queen, the duke said: ‘Being with her it was great, it was just so nice to see her, she’s on great form. 

‘She’s always got a great sense of humour with me and I’m just making sure that she’s protected and got the right people around her. Both Meghan and I had tea with her, so it was really nice to catch up with her.’

Elsewhere, Harry said there were ‘lots of things’ which left him unsure of whether he would attend her Jubilee celebrations.

Senior royals pictured at a reception to mark the 50th Anniversary of the investiture of The Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace; less than a year later the Sussexes would announce their intention to stop carrying out public duties

Distance: While the couple claimed to maintain a relationship with the Queen, their relationship was reduced to online contact in her final years (Pictured: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex watch a flypast to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force from the balcony of Buckingham Palace on July 10, 2018 in London)

Prince Harry maintained that ‘time heals’ but the royal’s rift with his brother arguably irrevocably damaged the close relationship the Duke of Sussex had previously shared with his grandmother 

He explained: ‘I don’t know yet, there’s lots of things – security issues and everything else.  So this is what I’m trying to do, trying to make it possible that, you know, I can get my kids to meet her.’

Royal experts claimed that Harry’s remarks were a ‘gross insult’ to Charles and William, with both of whom he has a deeply strained relationship, and evidence that the duke ‘doesn’t deserve to attend the Jubilee celebrations and be on the Balcony’.

The Queen’s decision to invite the couple to be part of the event was thought to fall less than comfortably with all Royal Family members – particularly Prince William – who have been left deeply hurt and angered by Harry’s behaviour. But sources said there was little doubt that all would put their feelings to one side for the sake of the monarch. 

‘At the end of the day it is about celebrating the historic achievement of a truly remarkable woman. No one would want to disrespect the Queen by continuing hostilities in public,’ said one.

Another said: ‘Despite what has happened in recent years and what may be yet to come given that Harry’s memoirs have yet to come out, family members will accept the Queen’s olive branch in the spirit it was extended.’

He did attend the celebrations but had to watch from the Duke of Wellington’s former office on Horse Guards Parade with more than 30 members of the family.  Only working members of the royal family were on the Buckingham Palace balcony.

No going back: While the couple spoke with fondness of the Queen in the 2021 interview about leaving the royal family with Oprah Winfrey, the couple’s allegations of racism towards the Firm left them further estranged

Others warned that Harry’s life risked becoming ‘totally distorted’ as he ‘becomes a Kardashian-type’.

After this trip, the Duke spoke about ensuring his grandmother has ‘the right people around her’ when he appeared to make a swipe at royal household staff during an interview with NBC including the so-called ‘men in grey suits’ who advise the Queen. 

And mere days before their recent visit, Meghan issued a new attack on the Royal Family, saying that she and Prince Harry were ‘happy’ to leave Britain and were ‘upsetting the dynamic of the hierarchy… just by existing’ before they quit as senior royals in an interview with The Cut. 

The Duchess of Sussex gave a bombshell interview to The Cut – part of New York magazine – in which she claimed that what the couple asked for when they wanted financial freedom was not ‘reinventing the wheel’. 

The article also heard from Harry who suggested some members of the Royal Family ‘aren’t able to work and live together’. 

The Duchess was asked during the interview whether forgiveness can exist between her and her own family as well as members of the Royal Family.

She told The Cut: ‘I think forgiveness is really important. It takes a lot more energy to not forgive. But it takes a lot of effort to forgive. I’ve really made an active effort, especially knowing that I can say anything.’

The article also refers to Meghan’s estranged father Thomas Markle, a retired lighting director who now lives in Mexico.

The report said that Meghan discussed how two families had been ‘torn apart’.

In April 2022, it appeared the tides were turning when Harry and Meghan visited the Queen for supposed ‘olive branch’ talks at Windsor Castle (pictured, earlier this week) 

And it quotes Meghan as saying: ‘Harry said to me, ‘I lost my dad in this process.’ It doesn’t have to be the same for them as it was for me, but that’s his decision.’

The couple visited the UK again days later on their ‘pseudo-royal tour’ of Europe that featured appearances at charity events and the launch of the Invictus Games Dusseldorf 2023. 

She was said to have invited them to Balmoral, however it was reported they did not intend to visit her. 

It is unknown what the response for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex has been since they arrived at Balmoral earlier today.  

Prince William was believed to have ‘no plans’ to see his brother Prince Harry until after the California-based royal released his bombshell memoir this winter, even though the pair were staying half a mile apart from each other.

William and Kate were said to be avoiding contact with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex until they knew what the couple plans to disclose in their Netflix documentary and Harry’s forthcoming book.

‘They have lost their chance of being trusted as the chance is they will record any conversation and use it against them,’ Royal biographer Angela Levin told The Sun.

The Sussexes had also declined an ‘open invitation’ to stay with Prince Charles at his Scottish holiday house on the Balmoral estates. The Prince of Wales told the couple they were ‘always welcome’ at his home ahead of their trip to the UK, palace sources confirmed.

The insiders told The Mirror that Charles had thought the Sussexes staying with him would be a ‘good opportunity for everyone to take stock and relax.’

‘But the invitation was declined, as it has been before,’ the source said, adding that Charles hasn’t ‘wavered’ on his attempts to have a relationship with his son ‘despite the attacks which seem to be coming with increased vigour.’

Levin alleged William does not have faith that Harry will not repeat their conversations. The author said William’s hesitance to interact with the Sussexes is their ‘own fault for vastly exaggerating and being rude.’

Mere days ago, the festering Transatlantic ‘cold war’ between the Windsors and the Sussexes turned hot as palace insiders hit back at at ‘delusional’ Meghan and Harry’s ‘unsustainable’ sniping at the monarchy and revealed the ‘toll’ it is taking on the Queen. 

One disgruntled Palace insider told The Sunday Times: ‘Everyone hoped they would go off to be financially independent, pursue their philanthropic endeavours and be happy – and that in going their own way, they might no longer feel the need to rail against the system as much as they still do.

‘But then the star power of them requires an association with the Royal Family, and the fuel on those flames is the family discord.’

They also claimed that the Queen did not ‘want to be on tenterhooks’ and constantly waiting for the ‘next nuclear bomb’. 

It is unknown how the relationships will fare now that William and Harry’s beloved grandmother has died.  

With Her Majesty’s reign now confined to the history books, the Sussexes may now feel the lengthy legal challenges made against the Home Office in 2022, which argued for better personal protective security for the couple and their young children while on UK soil, prevented the family from spending more quality time with the Queen before her health deteriorated. 

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