Fresh from Christmas at Sandringham with the Royal family, the Duchess kicked off her engagements for the year with her patronage, Smart Works. Meghan had been spending quite a bit of time under the radar with the organisation, which we now know formed the early stages of an important project we wouldn't learn about until the end of the summer. The visit coincided with news Meghan had also become patron of Mayhew, the National Theatre and the Assocation of Commonwealth Universities - her first chosen charities as a member of the Royal family. The Duchess teamed an Oscar de la Renta trench with the Hatch Eliza maternity dress for the outing.
Excitement was in the air as the Sussexes enjoyed an away day in Birkenhead for a variety of engagements. These trips are particularly important as they give those across the country, away from London, a chance to showcase their town or city and meet members of the Royal family. Of course, talk was very much focused on Baby Sussex with Meghan revealing she would be "thrilled" if it was a boy or a girl and telling well-wishers Harry would be "a fantastic father". I loved the combination of Meghan's red Sentaler coat and purple Artizia dress.
I remember they ran an hour over schedule that day as they wanted to meet as many people as possible. One young girl was delighted to receive a group hug with the couple :)
For her first public visit to her patronage Mayhew, Meghan met staff, volunteers and beneficiaries to hear more about the animal welfare charity's initiatives across the UK and abroad. In 2018, Mayhew handled over 1,000 welfare cases, rehomed 98 dogs and 380 cats, and vaccinated over 32,000 dogs against rabies overseas to name just a few of their achievements. At the time, Kensington Palace noted: "The Duchess has long understood the connection between animals and community welfare, and has supported various animal rescue centres in Los Angeles."
Meghan was glittering in the showstopping Roland Mouret Sarandon gown for the premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s Totem in support of Sentebale at the Royal Albert Hall. Mouret continues to exceed expectations with his designs and the boat neck gown with wrap skirt was no exception. The styling with a bolder lip colour and Stuart Weitzman sandals completed the look beautifully.
Meghan continued her patronage visits with the National Theatre in a soft blush Brandon Maxwell look. Given Meghan's background as an actress this seemed an ideal fit. The Palace shared a little more detail on the choice: "Whilst Her Royal Highness spent ten years working in television, her training is in theatre. As well as a double major in theatre and international relations from Northwestern University, the Duchess volunteered at a performing arts after-school programme for children in underprivileged school districts in Los Angeles."
January concluded with a visit to the Association of Commonwealth Universities, a patronage passed to the Duchess from Her Majesty. Advocating for accessible education is a strong passion of Meghan's, one we've seen her support from the UK to Fiji to South Africa. Dressed in black Givenchy, the crowds went wild chanting her name as she arrived.
It was a snowy day in Bristol as Harry and Meghan arrived for a day of engagements. The inclement conditions didn't deter locals from stepping out to meet the royal couple. It was a fabulous look for Meghan featuring a vintage coat, Oscar de la Renta dress and Sarah Flint boots.
Inside Bristol Old Vic they were greeted by staff. Executive Director Sally Cordwell brought her daughter Ocean to work for the day as nursery was closed due to the weather. Three-year-old Ocean stole the show after being introduced as "Ballerina". When Harry met
The day in Bristol is one I could dedicate another post too quite easily. There is one engagement I must include though, and that's Meghan's time with One25. The charity supports 150 women involved in sex-working on Bristol's streets, some of the most vulnerable people in the city. As Meghan helped to prepare food for the women (often the only meal they'll get) she said: "I have an idea. Does anyone have a sharpie?". She proceeded to write caring messages such as "You are loved" on bananas. It was a kind and thoughtful gesture. Demonstrating No Good Deed Goes Unpunished in action, she was pilloried in the press and social media. It was a turning point for myself and others, a moment of realisation that the senseless appetite for negativity about the Duchess had reached new heights. We were very much in uncharted territory - a member of the Royal family being attacked for trying to help others.
Duchess Meghan praised the "ripple effect" of Endeavour Fund nominees at the annual awards ceremony. Led by Prince Harry, the Fund offers seed funding for sporting and adventure challenges and helps emerging initiatives with advice, hands-on support and mentoring. Addressing the audience she said: "I'm so, so grateful to be back. Last year was my first time coming and it was such a meaningful night. Before the reception Harry and I were talking to all the nominees and in speaking to one of them he said, you know after I mentioned to him, 'Gosh the impact you guys make is huge. It's so much bigger than you.' No it's not about us, it's the ripple effect. And, in true modesty of all the nominees; yes it is about the ripple effect. What I admired in him - and I feel is true about all the nominees - is you don't have that ripple effect unless each of you is brave enough to make that first wave. It's so important to remember that because what you're doing is inspiring so many people - so thank you from all of us for being that inspiration."
The Duchess opted for a chic white Amanda Wakeley and Calvin Klein ensemble for a gala performance of The Wider Earth in support of the Queen's Commonwealth Trust and the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy.
In mid February, Meghan travelled to New York for her baby shower organised by close friends including Serena Williams, Daniel Martin and Misha Nonoo. It didn't take long before the media began to surround the Mark hotel, and as Meghan left with friend Abigail Spencer, something of a circus ensued as camera crew and photographers followed them. Looking back on it now, I think Meghan's friends organised the trip for her with care, attention and love, though, perhaps not realising the scale of global interest in her at the time. We've seen subsequent trips to the US handled very differently, without anyone even knowing where she's staying, something which is near impossible to do at a hotel. Meghan is an American, and I do hope in the future, an official visit of some sort is organised. Perhaps coinciding with a tour of Canada?
In late February, the Duke and Duchess made their first official visit to Morocco at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Given the tumultuous unfolding of Brexit, we've seen members of the Royal family deployed abroad to lend a touch of "soft diplomacy" to strengthen ties. The trip was not only an opportunity to celebrate the links between the country and the UK but to highlight causes close to Harry and Meghan's hearts. As they stepped off the plane at Casablanca Airport, the Duchess chose a stunning Valentino dress with an embroidered capelet. It was one of her best maternity looks in my opinion.
A trip to the breathtaking Atlas Mountains saw the couple focus on girls education with Educate 4 All. The organisation supports girls from very rural communities in continuing their education beyond primary school. They are often prohibited by the costs associated with travelling to the nearest secondary school, often a number of kilometres away in larger towns. In some rural areas, up to 83% of women are illiterate - a shocking figure. Meghan spoke to students in French before watching a football game outside. The photo below by James Whatling is a favourite of mine and one which always reminds me of the months before Archie's arrival.
The Duchess donned Dior for an evening reception at the British Ambassador's residence in Rabat.
Their final day in the country began with a host of fun activities beginning with a visit to the Royal Federation of Equestrian Sports. They viewed a riding demonstration and discussed caring for the horses with teachers and children. During a grooming session, the couple noticed a Shetland pony named Molly was shaking. Harry asked: "Has anyone got carrots? She's a bit nervous." Meghan added: "We all get camera shy. I understand."
They were great scenes at at Villa des Ambassadors in Rabat for a cooking demonstration. It seemed only fitting for the group to prepare one of the recipe's from Together. They chose the pancakes with honey and almond butter by Cherine Mallah. It's a joy to see the chemistry between Harry and Meghan; they always have great banter, too. There was a funny moment when they were sampling dishes and Meghan turned to Harry and laughed, saying: "Big bite!" He replied: "It's a bit late now."
Following a quick change, they met young entrepreneurs supporting youth empowerment at an arts and crafts market in the stunning Andalusian Gardens. Meghan chose a stylish ensemble featuring a Loyd/Ford Pleated Dress, her Artizia Keith jacket and statement Gas Bijoux earrings.
Royals oven have to navigate diplomatic waters in their roles. A perfect example of this was Harry and Meghan's meeting with King Mohammed VI. At the time there was a great deal of mystery surrounding the King's wife, Princess Lalla Salma, who had not been seen officially since 2017. Multiple media requests were left unanswered. The Princess has been spotted on numerous occasions since in the country and during a visit to New York. Meghan wore a gorgeous blue print Carolina Herrera dress for her final event before returning to the UK.
It was a special family event for the Royal family, as they attended a reception hosted by the Queen to mark the 50th anniversary of the investiture of the Prince of Wales. The reception marked Charles' decades of service to the UK and Commonwealth and was an opportunity to celebrate with a range of Welsh charities, organisations and businesses.
Those immersed in The Crown's third season will have seen Charles' investiture covered in great detail. Josh O'Connor delivered a superb performance as the Prince in his youth. Certainly, creator Peter Morgan takes dramatic licence in his take of each episode, however, he beautifully covered Charles' relationship with Wales, one that has continued with dedication in the decades since.
Speaking of The Crown, Princess Anne has been having quite a moment following the depiction of her young years on the series. We often see great photos of her and Meghan interacting and I sense a genuine warmth there. Anne is a no-nonsense woman with a lifetime of duty behind her.
The next day, Meghan made a surprise appearance alongside her husband for WE Day UK, a global initiative to encourage young people to take part in positive social change. During a passionate speech, Harry shared one of Meghan's favourite quotes: "As my wife often reminds me with one of her favourite quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. - 'Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.'"
One of my favourite engagements of the year was the International Women's Day panel discussion Meghan participated in with an incredible group of women. Meghan shared her passion for the Commonwealth, girls education and how pleased she was to be appointed Vice President of the Queen's Commonwealth Trust: "It would be impossible for me to sit back and not do something about it." Meghan added: "Looking at my role, that I'm very, very privileged to have now with the QCT - just expands that platform to be able to go to 53 Commonwealth countries and do this level of work across the globe." Meghan continued: "So, yes I started at 11, but it still feels like the beginning."
On Commonwealth Day, Meghan carried out her final engagements before maternity leave beginning with an event celebrating young Canadians living in the UK. The Duchess chose a gorgeous bespoke ensemble by Erdem. The choice of designer was a fitting one; Canadian Erdem has been established in London since 2005. Meghan has been a fan of his designs since she lived in Toronto.
That afternoon, Harry and Meghan joined members of the Royal family for the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey. Each year a new theme is proposed to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and presented to the Queen for approval. The chosen theme very much leads the agenda throughout the year in terms of activities, plans and areas of focus. This year the chosen theme was 'A Connected Commonwealth', celebrating friendship and goodwill and encouraging collaboration to protect the environment and natural resources. We saw some great footage of Meghan and Charles interacting. I believe he sees Harry and Meghan as central players in his monarchy in the years and decades ahead.
We saw the couple days later for the christening of Mike and Zara Tindall's daughter Lena. Harry was chosen as one of Lena's godparents for the intimate Gloucestershire event. Meghan looked elegant in a coat from William Vintage and a Stephen Jones hat.
On 19 March, the Duke and Duchess visited New Zealand House in London to pay tribute following the horrific tragedy in Christchurch. The Queen asked the couple to represent the family as they were the last royals to officially visit the country. A joint statement from Harry, Meghan, William and Kate concluded with Kia kaha - a Māori phrase used by the people of New Zealand, meaning stay strong. "Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the people who lost their lives in the devastating attack in Christchurch. We have all been fortunate to spend time in Christchurch and have felt the warm, open-hearted and generous spirit that is core to its remarkable people. No person should ever have to fear attending a sacred place of worship. This senseless attack is an affront to the people of Christchurch and New Zealand, and the broader Muslim community. It is a horrifying assault on a way of life that embodies decency, community, and friendship. We know that from this devastation and deep mourning, the people of New Zealand will unite to show that such evil can never defeat compassion and tolerance. We send our thoughts and prayers to everyone in New Zealand today. Kia Kaha."
Fittingly, Meghan wore a pair of earrings New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gifted her.
From there, Meghan met with all of her patronages privately and oversaw renovations at Frogmore Cottage. They were very much against the clock as work was done to ensure they could move into their new Windsor home before Baby Sussex arrived.
Do you remember the first days of May as we all anxiously awaited the arrival of Harry and Meghan's first child? They were settling into life at Frogmore, and meanwhile the world's media was waiting in Windsor for news. Then on Monday, 6 May, Harry had some very special news to share with us :)
Meghan gave birth to a healthy baby boy at 5.26 am weighing 7lbs 3oz. The couple elected to keep the exact details private. It was later revealed the Duchess gave birth at London's Portland Hospital. Before Harry met Meghan, he spoke of his desire to find the right person and have children. I will never forget the sheer elation on his face as he told reporters: "I'm incredibly proud of my wife. Every father and parent will say your baby is absolutely amazing but this little thing is absolutely to die for. I'm over the moon."
Two days later we had the opportunity to "meet" Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor as his proud parents introduced him at Windsor Castle.
Mountains of coverage and op-eds criticising the couple for their decision to forego a photo call on the steps of the hospital dominated coverage before Archie arrived. Yet, his unveiling at Windsor couldn't have felt more traditional. We saw a photocall, live footage and a short interview with the couple. Speaking about her son, Meghan said: "He's just been a dream. It's been a special couple of days. He has the sweetest temperament. He’s really calm." Harry smiled and said "I don't know where he gets that from". When asked who the baby resembles, the Duchess said: "We’re still trying to figure that out." Harry added: "Everyone says babies change so much over two weeks. We’re basically monitoring how the changing process happens over this next month, really. His looks are changing every single day, so who knows?"
We were also treated to a very special photo of Her Majesty, Prince Philip and Doria with Meghan, Harry and Archie.
In Part 2, we'll be covering the Sussexes' summer, Meghan's projects, the South Africa tour, the Tom Bradby documentary, and the couple's plan to take legal action against the appalling coverage of Meghan.