Inside Meghan and Harry’s Months-Long Secret Engagement

Carolyn Durand, Omid Scobie
·13 min read
Photo credit: Danny Lawson - PA Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Danny Lawson - PA Images - Getty Images


Theirs was a love story that took hold in Africa—where now Meghan, on the last day of an incredible three-week stay in August 2017, stretched her body into the perfect warrior pose. It was difficult not to lose focus.

She had never imagined she would be laying out her mat as wild Cape buffalo grazed across the water and fishermen’s boats returned to their ports after the morning’s catch.

Nor did she ever dare dream that during this magical trip that the man beside her, the fifth in line to the British throne, would promise to make her his wife. During those soul-baring moments under Botswana’s blanket of stars, Harry made his intentions very clear and she wanted nothing more. On their final day in Botswana, they felt more connected to each other than ever—best friends, partners, soul mates.

And Harry quickly proved himself to be a man of his word. Shortly after their return to London, he made his promise official. As Meghan prepared dinner at Nottingham Cottage, which had quickly started to feel like home, he got down on bended knee and asked for her hand in marriage. It was a moment they would never forget. But it would be some time before they shared the news with the world. For now, it would be their little secret.

Now that they were engaged, there was plenty of discussion at Kensington Palace about the couple making their public debut before the 2017 Invictus Games. But with Harry’s international sporting event for wounded, ill, and injured members of the armed services and veterans taking place in Toronto, the September competition became a natural place for their public coming out. What could be better than combining a public declaration to each other with perhaps Harry’s most important legacy?

Harry and Meghan shared the Royal Suite at the Royal York Fairmont, where not only the Queen and Prince Philip but also Harry’s great-grandparents King George and the Queen Mother once stayed. Downstairs in the wood-paneled, marble-floored lobby, a portrait of his grandmother hung proudly. Hardly inconvenienced, the couple had a floor to themselves, except for Harry’s protection officers and staff, as well as Meghan’s mother. Doria had a suite on the same floor to allow the three to spend some quality time together. It was her first time seeing the couple since they got engaged and there was much to celebrate.

Although Harry had more than a full schedule hosting the Games, he still took time to visit the set of Suits to see Meghan’s workplace, since it was unclear if he would ever have another chance.

For obvious reasons, things hadn’t been the same on set since Meghan started dating Harry. In the early months, Meghan whispered to some of her coworkers that the new boyfriend she’d been flying off to see was actually the prince and began speaking about their time together in code, once mentioning offhandedly to her on-screen dad, Wendell Pierce, that she had just arrived in from London. As of late, though, she had felt the need to pull back and act more reserved around the people she’d known for the better part of the decade.

Photo credit: USA Network - Getty Images
Photo credit: USA Network - Getty Images

Meghan, who had her name excised from shoot schedules to avoid any paparazzi getting word of her location, began showing up to set with discreet bodyguards. On top of that, crew members she’d toiled alongside for some seven years were issued stern warnings by production not to provide any information about Meghan to reporters and informed that should they disobey, they risked losing their jobs.

While it was hard not to take offense, the team also understood why such precautions were necessary.

“It did make things awkward at the beginning, and there was certainly a little jealousy from some people when she suddenly became the jewel in the crown of the show,” a Suits crew member said. “But to most of us she was still the same old Meghan, who would bring fun snacks to set to share or hang around after filming to chat with fans outside the studio.”

Perhaps that was why, one afternoon before the Games began, castmates and crew were so gracious when the prince slipped into the closed set in the North York section of Toronto to meet the people who had helped keep a secret for the past year.

“He came in quietly, and a lot of people didn’t even know he came until after the visit,” a production staffer said. “He kept saying how proud he was of Meghan, but he also just seemed curious to see how it all works. He wanted to see the props department, and Meghan was more than happy to take him on a little tour with some of her close friends from the show.”

The day of the opening ceremonies, Harry did a walkthrough with aides, familiarizing himself with the facilities and practicing his speech on the teleprompter. While this was his third Invictus Games, tonight was special, as his love would be in the stands, making her first appearance at an official royal engagement.

As Harry prepped for his speech that night, Meghan was figuring out the right look for her public debut with Jessica Mulroney, who had traveled to the hotel through its underground entrance with numerous dresses for consideration. The good friends knew that every photographer in the Pan Am Sports Centre that night would have his or her lens trained on Meghan. The pressure was on.

Photo credit: Bernard Weil - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bernard Weil - Getty Images

As with Kate before her, women around the world looking for style inspiration were turning to Meghan. The “Meghan Effect” was in full swing. That afternoon, she looked at several outfits with Jessica before settling on a burgundy Aritzia midi dress with chiffon pleats and a Mackage leather biker jacket draped over her shoulders. It ticked the right boxes—not too dressy, not too dressed down.

Finally ready, Meghan left for the stadium. Her plus one for the evening was her good friend, Markus Anderson. It was only fitting that the man who had introduced her to many of her friends in Toronto, and helped organize some of those early dates with the prince, would be on hand to witness such a special evening. Like Jessica, he was one of the few people to know the couple’s big secret.

At the ceremony, Harry was seated with the other international dignitaries. But he snuck glances at his wife-to-be, who sat just eighteen seats away from him. (It would have been considered a breach of royal protocol for Meghan to join Harry while he was seated next to Melania Trump and Justin Trudeau.)

As the Games continued for the next day and a half, the royal correspondents assembled there were beginning to wonder if the couple would actually make their public debut.

Harry had instructed staff not to provide information to the press about Meghan’s appearance during the Invictus Games as he didn’t want a media circus to take away from the athletic competitions. To Harry, detracting from the stories that mattered the most was a no-no. He would sometimes even instruct aides not to put his name before others on press releases, “Because it’s not about me. It’s about them.”

Still, the buildup to their big moment had been mounting since the opening ceremonies, and rumors went into overdrive when a somewhat agitated Ed Lane Fox breezed into the wheelchair tennis arena instructing officials to prepare two seats courtside. Was this the moment? If so, many of the royal photographers who followed Harry weren’t present at the tennis match. Only a few British reporters were even in the vicinity.

Photo credit: Karwai Tang - Getty Images
Photo credit: Karwai Tang - Getty Images

At 1:55 p.m., in sweltering eighty-six-degree heat, flanked by two protection officers and trailed by Jason, Harry and Meghan made their entrance, fingers intertwined, toward the tennis courts. With Harry’s aides meticulously planning their top secret entrance down to the most minute detail, the couples’ public coming out, designed to appear low-key, was anything but.

Meghan gazed adoringly at her fiancée as they made their way to their seats, where they sat among the Aussie and New Zealand families cheering on the players. The couple were at ease as the cameras captured every move, from Meghan stroking Harry’s arm to his putting a protective one around her.

The closing ceremonies were a celebration. Doria and Meghan joined Markus and Jessica in Harry’s skybox, where, after the prince delivered a speech, he joined them. He was spotted by photographers tenderly kissing the woman who had captured his heart and listening intently to his future mother-in-law, who later danced in the private box as Bruce Springsteen brought the audience to their feet.

By welcoming Doria at an official royal engagement so publicly, particularly after all the ugly, racist commentary, Harry was consciously showing the world that this was what his future family would look like.

Photo credit: PA Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: PA Images - Getty Images

Meghan was feeling a little emotional as she looked around the boxed-up living room of her Toronto home. With endless late nights on the Suits set and so many farewells, it took more than three weeks to pack her life into the boxes that now surrounded her in early November 2017. A moving team had just left, marking furniture with different labels for overseas shipping or storage, and sheets were wrapped around her white cotton sofas, leaving nowhere left to sit.

She knew that the moment she gave up her role on Suits and moved to London, her acting career would be over. Forever. No turning back. In some ways, it came as a relief. As she got older and saw more of the world and saw she had more power to help change it with her platform, she began to think about moving away from acting and toward a career that was more meaningful.

Leaving acting, something she had spent so long working to achieve, was also “terrifying,” as she admitted to friends. At one point she had dreamed of moving into movies and meatier roles. As she moved into her mid-thirties, however, her dreams and aspirations started to change. A voice inside her kept telling her she could be doing so much more with her platform. That was one inspiration behind The Tig. But she also looked up to actresses like Angelina Jolie, who had become a force of her own in the charitable space, focusing mostly on humanitarian projects that she interspersed with the more commercial ones, and funding her life with the occasional brand deal. At one point that was Meghan’s career model. But then she met Harry. If she was going to have a real future—and family—with him, she had to give up acting altogether.

Meghan was ready now.

On November 20, Meghan landed in London, knowing the British capital was no longer just where her partner lived. It was now her home. While the past few weeks had been challenging, this felt right. She was excited.

Harry felt guilty that she had to give up so much—her home, her career—to fit into his world. He was always worried about disrupting her life. Privately he harbored fears about the road ahead. What would the press be like? Would he have to deal with prejudice from more people in his own circle and the institution? He wanted to protect Meghan, to wrap her up and shield her from all the negativity, but he knew that was impossible. He worried about her turning to him one day to say, “I love you, but I can’t live like this.” Meghan assured him she was strong and ready to “become a team.”

After she moved her things into her new home with Harry, the cozy three-bedroom Nottingham Cottage, the plan for the days ahead were shrouded in secrecy. For Harry, as a working member of the royal family, it was business as usual as he continued to attend regular engagements, including a reception for Walking with the Wounded on November 21, the day after she arrived, at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which was just a few minutes up the road from the home he now shared with Meghan. A big supporter of the veterans charity since 2010, having taken part in their treks to the North Pole in 2011 and the South Pole in 2013, Harry told the organization’s co-founder Simon Daglish after he delivered his remarks to the room, “Life is very good.”

Photo credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS - Getty Images
Photo credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS - Getty Images

Meghan always liked to make the places she lived in as comfortable and chic as possible, and she’d moved often due to the nature of her work. This time, however, her domestic bliss was partly a way to cope with the major shift her life had taken, both geographically and internally. She felt at home at Nott Cott with Harry—she’s always been able to bloom where she was planted, but she hadn’t moved to London to start a new job. She had moved to London to start a new life. And although she was used to living thousands of miles from her mother, her constant source of support, there was something about being in London that felt just that little bit farther away. They spoke on the phone or via text message most days, but it wasn’t as easy because of the eight-hour time difference. Plus, she hadn’t moved to the UK like any typical member of society; she was going to become a member of the royal family, and that was a change that no one can truly be prepared for.

With Harry and Meghan holed up in their love nest, rumors of their engagement hit a frenzy—chatter not quieted by the fact Kensington Palace aides were more tightly lipped than ever. Media requests for comment on their engagement status were met with no response or a promise of “nothing to report.” But the evidence was mounting. When Harry and Meghan took a sudden two-hour meeting with Jason, Harry’s head of communications, and Ed Lane Fox, his private secretary, on November 22, it was clear that something was happening.

Something had happened. But one thing was for sure: no one in the couple’s circle was about to leak the news early—especially after keeping it secret for so long. The only ones who Meghan had explicitly told were her parents and her best friends, including Jessica, Markus, and Lindsay Roth. To some of her closest girlfriends, she had more recently announced the news simply with a photo of her hand bearing her engagement ring.

“Keeping it a secret was easy for Meghan,” a longtime friend said. “It was something she could keep to herself with Harry. And an opportunity to enjoy the moment before it became public news.”

From Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family/Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand. Copyright © 2020 Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand. Reprinted by permission of Dey Street Books, an imprint of William Morrow (HarperCollins Publishers).

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