The Invictus Games, which kicks off in Dusseldorf next Saturday, has become a veritable jewel in the crown for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. One of their most high-profile joint outings on the world stage, the week-long event guarantees acres of media coverage and a chance to put on a united front, while at the same time demonstrating what their lives are all about: helping others.
Together, the week after next, they will appear on the sidelines to cheer on the teams of veterans demonstrating their sporting prowess. For Meghan, 42, who will arrive in Dusseldorf a couple of days after her husband, it is an opportunity to show off her fashion credentials as she steps out day after day in carefully curated “stealth wealth” outfits in her favoured beige and cream hues.
For Harry, who will celebrate his 39th birthday in Germany, the Games is a hugely important personal project – one of the sole remaining legacies from his time as a working royal and a hugely successful initiative of which he is incredibly proud.
This year’s event will mark a notable milestone – an opportunity to reset, to change the narrative. After months of headlines about Royal family feuds and the bitter recriminations that accompanied the personal revelations made in his memoir, the Games will allow him to re-establish his reputation on the world stage. Not as the petulant spare to the heir but as a leader, a military veteran and a champion of the healing power of sport.
“They are done with their former lives,” one source close to them insisted. “They’re not talking about family. There’s no expectation that the family’s going to show up or acknowledge it or that anybody wants to see him. It’s over.”
As an event founded during his time as a working royal, the Games also serves as a reminder of what might have been.
One friend tried to encapsulate the complex emotions that it stirs. “Invictus is so important to him and is very much a part of his former life,” they said.
“It shows there could have been a world in which a hybrid model could have worked. But it also shows that in his new world, and in his new life, he’s still capable of accomplishing the things that are so very important to him.”
The Games is considered Harry’s “baby”, a project on which he has long thrived and in which he takes immense pride. “It will enable him to remind people who he is, but also show them who he plans to be,” another friend says. “He’s nervous, because he’s an empath. It’s also a huge undertaking. He’s also so excited and enthused.”
For the Duke and Duchess as a couple, the event has long been integral to their public image. It was at the 2017 Games in Toronto that they made their first public appearance together and it has been a joint venture ever since.
As such, this year’s outing could not be better timed – an opportunity to step out hand-in-hand amid persistent (yet totally unfounded) rumours of trouble in their marriage and unsubstantiated tabloid headlines about trial separations and splits.
“They are just fine,” one exasperated aide says with an almost audible eye-roll. “They are in a good place and living as normal a life as they have ever done.”
While Harry will address the opening ceremony, childcare arrangements back home mean that Meghan will join him a few days later and they will appear together at various events throughout the week, as well as the closing ceremony.
Bar a brief, carefully choreographed video about cyberbullying released in early August, the pair have not made an official appearance together since they attended a New York award ceremony in May – an event swiftly overshadowed by a hotly debated paparazzi car chase en route home.
The Duke and Duchess are no strangers to controversy – their very existence in Montecito being the result of a boat-rocking exercise of epic proportions.
If they had sought a quieter, calmer life when they left the UK to plough their own furrow, the past 12 months have been anything but.
The death of Elizabeth II only served to expose the gulf between the Sussexes and the rest of the Royal family, the simmering resentment almost palpable as the couple were treated like pariahs.
Then came the six-part Netflix series, closely followed by Harry’s memoir, Spare, packed with extraordinary revelations and indiscretions. Then, the various court appearances in his battles with the media, a flying visit for the Coronation and the brutal, premature severing of their lucrative Spotify deal, which sparked a flurry of painful criticism and accusations they had struggled to come up with ideas and were inexperienced as producers.
Having made such a noise about being joined at the hip, with gushing analogies about entwined palm trees and salt and pepper pots, reality is setting in.
Both have completely separate projects in the pipeline, which sources are again at pains to point out does not mean they are separating. Instead, The Telegraph is told, they will reflect their differing professional interests and talents and are the result of significant thought about their future direction and careers.
The bumps in the road have been put down to growing pains.
“If you introduce a couple together and the world knows them together, and then they find themselves in a situation where they need to find their own projects and their own identity, there is going to be a lot of speculation,” one source acknowledges.
“But on top of being a couple, they are both working on their own things. They are fully supportive of each other’s concepts and ideas, but they are different from one another, they have different meanings. Everybody understands that they’re not just going to stand still.”
In recent weeks, they have been photographed on different continents, hanging out with their own friends.
Both clearly happy and relaxed, Harry enjoyed a lads’ jaunt to Japan and Singapore with close friend Nacho Figueras, while Meghan has posed for social-media selfies and has been pictured out and about in Montecito, shopping at a farmers’ market and heading to the dentist (more of which later).
It is perhaps no coincidence that other details about her carefree summer have emerged; she has apparently seen Barbie with friends, attended a Taylor Swift gig in LA and surprised a hen party during a girls’ night at the exclusive San Ysidro Ranch.
Meghan is preparing to launch a major new commercial venture. There has been much speculation that it will be a version of Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s multimillion-dollar lifestyle business, which few could deny would be right up her street.
It’s not Goop – but it is something that is “genuine to who she is”. Her imminent return to Instagram is surely connected. Having amassed more than 110,000 followers (including Mandana Dayani, former president of Archewell, and Kadi Lee, her hair colourist) without making a single post, she has already proved her pulling power.
Sources close to Meghan insisted that she had no plans to revive The Tig, the successful lifestyle blog that she shut down after meeting Harry. She is not even thought to be aware of applications to renew the patent, which aides say are merely a formality to keep control of the brand.
Could the seemingly candid pap pictures of the Duchess nonchalantly lifting her hand to her hair to reveal an anti-stress NuCalm patch as she walked to the dentist be linked to this new venture in some way?
If nothing else, the photographs, for which Meghan had helpfully rolled up one sleeve to expose her wrist, showed her huge commercial potential. The image was posted on NuCalm’s Instagram page and sales, naturally, took off.
Harry, meanwhile, is working on his own project, which is in its infancy but is said to be similarly reflective of who he is. Their Netflix projects rumble along in the background, albeit largely stalled due to the Hollywood writers’ strike.
Although concerns have been raised that their multimillion-dollar deal is teetering on the brink, industry sources insist that is not the case. Much has been made of the fact that the streaming giant has stumped up a reputed £3 million for the film rights to Carley Fortune’s Meet Me at the Lake, a romantic novel that will be produced by the Sussexes’ Archewell Productions.
As part of the next phase of the deal, Harry is also hoping to return to Africa for a new documentary, although proposals are in their early stages.
Heart of Invictus, his behind-the-scenes Netflix documentary that followed competitors as they prepared for the 2022 Invictus Games, was released last week.
It is, perhaps, unfortunate that given the current desire to push forward and consign familiar gripes to the past, the series was used to launch another veiled attack on his family and the royal institution.
Harry’s claim that he had no support structure as his life “unravelled” on his return from Afghanistan prompted the usual eye-rolls among palace aides who have long accused him of suffering from a selective memory and are convinced he will never put an end to the jibes.
Similarly, his complaint that the media did not cover the plight of injured military personnel returning from Afghanistan was bitterly contested, while, not for the first time, many military veterans and families of the bereaved questioned his motives.
Most of the series was filmed some two years ago, long before the publication of his memoir and before he demanded an apology from his family.
Fuelled by years of therapy, the Duke had hoped that by laying his cards on the table he would provoke a reaction, laying the foundations for reconciliation.
Those phone calls, that apology, never came and it is now time to move on.
The Sussexes have long generated talk of new chapters. Now though, almost four years after they announced they were leaving the UK, they are finally settling into something resembling stability.
The Games will mark the beginning of a new era as they move away from the royal bashing to focus on their soon-to-be-unveiled future careers.