The Sussexes shock King Charles with their royal tour replica

The couple blindsided His Majesty by stepping up for double duty in Nigeria
Images: Getty

It was supposed to be a three-day whirlwind tour to a Commonwealth country in support of their wounded service people.

But in effect the visit of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, to Nigeria was a make-or-break trial run for the couple to see if they have the pulling power to carry out royal-style tours even though they are no longer working royals.

The pair are still struggling to find their purpose and to see how much weight their royal titles carry. Before they broke away from the royal family in 2020, they were keen on a “half in, half-out” status. That would’ve given them the option to work part-time carrying out official engagements when they wanted to.

But the late Queen Elizabeth II said a resounding no to that suggestion. Her successor King Charles has also refused to entertain the idea. Meanwhile, the decision of His Majesty not to see his younger son when he was briefly in the UK to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Invictus Games before heading to Africa is a clear sign the door has closed on any hopes the Sussexes may have of working on behalf of The Firm.

Harry and Meghan are taking on engagements despite their fallout with the King.

That means Harry, 39, and Meghan, 42, now must evaluate whether they still have the regal clout to carry out the kind of duties that were a big part of their lives before they walked away from the royal family.

The couple did prove to be a hit with the crowds who gathered to see them in Abuja and Lagos. The pair were there to promote the Invictus Games and talk about mental health. They received rock-star greetings at several engagements. Feted especially was Meghan, given her previous revelation that a genealogy test showed her heritage as 43 percent Nigerian.

“She is one of us and that makes us feel so inspired,” says a woman who waited outside one venue hoping for a glimpse of the Sussexes.

But they hardly set the whole country alight, says royal correspondent Ian Gallagher, who travelled to the Commonwealth nation to cover the trip.

“For all that there have been reports of the couple being mobbed, it has in many ways been rather low-key,” he claims. “Certainly, the Nigerian media hasn’t exactly been gushing. They are not really popular – a lot of people don’t know them.”

The visit came at a time when most Nigerians are facing cost-of-living challenges and are more concerned about having enough to eat.

“The state governments and military hosting Meghan and Harry have been unable to pay staff salaries,” says Ian. “So spending state resources on this visit is something to be bothered about.”

Royal author Robert Jobson says the fact they did receive an enthusiastic welcome from some quarters indicates they could have been a big asset to the royal family had they stayed on.

“This smacks of missed opportunity because they could have been serving King and country, and the Commonwealth.

“Unfortunately, they decided to go it alone. But this tour doesn’t have the same depth and impact of an official royal tour.”

These kinds of quasi-royal tours are unlikely to go down well with the royal family, who carry out this sort of work all the time. The decision of the King – who has only recently returned to public duties after having time off for cancer treatment – to attend a garden party rather than meet up with Harry while he was in London for the Invictus anniversary is very telling, says longtime royal correspondent Richard Kay.

“His Majesty could not face the emotional heartache of a face-to-face meeting with Harry,” says Richard.

The King, 75, didn’t want a repeat of what happened after Harry dashed to London to see him in February. This was when the news broke that Charles had cancer. They met for just half an hour. The King wasn’t impressed when, shortly after returning to the US, Harry spoke about the meeting in a TV interview.

“It scarcely mattered that he said very little about his father’s prognosis or his treatment. Probably because he didn’t know,” says Richard. “What did matter was that he was prepared to talk about it at all.”

That did nothing to restore the King’s faith in him, he says. “Harry is not to be trusted.”

Harry must be well aware his father is not happy with him. On the day he returned to the UK for the Invictus service, Buckingham Palace announced his brother Prince William, 41, will be made colonel-in-chief of the Army Air Corps, despite Harry having personally served with the unit in Afghanistan.

“It’s a real kick in the teeth for Harry,” says royal expert Tom Quinn. “He was said to be in tears when he heard.”

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s whirlwind trip to Nigeria lasted just 72 hours, but the couple made every moment count. The country invited them due to links forged through the Invictus Games. Although they were not representing the British royal family, the itinerary for their visit included the kind of engagements typical of an official royal visit.

However, some correspondents covering the tour say it felt more like a state visit by the rulers of a nation, with the couple surrounded by White House-style security.

“It seemed decidedly presidential,” says reporter Ian Gallagher. “As this tour has unfolded, so Meghan has become increasingly stateswoman-like.”

Day one

The trip kicked off in the capital Abuja with a visit to Lightway School. Archewell Foundation supported the Sussexes’ visit.

After traditional dancers greeted them, Meghan revealed that their daughter Princess Lilibet, two, is a keen dancer. “Maybe it’s all the jumping around,” she said, adding that Prince Archie, five, likes construction.

The couple launched a mental health summit. This was where Harry told a group of pupils that it was okay to have a bad day. Meghan, who took selfies with some of the students, told them, “I believe in you.”

Harry is reaching out at Lightway School, with one pupil in awe of the prince.

Their next engagement was a meeting with the Chief of Defence Staff at Defence Headquarters. They arrived in a convoy that included armoured cars with mounted machine guns and masked soldiers carrying grenade launchers. The couple took their own four-man security team, which they paid for themselves.

As they left, Harry looked visibly anxious when people surrounded them. He led Meghan by the hand to their waiting car. He then flew 200km to visit injured soldiers at a military hospital while Meghan attended a private engagement.

Meghan’s feeling the love.

Day two

The couple met members of Nigeria’s Invictus team. When Royalty Ojeh, the team captain’s daughter, presented Meghan with a bouquet of red roses, Meghan handed back one of the blooms to the entranced six-year-old.

Receiving a warm reception at a charity event.

Meghan then watched on as Harry participated in a game of sitting volleyball organised by Nigeria Unconquered. A charity that supports wounded and sick service personnel.

At a leadership summit for women, Meghan talked about juggling fame with motherhood. She said, “I love being a mum. Being a mum has always been a dream. I’m so fortunate we have two beautiful, healthy, very chatty sweet children.”

After announcing two years ago that a DNA test has revealed she is 43 percent Nigerian, Meghan described Nigeria as “my country” and said it had been “eye-opening to be able to know more about my heritage” and to take hubby Harry there.

Also on the itinerary for the day was a reception for military families. One senior official said she was happy to hear about Meghan’s Nigerian heritage. She told Harry, “You married the best, our daughter and friend, Princess Meghan.”

Day three

Harry and Meghan started final day in Nigeria with courtside seats to watch a game of basketball in support of Giants of Africa. A charity that helps children by encouraging them to enjoy the sport.

The pair at the State Governor House in Lagos.

Next stop was a private meeting with the governor of Lagos state. The intention was to discuss the importance of the work of the Invictus Games in protecting the mental health of veterans. The tour then wrapped up in a familiar environment – the polo field.

Backing the Giants of Africa (left), and then flying high.

Harry and Meghan were the guests of honour at a reception at the Lagos Polo Club in aid of Nigeria Unconquered. They watched a parade followed by a polo match, then attended yet another reception.

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