Senior royals gather for unprecedented summit on Harry and Meghan’s role

LONDON — Senior British royals were set on Monday to hash out details of Prince Harry and Meghan’s plans in an unprecedented summit triggered by the couple’s shock announcement that they planned to “step back” from their traditional roles.

Harry and Meghan, known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, said in a statement posted on social media and their own new website on Wednesday that they would split their time between North America and the U.K. as they “carve out a progressive new role within this institution.”

“This bombshell had been dropped on the royal family and yet they still hadn’t met to discuss it face to face,” said NBC royal contributor Camilla Tominey.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II leaves church on Sunday at her Sandringham estate in eastern England.Chris Radburn / Reuters

“I think people really couldn’t relate to that so the idea of a face-to-face meeting was urgently needed as is a solution to this problem. [The royals] don’t want it to be strung out over weeks. They want it done in days,” she added.

The meeting will take place at Queen Elizabeth II’s Sandringham estate in the east of England. Heir to the throne Prince Charles will have made his way there after returning to the U.K. from Oman, where he paid his condolences after the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Prince William will also be at the meeting.

The family will need to work out how exactly Harry, who is sixth in line to the throne, and Meghan will continue to support the queen, while also working to become “financially independent.”

The couple’s decision has captivated the nation as well as its newspaper headlines, with much speculation on what prompted their announcement. On Monday, William and Harry issued a joint statement publicly denouncing an “offensive” newspaper report about their relationship.

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“Despite clear denials, a false story ran in a U.K. newspaper today speculating about the relationship between The Duke of Sussex and The Duke of Cambridge,” said the statement issued by the offices for William and Harry, according to Reuters.

Last year, there were rumors in the press of a rift between Harry and William, who were once very close, and in June, Harry and Meghan confirmed that they were separating from William and Kate’s Royal Foundation charity to start their own initiative, Sussex Royal.

Harry seemed to confirm the distance between the brothers in the interview with Bradby in Africa when he said that he and William were on “different paths.”

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan split off in June from the charity they ran together with Harry’s brother Prince William, seen here on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in July 2018.Tolga Akmen / AFP – Getty Images file

Just days after returning from a six-week break away from their royal responsibilities, Meghan, an American actress who appeared in the television series “Suits,” flew back to Canada where she left their son, Archie, who was born in May. She may call into the meeting, a palace source told NBC News, and other people whom “the royals want in the room” might also attend.

“As the ultimate decision maker in all this and also the wisest head there with six decades on the throne, the queen is probably the best moderator of the situation,” said Tominey.

Despite the desire to come to a swift conclusion on the couple’s future role, there is “genuine agreement and understanding that any decisions will take time to be implemented,” the palace source said.

Since the announcement, news of the family drama has captivated the nation and dominated news headlines.

“Things are quite broken but from what I’m told William is very keen to see if he can try and support Harry and Meghan in their new lifestyle, in the new path that they take. Everyone is hopeful that at some point down the line they’ll reconcile,” said Roya Nikka, the royal correspondent for The Sunday Times newspaper.

This solution could well end up being a blueprint for future royal siblings. William has three children, Prince George, who is third in line to the throne, as well as Princess Charlotte, who is four years old, and Prince Louis, who will turn two in April.

“This is going to be the test case, and the decisions made here could affect the likes of Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis because they may find themselves in a similar situation when they reach adulthood,” said Tominey.

The couple’s decision comes less than two years after their celebrity-studded fairy-tale wedding at a medieval church on the grounds of Windsor Castle. Harry and Meghan, who is mixed race, were hailed for modernizing the monarchy and bringing a breath of fresh air into a centuries-old institution.

At the time, there was optimism about Meghan’s ability to fit in with the rest of the royal family and adapt to the demands of her new role.

“I know that the fact that she’ll be really unbelievably good at the job part of it as well is a huge relief to me because she’ll be able to deal with everything else that comes with it,” said Harry, in an interview with NBC News’ British partner ITV after the couple announced their engagement.

However, it didn’t take long for negative headlines to emerge, with Britain’s notoriously sharp tabloids probing everything from Meghan’s own troubled relationship with her family to the couple’s trips on private planes, while promoting environmental causes.

“To begin with it was easy because everyone loved them and all the press was positive, but then when stuff did start to go negative, their instinct wasn’t to just take it on the chin,” said ITV anchor Tom Bradby, who interviewed the couple for a documentary filmed during a trip to Africa in September. “Their instinct was that it was unreasonable and unfair and that you should try to fight it.”

In October, the couple revealed a lawsuit against the parent company of the Mail on Sunday for misuse of private information, among other claims. At the time, Harry released a scathing statement accusing the tabloid press of a “ruthless campaign” against his wife.

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