LONDON (Reuters) - Prince Harry and his wife Meghan will step back from senior roles in Britain’s royal family and spend more time in North America, they said on Wednesday, an announcement that took his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, by surprise.
Who are Harry and Meghan?
Prince Harry, 35, is the second son of Prince Charles, heir to the throne, and his first wife Diana, who died in a Paris car crash in 1997 while being chased by paparazzi.
For many Britons, one of the enduring images of Diana’s funeral was Harry, then aged 12, and his elder brother William walking behind the funeral cortège to Westminster Abbey.
Harry is the grandson of Queen Elizabeth. He is sixth-in-line to the throne after Charles, Prince William, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
Born in 1984 and named Henry Charles Albert David, he was educated at the exclusive Eton College.
Harry was portrayed as a royal wild child and playboy prince, and in 2002 he admitted smoking cannabis and getting drunk when underage in a pub near the royal family’s country estate amid suggestions he had fallen in with a bad crowd.
In response, his father sent him to a drug rehabilitation clinic in London for a day to give him a glimpse of the dangers of drug abuse.
Harry later scuffled with paparazzi outside a London nightclub and sparked outrage by dressing as a Nazi officer at a costume party.
He turned around his image after joining the army and spending time on the frontline fighting in Afghanistan and his easy-going manner with the public has made him one of the most popular members of the royal family.
He has been at the forefront of a rebranding of the British monarchy which has cast senior royals as modern and relevant, a far cry from the perception of a hopelessly out-of-touch institution following the 1997 death of Diana.
He spent 10 years in the military, a role where he felt he could be himself without the media scrutiny heaped upon the royal family or any of the other trappings of his gilded upbringing.
Known in the army as Captain Harry Wales, the prince started officer training at the Sandhurst military training college in 2005. He undertook his first tour of Afghanistan in late 2007, and then went on to train as an Apache attack helicopter pilot.
He went on a second Afghan tour as an Apache pilot between September 2012 and January 2013, but quit front-line military roles for a desk job. He left in 2015 to focus on royal duties and charity work, particularly focused on the welfare of military veterans, continuing his mother’s work helping those with Aids, and mental health issues.
He made front pages in 2012 when he was photographed partying naked and playing billiards in a private room in Las Vegas, later saying he had been “too much army and not enough prince”.
Harry had a number of high-profile relationships, a number of which commentators said had ended partly because of his ex-girlfriends’ concerns about the pressure of the being in the royal family.
Harry and Meghan, 38, an American divorcee, met on a blind date in London but fell in love in Botswana. They married in May 2018 in a lavish ceremony in Windsor Castle that was heralded at the time as a sign of a more modern monarchy.
Markle was born in Los Angeles in 1981, days after Harry’s father’s “fairytale” marriage with Diana. Her father was a TV lighting director for soaps and sitcoms and her mother a clinical therapist.
In 2011, she married film producer Trevor Engelson but they divorced two years later. Meghan appeared in a number of TV shows and films, such as “Horrible Bosses”, but achieved greatest fame for her starring part as “Rachel Zane” in the ongoing “Suits” series.
Their son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, was born in May last year.
In his first public acknowledgement that they were dating, Harry complained about the way that Meghan was treated by the British media. He referred to the sexism and racism directed at Markle, whose father is white and her mother African-American.
But the strains of public life were starting to show: relations with the British media collapsed and there was talk of tension with his brother William.
In October, Harry said that the couple had taken legal action against the Mail on Sunday in response to what he called “bullying” by some sections of the British press.
Days later, Harry sued the publishers of Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper and the Daily Mirror over allegations of phone-hacking. The legal action relates to events that happened before Harry and Meghan met.
“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” they said in a statement on Jan. 8.
“We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family, and work to become financially independent.”
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden; Editing by Alexandra Hudson