At 2 years old, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor is leading quite the normal life.
For your basic celebrity kid.
He's seen three continents and lived in three countries. Oprah Winfrey and Rob Lowe are among his neighbors. His vicarious social media presence is sparse and carefully curated. His first public words came on a podcast. And he has already inspired a children's book.
But while this existence is what Archie knows, having settled in Southern California with his parents when he was barely 9 months old, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry upended their lives to get their family to this place, both geographically and existentially.
Let's just say, if one day he's ever especially curious about the years before he started having memories, they're well-documented.
Born May 6, 2019, less than two weeks shy of his parents' first wedding anniversary, at Portland Hospital in London, the infant then only publicly known as Baby Sussex appeared in his first news footage when he was 2 days old, cradled in his dad's arms outside Windsor Castle.
Soon his full name would be revealed, along with a photo of Queen Elizabeth II meeting her seventh great-grandchild. (By then it had been reported that Archie would not be getting a royal title, although it was widely assumed that Meghan and Harry were the ones who decided to pass on their son's behalf, as Harry's aunt Princess Anne did for her two kids decades ago, preferring a semblance of normalcy to fancy honorifics.)
"It's magic," Meghan said about becoming a mum. "It's pretty amazing and, I mean, I have the two best guys in the world, so I'm really happy."
The astounding, surprise-a-day joy that filled their lives when their first child arrived seems not to have dissipated over the past two years—and soon Archie will be joined by a little sister, Meghan and Harry having shared on Valentine's Day that they were expecting again. They left the gender reveal for their bombshell interview with Oprah.
So yes, it's the celeb life for the Sussexes, if no longer an expressly royal one since Harry and Meghan rang in 2020 by announcing they planned to become financially independent from the crown and start splitting their time between the U.K. and North America, destination unknown at the time.
"It was never walking away—it was stepping back, rather than stepping down," Harry clarified to pal James Corden when he joined the Late Late Show host for a bit that aired in February featuring the Brits touring L.A. (and failing to enjoy high tea) aboard a double-decker bus. "It was a really difficult environment, as I think a lot of people saw. We all know what the British press can be like, and it was destroying my mental health. I was like, This is toxic. So I did what any husband and what any father would do, is like, I need to get my family out of here."
Which most people—some approving, some viciously disapproving—interpreted as stepping down.
The queen, Prince Charles and Prince William had been aware that Harry was increasingly unhappy and wanted to reconfigure his and Meghan's roles as senior royals, but the couple's announcement obviously came before all the details of their exit had been worked out.
Ultimately, though, was it a surprise?
In September 2019, when journalist Tom Bradby checked in with Harry and Meghan during their trip to Africa with then-5-month-old Archie, "happy" wasn't the word anyone would use to describe the couple.
When Bradby, whom Harry had known for years and trusted with what turned into their first unprecedentedly raw interview, wondered what sort of effect that the pressure she felt amid the relentless media scrutiny of every move she made was having on her physical and mental health, Meghan replied, "I would say—look, any woman, especially when they're pregnant, you're really vulnerable and...so that was made really challenging. And then when you have a newborn," she sighed out a laugh, "you know."
"And especially as a woman it's really, it's a lot," Meghan continued, "so you add this just on top of trying to be a new mom or trying to be a newlywed, it's just...yeah, well, I guess—and also thank you for asking, 'cause not many people have asked if I'm OK. But it's a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes."
Asked if it would be fair to say she'd been struggling, she replied, "Yes."
The chat, part of the ITV special Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, got even more intense when Harry admitted that seeing a horde of camera flashes couldn't help but still remind him of his own mother, Princess Diana, who was hounded by the press from the moment she entered the realm of the royal family as Charles' 19-year-old fiancée until she died 17 years later, when the Mercedes speeding her away from the paparazzi in Paris smashed into a pillar. Harry was 12 and William was 15.
While he eventually established a cordial relationship with Britain's bevy of royal correspondents after being more confrontational in his rowdy twenties, Harry was never a fan of the press. So when Meghan also told Bradby that she had brushed aside her friends' warnings that the British tabloids would "destroy [her] life" if she got involved with the U.K.'s most eligible bachelor, her regular critics (and some new ones who didn't like being lumped in with the repeat offenders) had a field day explaining all the ways she had flubbed being a royal and was dragging Harry down with her.
And while there were plenty of defenders who championed Meghan's decision to speak so candidly about what it was like as a new mom living the fishbowl existence, it was the beginning of the end of their attempt to go with the working-royal flow.
"I will always protect my family, and now I have a family to protect," Harry told Bradsby.
It had become strangely easy to forget that he and Meghan were busy adjusting to life as parents—not a circumstance the papers ignored, but one that somehow afforded the couple no grace period whatsoever after it became clear that they weren't going to play the game as usual. That started with their departure from the royal-birth-protocol the media had come to expect, most recently established for the modern era (social media announcements along with the easel outside Buckingham Palace, etc.) with the birth of Kate Middleton and Prince William's three children.
For starters, no one knew for sure which hospital Harry and Meghan planned to use, if any, with Portland not being identified until Archie's birth certificate was made public. Then announcements were compressed, with the one revealing that Meghan was in labor not coming until 45 minutes before the baby was born.
But perhaps most offensive to traditionalists was Archie's relatively private christening, which of course included the release of a few photos (the Sussexes weren't exactly being hermits) but otherwise shut the public out. Harry and Meghan also chose to keep the identities of Archie's godparents under wraps, another cardinal sin.
Behind closed doors, at least, life with Archie at Frogmore Cottage, near Windsor Castle, was delightful. "He has the sweetest temperament, he's really calm," Meghan shared with reporters when introducing her son to the world. Added Harry, holding what was widely agreed to be his mini-me in his arms, "His looks are changing every single day."
So far, parenting was "amazing," the new father also said. "We've only been at it two and a half, three days, but we're just so thrilled to have our own little bundle of joy, to be able to spend some precious times with him as he slowly starts to grow up." As they slightly angled Archie so the photographers could get a clearer glimpse, Harry quipped, "He's already got a little bit of facial hair as well."
His first public Dad joke.
In a speech he gave that July at the inaugural National Youth Mentoring Summit, Harry began, "I'm struck by a few things today, most of which is the power of the invisible role model. The person who may be sitting here today that doesn't realize that someone looks up to them that—for that person—you inspire them to be kinder, better, greater, more successful, more impactful."
"Perhaps it's the newfound clarity I have as a father knowing that my son will always be watching what I do, mimicking my behavior, one day maybe even following in my footsteps."
Not that one had to be a parent to be a role model, he added, but you never know whose life you can affect for the better by taking time to help, or even by just setting a good example with your own behavior.
"My mother, Princess Diana, was a role model to so many, without realizing the impact she would have on so many lives," Harry continued. "You don't have to be a princess or a public figure to be a role model, in fact it's equally valuable if you're not because it's more relatable."
Meghan was seen in public a few times, first at the annual Trooping the Colour parade in June with the rest of the family, but overall she remained on maternity leave for five months. Admittedly excited to jump right back into her good works, she had already started working on some projects close to her heart—in July she was revealed as the guest editor for the September issue of British Vogue, and she returned to public life Sept. 12 for the launch of the capsule collection she collaborated on for Smart Works, which provides professional attire for job-seeking women.
Controversy ensued, because of course it did, whether it was Meghan's choice of women to spotlight in the issue or Harry's chat in the magazine with primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall, in which he said that they planned to have no more than two children because that was better for the environment—which juxtaposed with the couple's use of private jets sounded a little tone deaf to some.
But at the same time, all part of the ongoing simultaneous dismantling and building up of Meghan as one of the best things to happen to Britain's royal family in a generation, every little snippet about life at home with Archie was cherished. "I've got to get back to the baby, it's feed time," she told the Smart Works crowd, making headlines around the world.
Yet the balance they were attempting to strike between their own public lives and privacy for their son, which started with their decision to leave Kensington Palace—where Diana used to live and where Kate and William and various other relatives of the queen have homes—for Windsor, felt increasingly unobtainable.
After the Africa trip, Harry and Meghan planned a six-week break from work, which included a trip to California to visit Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland, for Archie's first Thanksgiving. When Christmas came around, they opted to skip the queen's annual celebration at Sandringham, ritually punctuated by the family's Dec. 25 walk to church, in favor of a more private holiday. Kate and William haven't gone every single year since marrying in 2011, either, but combined with the ITV interview, their "much-needed time off," reports of a William-Harry feud and all the rest, it just seemed indicative of bigger issues at hand.
Harry and Meghan spent New Year's Eve of 2019 with Archie in a massive waterfront estate on Vancouver Island, Canada having been Meghan's adopted home while she filmed six seasons of the USA drama Suits. That's where Meghan stayed with Archie as talks began between Harry, William, Charles and the queen about what, exactly, this break from the Firm would really look like. And it's where Archie stayed when Meghan flew back to England to participate in her last handful of engagements as a senior royal.
As it turned out, there was no such thing as part-time. Instead it was decided that as of March 31, they would sponge the term "royal" from their future business and charitable endeavors, and would not lose but could no longer use their HRH titles or present themselves as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in public life.
But just in time for that historic transition, the world shut down, including a full-on lockdown in the U.K. Charles tested positive for COVID-19 and spent weeks in self-isolation in Scotland with Duchess Camilla. The queen and Prince Philip left London to ride out the government's physical-distancing directives at Windsor Castle, from where Her Majesty delivered only her fifth televised special address in her then-68-year reign to help reassure the nation that all would be okay in the end. Kate and William and their three children settled in for the TBD-how-long haul at their Norfolk estate, Anmer Hall.
Though they communicated via video chat, Harry noting that the queen and Philip—who wasn't one for frilly goodbyes and would abruptly close the computer when he was done chatting—were at least able to see Archie getting bigger and running around, Harry wouldn't see his grandfather again in person.
His first trip back to England since the onset of the pandemic was in April for Philip's funeral, the queen's husband of 73 years dying of natural causes at the age of 99. (Meghan, advised not to fly at that point in her pregnancy, stayed at home with Archie.) Though cousin Peter Phillips walked between William and Harry in the procession to St. George's Chapel, Harry organically gravitated toward William and Kate after the service, what was widely viewed as a welcome thaw between the brothers after months of tension, including the royal family's strong reaction to Harry and Meghan's sit-down with Oprah.
The growing family settled into their new $14.7 million gated home in Montecito last August after riding out the first few months of quarantine at Tyler Perry's house in Beverly Hills, the Atlanta-based actor and studio head offering the space to ease their transition into their new lives.
"As we can all feel, the world at this moment seems extraordinarily fragile," read the final post from the Sussex Royal Instagram account on March 30, 2020 the day before that chapter officially closed. "Yet we are confident that every human being has the potential and opportunity to make a difference—as seen now across the globe, in our families, our communities and those on the front line—together we can lift each other up to realize the fullness of that promise." (Harry and Meghan have yet to re-establish themselves on social media, instead giving the okay to other organizations to pass along relevant photos and videos.)
The couple first emerged on Easter weekend—with gloves and cloth masks—to deliver meals to the homebound for Project Angel Food in West Hollywood. As they carried on with their work via Zoom, they also finally established their new charitable organization, Archewell, the Greek word Arche meaning "sources of action."
During a video chat with a families in Britain who were home caring for children with serious health issues, the talk facilitated by the charity WellChild, Harry said, "So much family time that you almost think, 'Do I feel guilty for having so much family time?' You've got to celebrate those moments where you are just on the floor rolling around in hysterics. Inevitably, half an hour later, maybe a day later, there's going to be something that you have to deal with and there's no way you can run away from it."
He added, "Talk about super parents... There's so much respect for all you guys."
Instead of a big (or any significantly sized) party for Archie's first birthday, Harry and Meghan mainly connected with family and friends via FaceTime and celebrated with homemade treats at, well... at home. "They are taking the lockdown very seriously and so far they haven't seen anyone, not even Doria," a friend of the couple told Vanity Fair's royal correspondent Katie Nicholl. "I expect they will celebrate Archie's birthday with a little gathering."
They also released a rare video of their son for the big 0-1, so the same is to be expected for Archie's second birthday. (Harry and Meghan may have "stepped back" to avoid certain pressures, but they haven't rejected all expectations and norms.)
"Even after lockdown is lifted they plan to keep [Archie] away from the cameras," another source told Nicholl. "They want him to have an ordinary childhood away from the cameras."
But as we said before, Archie's public presence is being carefully curated. Case in point: the Rockwellian rendering of the family that was featured on their Christmas card. Then he was heard speaking for the first time in December on the first episode of their Spotify podcast Archewell Audio, when Meghan asked her little boy, "Archie, is it fun?"
"Fun?" he echoed.
Alas, she should have brought up reptiles, "crocodile" having been Archie's first word according to Harry, who told James Corden, "He's already putting three, four words together. He's already singing songs."
The toddler is also well-versed in breakfast, Harry explaining, "Meg makes up a beautiful organic mix, in the waffle maker, flip it, out it comes. He loves it. And now I have waffles for breakfast, bit of yogurt, bit of jam on top—I don't know if that's the right thing to do—bit of berries maybe, a little honey, maybe some syrup. Archie wakes up in the morning, and he just goes, 'Waffle?'"
Overall, his son is "hysterical," with "the most amazing personality," the proud papa shared.
Last summer in a chat with members of the Rugby Football League, Harry mentioned that he couldn't find child-size rugby balls anywhere, but he definitely hoped his son would be a fan of the sport, which is especially popular in the U.K. and Australia. "So, I need to get him playing some Rugby League. I'm just unbelievably fortunate and grateful to have outdoor space and see my son be able to be outside because I know that so many people just haven't had that opportunity in the last five months."
"Our little man is our no. 1 priority," he told the rugby , "but then our work after that is the second priority, and we're just doing everything we can to try and play our part in trying to make the world a better place."
With some light now peeking through at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Harry and Meghan have made it clear that they're going in their own direction. They signed a reported $100 million deal to produce content for Netflix and, in a move that would have been even more unthinkable than a production deal had they still been senior royals, last year they spoke out on social justice issues and encouraged people to exercise their right to vote in the 2020 election.
But while Harry made an appearance at the Vax Live: A Concert to Reunite the World benefit show last weekend (the taped concert airs Saturday, May 8), the latter half of this year will likely be largely devoted to adjusting to being a family of four.
"We've got our family," Harry told Oprah. "We've got, you know, the four of us and our two dogs, and it's great." He was "just grateful, like, to have any child, any one or any two would have been amazing. But to have a boy and then a girl, you know, what more can you ask for?"
There are places with fewer cameras to live than Los Angeles, but with Meghan's own mother in close proximity, other families around who get what it's like to be the object of rapt fascination, and plenty of resources at their disposal to ensure that Archie and his little sister are kept safe as they become more aware of the world around them, they have a shot at being just your average super-famous family.
If that's the goal, they've come to the right place.
(This story was originally published Tuesday, May 2, 2020, at 11 p.m. PT)