When the couple joined Prince William and Kate Middleton outside Windsor Castle to greet the assembled mourners following the death of Queen Elizabeth II last September, the sight was a reminder of what once was—and what could have been, if it hadn't all gone so wrong.
Or, maybe it went exactly right for Harry, who's celebrating his 39th birthday Sept. 15. He'll be spending the day in Germany at the Invictus Games, the cornerstone of his legacy as a dedicated supporter of military veterans, with Meghan by his side.
"The world is their oyster at this point in time," royal expert Sharon Carpenter told E! News in an exclusive interview. "They could do anything they want to do."
However, that sunny outlook doesn't exactly match up with reports of varying provenance from over the summer that the couple were floundering in Hollywood or maybe even having issues at home. (A setting came loose and Meghan isn't wearing her engagement ring while it's being fixed, FYI).
There have been "bumps in the road," Carpenter acknowledged, pointing to the $20 million Spotify deal that ended abruptly in June and the "negative talk around that." But overall, just because one door closed for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex doesn't mean that their lives in the U.S. have gone off the rails.
Following their May 16 night in New York that, according to Harry and Meghan, included a harrowing escape from aggressive paparazzi but which police maintained was a routine chauffeured car ride from one location to another, "they needed to reset," Carpenter observed. And they seemingly did, privately celebrating daughter Lili's second birthday on June 4 and Meghan's 42nd on Aug. 4 while steering clear of high-profile events.
But since taking "a bit of a backseat," Carpenter noted, "now we're seeing them come back out again, slowly but surely." And not just on Netflix, where Harry's Heart of Invictus docuseries premiered Aug. 30 and Meghan's star-making USA legal dramedy Suits has been judged most entertaining by audiences seeking a compelling summer binge.
Meghan was among the friendship bracelet-laden throngs who caught Taylor Swift's Eras Tour at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium, and then she was back just weeks later—twice!—for Beyoncé's Renaissance Tour, attending one concert with Harry and then returning for the silvery Sept. 4 birthday show, sitting with Kelly Rowland and Kerry Washington.
Harry, meanwhile, caught the most buzzed-about soccer match in recent memory, joining the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Ferrell in watching superstar Lionel Messi and Inter Miami CF top defending MLS champion LAFC 3-1 on the latter's home pitch Sept. 3.
Just a few days later, Harry touched down in London for the Sept. 7 WellChild Awards—the same event he was in town for last year and ended up missing when the queen died—and then headed to Düsseldorf to open the Invictus Games on Sept. 9. Meghan joined him on Sept. 12, apologizing to the crowd for being "a little late for the party."
But though Harry made a pilgrimage to St. George's Chapel in Windsor on the first anniversary of the queen's death to visit her burial site (which is alongside her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip), he didn't otherwise spent time with family during his brief stop in the U.K.
He was also in town in June, to give evidence to London's High Court in his ongoing lawsuit against tabloid owner Mirror Group Newspapers, but he hasn't seen William or King Charles III since his father's May 6 coronation. Harry attended the historic ceremony without Meghan, sat in the third row with his cousins and, since he wasn't part of the photo op on the Buckingham Palace balcony afterward, headed straight home to catch the tail end of son Archie's fourth birthday that same day.
Nor were Harry and Meghan invited to this year's Trooping the Colour, the official celebration of the monarch's birthday, or to Balmoral Castle for the royals' summer holiday, the Scottish residence serving as an annual getaway spot for the family. (Harry's late mother, Princess Diana, is said to have not enjoyed herself there, calling those visits "the most stressful time of the year," according to biographer Andrew Morton. And it's where Harry and William were on Aug. 31, 1997, when they found out their mother had died.)
The family are still in the process of "phasing Harry and Meghan out," Carpenter said, noting the years-in-the-offing removal of Harry's HRH title from the royal website in August. They "want people to focus on what's important at the end of the day, to them," the correspondent explained, "which is the work of the royals and what the crown stands for, and how the crown is here to serve the people."
The year memorably started off with the public's focus decidedly elsewhere in the wake of Harry releasing his explosive memoir Spare, which only deepened the rift between him and William—who, as the future king, isn't in a position to rebut or otherwise add to the discourse about the dynamic between him and his younger brother.
And while Harry does correspond with his father, according to Carpenter, he and William are said to have not talked since Spare came out.
But since overall popularity of the royals took only a minor hit on their home turf in the wake of the book's bombshell rollout, the family may have concluded that reconciliation "isn't the most important thing," Carpenter said, at least not at this time.
Harry had a right to his issues with how he grew up, his mother's death, the royals' give-and-take with the British press and how he felt Meghan was treated once she joined their scene. But then, on the other side, starting with their jaw-dropping March 2021 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Harry and Meghan painted a dispiriting picture of what his family was like, culminating with what he divulged in Spare. (That is, he noted in the book, what he chose to divulge.)
William and Harry "both need time to really think and realize, 'Yeah, my brother did this, my brother said that, but I miss him,'" Carpenter said. For now, however, "there's a lack of trust on both sides."
But just as the monarchy is persevering in its own quiet way under the stewardship of Charles and Queen Camilla, with essential assists from William and Kate, so Harry and Meghan are moving on in their neck of the woods.
Meghan signed with talent agency WME in August and, though her podcast Archetypes ended, she remains "all about empowering women and keeping the conversation going," Carpenter said, "so there may be a new commercial venture there." She and Harry will be "working together on future endeavors but also doing their own things that they're passionate about. They are two individuals at the end of the day."
But they remain "tremendously supportive" of each other's work, Carpenter added, and "we'll likely see the two of them coming together for projects, as well, on a consistent basis."
And in the meantime, she said of the couple, "They're enjoying life, and that's nice to see."