Two years ago, Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex strode into Westminster Abbey as senior working royals, ready to attend the monarchy’s annual Commonwealth Day Service.
Dressed in a bold green Emilia Wickstead dress and matching William Chambers fascinator, Meghan smiled to the crowd alongside her subdued husband as they entered the service with the extended royal family.
But everything changed when they left those elegant halls, surrounded by the likes of the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.
March 9, 2020, marked the couple’s final public royal engagement as senior working members of the monarchy, and though they would carry out a small number of minor duties before their official royal exit, it was very much the end of an era.
Two years on, the couple call California, USA, their home, raising their two children – Archie, two, and Lilibet, nine months – well away from the royal spotlight they deliberately opted out of.
Their daughter has never been to the UK, nor has she been introduced to her great-grandmother the Queen and extended royal family, including cousins Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
Harry has only returned to his homeland twice; to attend Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021, and to honour his late mother Princess Diana’s 60th birthday in July the same year.
Now living a world away, literally and figuratively, from the lives they left behind in March 2020, it’s hard to recall a time when the Duke and Duchess were a staple of the royal family, a couple lauded as the new, progressive face of the monarchy.
In fact, hundreds of The Australian Women’s Weekly readers don’t even remember the couple’s final days as senior working royals, let alone those hopeful early months and years.
A poll conducted on The Weekly’s Instagram page saw 70 per cent of readers confess they didn’t remember a thing about Harry and Meghan’s final series of royal engagements, which saw them attend several key events in the first weeks of March 2020.
Most notable were their appearances at the Endeavour Fund Awards on March 5, where one of the most iconic photos of the couple walking in the rain was snapped, and the Mountbatten Festival of Music on March 7.
Dressed in a mesmerising red Safiyaa gown featuring a floor-length cape, Meghan coordinated perfectly with her husband’s vermillion military uniform.
However when it comes to what The Weekly readers recollect from the couple’s so-called “farewell tour” in the UK, responses were mixed – though few were flattering.
One recalled “how unhappy” Harry and Meghan looked, another accused the couple of “rudeness”, while a third said they were turned off the couple in those final days for “ditching the royal family”.
But there were positive memories too; one The Weekly reader recalled “how happy” Harry and Meghan were, another commenting on their delightful “colour matchups” at their final engagements.
“[I remember] the fab fashion! And how the Cambridges blanked them at the Commonwealth Service,” one wrote.
In fact, for many the Commonwealth Service that marked the couple’s final moments as senior working royals in the public eye is the only clear memory that remains from Harry and Meghan’s whirlwind month in 2020.
WATCH: See the Sussexes’ And Cambridges’ awkward interaction at the Commonwealth Day Service. Story continues after video.
It’s no wonder, given how monumental the moment became online. Headlines screamed of “royal snubs” and “subtle tributes” in equal measure, while social media went into meltdown over everything from fashion to body language in seconds-long clips of the royals.
It may not come as a surprise that 54 per cent of The Weekly’s readers said they did not have positive feelings regarding Harry and Meghan’s final royal outing for the Commonwealth Day service in 2020.
However, 25 per cent said they did enjoy the couple’s final engagement, while a further 21 per cent had mixed feelings, proving that while the outing was divisive, it was certainly a landmark cultural moment.
Indeed, even now, two years on, Australians have strong feelings about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex now, the seeds of which were planted as they strode out of Westminster Abbey in 2020.
Though the Sussexes have been deemed “attention-seeking”, “irrelevant” and “disrespectful” by some, there are also pockets of positivity in the court of public opinion.
Readers write that they’re glad to see the couple have found the privacy they had hoped for in the US, that they hope Harry and Meghan are thriving with their two young children and that their mental wellbeing appears stronger because of it.
They say hindsight is 20/20, but two years after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex bid their roles as senior working royals farewell, it seems that the public is as divided as ever in their opinions of the pair and their choice to leave the monarchy.
Perhaps in two more years’ time, the public opinion of Harry and Meghan will have softened. Perhaps not.
But as the years roll by, one thing is certain; March 2020 will always be a landmark month in royal history, and the Commonwealth Service of that year will be a moment royal watchers and critics alike will look back on for decades to come.