Behind the Scenes in Africa with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry: ‘We’re Really Happy’ (Exclusive)

Four years after stepping back from their royal roles, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex embarked on a high-profile tour of Nigeria

 

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry made every moment count during their “meaningful” trip to Nigeria.

Speaking with PEOPLE on the tour, the Duke of Sussex says, “These trips are about us being able to go out and go and focus on the things that mean so much to us. And being able to be on the ground, to us, is what it’s all about.”

The Duchess of Sussex adds, “It’s really meaningful. Just being able to connect to people…that’s what makes it special.”

That connection was magnified by Meghan’s discovery through a genealogy test that she is 43% Nigerian, a revelation that deeply resonated with Meghan as she expressed being in “my country.”

On Mother’s Day she found it poignant to be learning more about “my heritage, that I’m able to share with my children,” she says. “That’s such a special thing as a mother to know you can do.”

The couple hit the ground running when they arrived at Lightway Academy in Abuja on May 10, the first stop of their three-day stay. Speaking to students, Prince Harry, 39, emphasized the importance of acknowledging tough times, reassuring that it’s “okay not to be okay.” Meghan, 42, recounted how Lilibet, who turns 3 in June, recently remarked, “Mama, I see me in you.” Reflecting on those words, Meghan said, “Looking around this room, I see myself in all of you as well.”

The scene had all the makings of a royal tour — except this time the couple were visiting not as “working royals,” but on their own terms. Still, the similarities to their 2019 African tour were hard to miss. Addressing a group of teens in South Africa in 2019, Meghan shared, “I am here… as your sister,” and carried the same sentiment in Nigeria.
Meghan Markle Wears Princess Diana’s Cross Necklace in Nigeria, a Gift from Prince Harry (Exclusive)
“I always reflect back on myself as a young girl and the type of inspiration that I wanted to see in other women. I hope in some small way I can be a part of that for a lot of these young girls especially,” Meghan tells PEOPLE. “I saw myself in them. I see the potential in all of these young girls — and, by the way, in these young boys as well.”

Referring to son Prince Archie, 5, and daughter Princess Lilibet, who turns 3 in June, she adds, “It’s what we see in our own children — to give them that promise and excitement for their futures.”

All the Best Photos from Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Nigeria Trip!
Kicking off after Harry commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Invictus Games in London (notably, without any royal family members in attendance), the couple’s trip to Africa invoked their early hope to serve the crown and the commonwealth (of which Nigeria is a part) while pursuing financial independence, a notion previously shut down by Queen Elizabeth.

Expectations of a royal family reunion during Prince Harry’s U.K. stay were quashed when a spokesperson for the Duke said there were no plans for Harry and his father King Charles to meet while he was in London “due to His Majesty’s full [schedule].” The revelation caught many off guard, considering Prince Harry’s positive meeting with his father in February after Buckingham Palace announced the sovereign’s cancer diagnosis.

Those close to the couple say that the Nigeria tour was not an attempt to highlight any perceived gaps in the royal family’s workload, which is currently affected not only by Harry and Meghan’s absence but also King Charles’ and Kate Middleton’s cancer treatments.

For his part, Harry says, “You know what Africa means to me over the years. It is a very, very special place, and to be able to include Nigeria now [in the Invictus Games], I’m very happy.”

The couple traveled at the invitation of Nigeria’s chief of defense staff, General Christopher Musa, and much of of the itinerary highlighted the Invictus Games. The tour included a visit to Nigeria Unconquered, an Invictus-affiliated charity that similarly utilizes adaptive sports to empower and challenge wounded and injured service personnel, along with an emotional visit to a military hospital in Kaduna for Harry.

At the hospital, he knelt by soldiers’ bedsides in a gesture reminiscent of the late Princess Diana, listening intently as they shared their stories. “Be strong,” he told them, noting the “transformative power” of sports.

“That experience of knowing what life, post-injury, is like gives people so much hope. And hope, hope, hope is a huge part of this,” Prince Harry tells PEOPLE.

For Meghan, a pivotal moment during the trip featured a panel discussion about women and leadership alongside the director-general of the World Trade Organization, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala recognizes the pressure Meghan is under in the public eye, telling PEOPLE: “She’s a role model for young women. She’s a woman who is not in an easy position, and people are looking to see how is she managing and navigating this. That’s one of the things she brings: inspiration. You can see in spite of that, she’s a cheerful, warm personality, and everybody in the room took to her.”

That evident good cheer stands in contrast to Meghan and Harry’s last visit to Africa in 2019. Back then, the duchess was asked if she was “okay,” and her answer (“Not many people have asked”) betrayed that she clearly wasn’t. Both Meghan and Harry were in a challenging place, and within months they announced their radical withdrawal from royal life. Now, almost five years later, it’s clear their spirits have lifted.

“We’re just doing great. And happy to be watching our family grow up and evolve. Of course, I’m happy. We’re really happy,” Meghan tells PEOPLE.

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