It should have been a fresh start for the embattled duo. Instead it was the beginning of the end, writes royal writer Daniela Elser for news.com.au
He couldn't wipe the smile off his face. On May 6 last year, a tired but clearly besotted Prince Harry fronted a select few members of the media and revealed that his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex had had a son.
"It's been the most amazing experience I could ever have possibly imagined," Harry said, beaming. For the couple it was a rare and joyful moment after months of scrutiny and criticism over everything from her New York baby shower to their decision to move to Windsor.
It should have been a fresh start, a clean slate, for the embattled duo, a huge boon of goodwill that would erase the previous fractious and antagonistic months thanks to various PR crises.
Yet looking back, it is clear that the arrival of Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, the seventh in line to the throne, was the moment that things irretrievably broke for the Sussexes.
In the days and weeks after wee Archie's birth, when the couple should have been basking in the glow of new parenthood and a wave of public goodwill, they faced consternation and public debate over everything from their decision to eschew a title for their son to the controversial decision to exclude the media from his christening.
What they could not have known at the time was it was only the beginning of burgeoning criticism of their unique approach to royal life.
Baby shower blues
When news first broke that Meghan was in New York in February last year, it took much of the media by surprise. The newish member of the royal family had ditched Windsor custom and was in the US for a baby shower being hosted by a slew of her A-list friends, including Serena Williams.
Soon, the paparazzi were camped outside the luxe Mark Hotel, and reports about how much the shindig was costing (some of which are now subject to a court case being brought by the Duchess) were swirling.
However, the very public and contentious wrangling over Harry and Meghan's behaviour was just warming up.
Already facing claims that the Duke and his brother Prince William were feuding, early in the year the newlyweds announced they were trading Kensington Palace for Frogmore Cottage in Windsor.
When they finally made the move from London, they faced a flurry of claims about how much the renovation cost.
Archie's birth on May 6 was a very brief moment of respite before the brouhaha over the bungled announcement of Meghan's labour (a press release went out announcing she was in hospital hours after the tiny chap had already arrived) and his christening erupted. The media, a small selection of whom normally photograph and video the royal family arriving at the chapel, were to be summarily excluded this time.
During all of this, Meghan faced increasing pressure and media speculation over her fractured relationship with her father.
Game, set, controversy
As the UK summer warmed up, so too did the heat Harry and Meghan were facing.
Meghan's "private" visit to Wimbledon with a couple of old friends in July also hit the headlines. A member of the Duchess' security team reportedly instructed a fellow patron to not take photos of the new mum (which he actually wasn't) and dozens of seats were mysteriously left empty around the party.
Rumours were also swirling that Harry and Meghan planned to split off from the Royal Foundation, the charitable body set up by the Wales brothers in 2009, to launch their own initiative. When this was confirmed the following month, along with the fact that they would be setting up their own office at Buckingham Palace, it was the final nail in the coffin of any lingering dreams of a royal Fab Four.
Private plane woes
In August, Brits flocked to Spain for holidays in the sunshine and the Sussexes were no different. Reports soon emerged that they had flown by private jet to Ibiza for a luxury getaway. All would have been par for the royal course except the move came only days after Harry had attended Google Camp where he had reportedly given a barefoot speech about climate change.
Soon, charges of hypocrisy were flying that were only dialled dramatically up when weeks later Harry and Meghan flew by private jet again, this time to the south of France for mini-break at Elton John's vast mansion in Nice.
The pressure on the couple only ratcheted up when it was announced that Meghan was the guest editor of the vaunted September issue of British Vogue. Rather than a glamorous shot of the Duchess on the cover, she had instead decided to celebrate a slew of women from around the world, with the magazine's editor saying that the royal thought it would be "boastful" to put herself on the front. Given that Kate, Duchess of Sussex (and Diana, Princess of Wales) had previously graced the cover of the fashion bible, a whole new media uproar ensued, also fuelled by the issue's earnest tone.
South Africa startover
The Sussexes headed to South Africa in September for their second large-scale international tour. The meticulously planned venture was seen as a crucial opportunity to reset the narrative and improve their contentious public image.
The first days were just that: Harry and Meghan were met by rapturous locals and rapturous global media coverage as they toured the country. The pinnacle came when they took adorable Archie to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Huzzah! The public relations ship had been righted, and the glow was back on the royal couple.
And then, the bombshell.
On October 1, Harry released a blistering statement excoriating the press and announcing that Meghan was launching legal action against a UK tabloid over the publication of a private letter she had sent her estranged father Thomas Markle.
The media was blindsided by the dramatic turn of events, and it put the combative duo at further odds with the Fourth Estate. Such aggressive legal manoeuvrings were highly unusual for the royal family who usually only very selectively, and as a last resort, call in the lawyers. Then, days later, the stakes were raised even further when it was revealed that Harry was suing two other UK papers over alleged phone hacking.
"Never complain, never explain" is a widely quoted royal maxim. And that, by and large, is how the members of the Windsor clan get on with things, stoically and quietly representing the Queen (occasional extramarital shenanigans notwithstanding).
Harry and Meghan chose a different path, teaming up with ITV's Tom Bradby for a TV documentary about their African trip. The couple took the opportunity to put their hearts on their sleeves, revealing they were struggling with life in the royal family. (Harry also seemingly confirmed the schism with William.)
Their pain was clear; however, their decision to so publicly air their emotional laundry put them at odds with the royal family's standard operating procedure.
When they announced they would be taking a six-week break from royal duties over Christmas and the New Year, it seemed like the logical next step.
And just like that, they disappeared from public view. For more than a month, the Sussexes had seemingly vanished off the face of the earth with nary a public sighting or paparazzi shot of the family.
Over Christmas it emerged that they were spending their downtime in Canada, namely in a mansion on Vancouver Island.
This week, they marked their return to London, first visiting the Grenfell tower community kitchen and then, unusually, thanking the hosts of their private holiday by visiting Canada House.
Looking back, the pressure that Harry and Meghan has faced, rightly or wrongly, has been slowly ratcheting up over the last year, and their decision to diverge from the traditional path has earned them both countless fans and detractors. With every one of their decisions, especially as they have deviated more and more from the established royal way, they faced increasingly rancorous public debate and wall-to-wall media coverage.
What comes next is unknown, and we are unequivocally in uncharted territory. However, will they face less attention? Will they face less pressure? Will their lives be any easier after today? They are going to have to go much further than Canada for that to actually happen.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years' experience working with several of Australia's leading titles.