As the row over claims Meghan bullied royal aides escalates, the Sussexes' tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2018 is emerging as central to the disintegration of relations between the couple and Buckingham Palace.
The royal family has launched an investigation into allegations that Meghan bullied staff, following reports the duchess left behind "a lot of broken people".
The 39-year-old has strenuously denied the allegations, which have emerged in the run-up to her tell-all Oprah interview, saying the palace is using the media to peddle "a wholly false narrative".
The growing stream of claims from anonymous royal sources paints a picture of rising tension and clashes between the former actor and staff during her 16-day October 2018 tour of Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji with Prince Harry just months after their wedding.
"The Australia tour is one of the most important in the royal world but there have long been allegations of rows with staff," a source told The Sun.
"If these assistants come forward it will form the centre of the palace's bullying probe. It was a critical time."
The claims include Meghan becoming upset at being given only a wing of Admiralty House, the Australian Governor General's official Sydney residence, rather than the whole property. On another occasion she reportedly lost her temper with an assistant and a hot drink was knocked over.
The trip appears to have highlighted the gulf between the reality of royal duties and the expectations of the former Suits star, who tells Oprah in this week's interview that the "construct" of palace life is "different than what I think people imagine it to be".
When Meghan discovered that hundreds of people were waiting outside the Sydney Opera House to welcome the newlyweds, the duchess reportedly said to the team: "What are they all doing here? It's silly."
The source told The Times that Meghan was informed: "They're here because they admire and support a monarch and an institution that you're representing", adding: "She didn't get it."
The cracks forming in the royal facade at the Opera House echoes scenes in 1983 when Princess Diana was photographed weeping there during her tour with Prince Charles, overwhelmed by the attention. As Harry told Oprah this week, his biggest fear is of "history repeating itself".
But there are vital differences between the naive Diana and Meghan — who describes herself as "an adult who lived a really independent life" before she was propelled into the tightly controlled royal environment.
On the same trip, during a Fiji market tour, Meghan was seen by several reporters raging at an aide. Daily Mail royal correspondent Rebecca English said she witnessed the duchess "turn and 'hiss' at a member of her entourage, clearly incandescent with rage about something, and demand to leave".
English added: "I later saw that same – female – highly distressed member of staff sitting in an official car, with tears running down her face. Our eyes met and she lowered hers, humiliation etched on her features.
"At the time I was unable to document anything as I couldn't conclusively link the two incidents together, despite my suspicions. I have subsequently found out from other sources that my instincts were right."
The duchess — who had just announced she was pregnant with her first child in Australia — was swept away from the market by security after she whispered to a bodyguard. At the time, the reason given for the abrupt end to her walk-through was that area was hot and overcrowded.
But The Times reported that Meghan was concerned about the presence of UN Women, a group she'd previously worked with promoting women's empowerment. Her lawyers deny this and said she met other UN Women leaders later on the trip.
The paper's royal correspondent also described seeing the duchess "appear to have sharp words with her aides".
Meghan's personal assistant Melissa Toubati resigned a month after the tour.
She is among the former aides labelled the "Sussex Survivor's Club", who were allegedly "driven out" of the palace.
Samantha Cohen, an Australian who was assistant private secretary to the Queen and stayed on as Harry and Meghan's private secretary, left the post in 2019.
Jason Knauf, who was communications secretary for Harry, Meghan, William and Kate until the couples created separate offices two years ago, will be a key figure in the investigation. He reportedly sent at least one colleague an email about the alleged bullying at the time.
As Meghan and Harry's interview airs, the unhappy affair is long from over, with reports that the couple could be stripped of their titles as Duke and Duchess of Sussex — a step further than the recent "Sandringham summit" agreement in which they lost various patronages and titles in their departure as working royals.
The ongoing war is beneficial to neither party, with the Sussexes accusing the palace of "a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation", even as royal sources continue to brief The Times about how Meghan "was never up for royal life" — another claim she denies.
Perhaps there is one anonymous comment to the UK newspaper on which the Californian — who faced isolation, snobbery, racism and relentless criticism from the press during her time in the UK — would agree: "Meghan didn't understand what she was letting herself in for, and why should she?"