British royal expert Katie Nicholl told Vanity Fair on Friday that the 10-day trip will be an opportunity for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to shine the spotlight on causes close to them. In addition, they will show off their five-month-old son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, who has not yet officially been seen in public.
“After a summer of scathing headlines about their private jet use, the Sussexes will fly commercial for their first long haul flight with baby Archie,” explained Nicholl. “And the expectations will be high once they get there. Their tour last fall to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga was a rousing success, but also came just months after their wedding and immediately after Meghan had announced her pregnancy.”
“They were welcomed with open arms, their baby news celebrated at every engagement they attended and any talk of republicanism seemed to disappear the moment they touched down in Sydney,” Nicholl continued. “When they returned home the Queen is understood to have written to them to congratulate them on a tour well done.”
However, Nicholl shared that this year’s royal tour is different and comes with high expectations from the couple. Sources close to the couple told Nicholl that Harry, 35, and Markle, 38, are aware that there is no room for error that can result in bad publicity.
“This year, their trip comes after not only the private jet drama but what was perceived as a family snub when the Sussexes decided not to visit the Queen at Balmoral, even as Meghan flew to New York for the U.S. Open a week later,” said Nicholl. “The couple has hired an American PR firm to help with damage control, and sources say they hope the upcoming trip will help turn the tide.”
“People will want to see baby Archie who could be the key player in this,” said Seward. I think if they show a glimpse of Archie it could turn things around for the Sussexes.
Seward pointed out that royal babies have been essential in promoting positive press. When Prince Charles and then-wife Princess Diana took an infant Prince William to New Zealand, his crawling in Auckland immediately made international headlines. William’s firstborn Prince George was also highly praised following his visit to Australia and New Zealand in 2014 when he was less than a year old.
“It’s a small thing but it could end up being a very big thing in terms of better press coverage,” Seward admitting. “They’ve had a tough run, this is a chance to make it better.”
Nicholl shared Harry and Markle have appointed an all-female staff who will be joining them in Africa. Their new private secretary Fiona Mcilwham will also learn “the ins and outs of a royal tour” from Samantha Cohen, who has been at the palace for over 15 years and used to work for Queen Elizabeth II.
One source said the couple feels confident Cohen will ensure everything goes smoothly during the trip. It is also believed this is Cohen’s last job before she leaves the royal household.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Seward. “When you look at all the bad press they’ve had, it’s clear that they’ve got to claw back some of the goodwill that made them so popular around the royal wedding and which has diminished ever since.”
“I think part of the problem is that they have been trying to do things their way when what they’re expected to be doing is their duty,” continued Seward. “They did really well in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, and now they have another chance to show they can be great ambassadors for the Queen and country.”
According to Nicholl, there won’t be a traditional welcome at the airport when the family and their entourage arrive on Monday because the South African president is not there to greet the couple. Instead, they will go straight to work and head to Cape Town to view a workshop that teaches children self-defense classes and female empowerment training. Both Harry and Markle are expected to speak at the event and give speeches they wrote themselves.
The couple will also tackle five engagements a day. After Harry leaves Cape Town for Botswana, Angola and Malawi, Markle will stay behind with Archie to tackle her own royal duties. However, many of her meetings will be private to avoid overshadowing Harry’s work.
“While on his own Harry will visit his charity Sentebale’s new project in Kasane, Botswana, which works with young people affected with HIV,” said Nicholl. “In Angola, he will visit the landmine site his mother famously visited in 1997 with the Halo Trust; the images of him visiting the very street his mother saw when it was a dangerous minefield, now a thriving town, is expected to be some of the most poignant of the tour.
“And in Malawi, Harry will visit a girls’ educational center and dedicate Liwonde National Park to the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. He’ll then reunite with Meghan in Johannesburg where they will carry out more engagements before the end of the tour.”
Earlier this month, Harry broke his silence about his and Markle’s use of private jets despite their negative impact on the environment following a flood of backlash.
“I spend 99 percent of my life traveling the world by commercial [flights],” said Harry during a speech in Amsterdam to promote Travalyst, a new travel sustainability initiative.
“Occasionally there needs to be an opportunity based on a unique circumstance to ensure that my family [is] safe.”
“We can all do better and while no one is perfect, we all have a responsibility for our own individual impact,” he also said, according to People. “The question is what we do to balance it out.”
The couple drew criticism this summer when they took a private jet to go on vacation to Ibiza, then to Nice, France, despite the flight’s carbon impact on the planet.
They reportedly flew from Farnborough, U.K., to Ibiza, Spain, on Aug. 6, then back on Aug. 12.
On Aug. 14, they flew from Farnborough to Nice, France, to visit pal Elton John, then back to Farnborough on Aug. 17.
The couple is believed to have taken a Gulfstream 200, which seats 19 people, to Ibiza from Farnborough, and a Cessna 500 XL, which seats nine, on their return trip.
Their trip to Nice was to spend time at John’s home.
The singer, 72, later said in a statement that he provided the flight for the Sussexes to preserve their safety and privacy.
Fox News’ Jessica Sager contributed to this report.
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