The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have handed over their personal archive of intimate photographs, video diaries and audio voice notes to Netflix documentary makers, as they share family films of their two young children with millions around the world.
Prince Harry and Meghan, who have made a six-part documentary for the global streaming service, are shown in photographs capturing their early relationship, first private holiday and documenting their exit from royal life in self-filmed mobile phone diaries.
Scenes show baby Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor being shown a photograph of her late grandmother Princess Diana, Archie running round their home and garden, and Meghan rubbing noses with her babies in the nursery.
The excitement of their engagement at Frogmore Cottage is captured via a phone video shot in the dark, thought to be for Meghan’s then close friend Jessica Mulroney, in which she tells her: “Oh my God, Jess, Jess it’s happening, it’s happening. Oh my God, he told me not to peek.”
The first episode of the show sees the Sussexes share a series of images of themselves at a Halloween party, in fancy dress with Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank.
'A friend suggested we document ourselves'
Strikingly, it opens with footage from video diaries recorded during the couple’s final trip to the UK, in March 2020, where they were undertaking engagements in what was called their “finale” in Britain.
“A friend of ours actually suggested that we document ourselves through this period of time,” Harry says.
“With all of the misinformation that was going on out there, especially about us and the departure, it seemed like a really sensible idea.”
A make-up-free Meghan, back in Vancouver where the couple lived temporarily before moving to LA, is seen speaking into her phone camera, saying of the decision to start documenting: “I don’t know. We’ve talked about it. We keep talking about it, because we know that, right now it might not make sense, but one day it will make sense.”
The show cuts to Harry, in the Windsor Suite at Heathrow Airport in March 2020, saying: “Hi. So we’re here on Wednesday the something of March.
“We’ve just finished our two weeks, our like final push, our last stint of royal engagements.
“It’s really hard to look back on it now and go ‘what on earth happened’? Like, how did we end up here?”
Other shots, likely to have been filmed by both Harry and Meghan during the course of their lives together for their own family records, show never-before-seen images from their first date, their private five-day camping trip to Botswana and - later - their children speaking and playing on camera.
Meghan is seen feeding chickens in their Montecito garden with Lili in a sling, while Archie complains sweetly about having “dirty feet” while Harry tries to show him hummingbirds.
The programme also includes reproduced full conversations between the couple shared via Instagram direct messages and Whatsapps, as well as screengrabs of their Facetimes.
Both are snapped in bed, presumably on the other’s mobile phone while they were long-distance dating, with photographs of Meghan at home in pregnancy.
Meghan asks Archie to describe a sunset, which he obligingly says is “beautiful”, and discloses: “Archie loves Bennie And The Jets [by Elton John]. It is his favourite song.”
They also share a photograph of what appears to be their son’s first birthday.
In interviews filmed on a sofa, the Duke and Duchess describe how they “met” on Instagram, after Harry saw a photograph of the then-Meghan Markle on a mutual friend’s feed, complete with the Snapchat puppy filter.
That unnamed friend then put the pair in touch, with messages quoted verbatim showing Meghan asking “Who is prince haz?????”
She went on to scroll through his Instagram feed to do her “homework” before swapping numbers.
“So come on – what u doing tomorrow night?” Harry asked her. “Hope you’re Having fun over there!”
Meghan replies: “Heading back to soho. I have a dinner tomorrow at 8 but can do drinks tomorrow night. Would that work? Maybe 6?”
Harry writes back: “You’re ON!”
On their first date, they say, Harry was late, arriving flustered and red-faced.
Afterwards, Meghan - describing herself as “so forward and American” - asked him for dinner, sharing a photograph with Netflix viewers in which they “capture[d] the feeling of just sitting in that little restaurant and going ‘Oh my gosh. We were going to give it a go’.”
After they had met twice, Prince Harry invited the Suits star to travel to Botswana with him, camping in an ordinary tent and sharing wine out of a cut-up plastic water bottle.
Viewers are treated to their hitherto private photo album, showing them holding hands and kissing in locations including Africa and Windsor while their relationship was still under wraps.
Frogmore Cottage engagement
Remarkably, even their Frogmore Cottage engagement is recorded for posterity.
Speaking about the moment he proposed, Harry said: “I wanted to do it earlier but because I had to ask permission from my grandmother I couldn't do it outside the UK.”
He bought a magnum of Champagne to open while they were cooking a roast chicken at their cottage at Kensington Palace, which “slightly gave the game away”, and lit 15 electric candles in the garden.
In a message played out in the show, Meghan’s voice is heard saying: “oh my God, Jess, Jess it’s happening, it’s happening. Oh my God, he told me not to peek.”
Harry adds: “Of course I got down on one knee. Of course I did.”
A grainy photograph of Harry, down on one knee holding up an engagement ring in a box, is included, showing the candles, a bouquet of white roses and Meghan's dog Guy in the foreground.
Lucy Fraser, a friend and one of the talking heads on the programme, said they had a secret engagement party where all the guests wore animal onesies, with Harry and Meghan in matching penguin suits “because penguins mate for life”.
The Duke and Duchess have previously been criticised for invading their own privacy, having left Britain partly in pursuit of freedom from media scrutiny.
Asked why she wanted to make the documentary, Meghan says: “I’m not going to say that it’s comfortable.
“But when you feel that people haven’t gotten any sense of who you are for so long it’s really nice to just be able to have the opportunity to let people have a bit more of a glimpse into what’s happened and also who we are.”
Prince Harry says: “As a dad, and as parents, I think consent is a really key piece to this.
“That if you have children it should be your consent as to what you share.”
In a statement released alongside the first three episodes of the documentary, the Sussexes say: “We are grateful to have the ability to share our love story through such an esteemed creative team and with the global reach of Netflix.
“We hope it helps others to heal, and to feel inspired.”