Duke and Duchess' facade has crumbled, writes RICHARD KAY

RICHARD KAY Not even 20 months have passed since that magical day when they stood on the steps of St George's Chapel at Windsor and, with a kiss, enchanted a global audience of millions.

The of Harry and Meghan was a love letter from Britain to the world, from the blue skies over a fairytale castle to the gospel choir and a carriage drive through streets thronged with cheering admirers.

This was a moment to savour, the grandson of the Queen marrying a mixed heritage young woman descended from slaves. But it was also about the fulfilment of a nation's dreams for a prince, who was fixed in the collective national memory as a 12-year-old following his mother's coffin.

The Cambridges and Sussexes William, Kate, Meghan and Harry at Sandringham

The Cambridges and Sussexes William, Kate, Meghan and Harry at Sandringham

Tragically, the shared happiness was misplaced. Harry and Meghan were not just a couple who wanted to embrace both modernity and tradition; they were bent on re-writing the rule book of what being a member of the Royal Family actually means.

We should perhaps have realised; after all, the manner in which the duchess's father was ruthlessly excluded from the ceremony went beyond mere discourtesy.

At the time, the failure of Thomas Markle to give his daughter away was blamed squarely on his own foolishness.

Nor was much made of the absence of many of Harry's oldest friends, the mates who had stuck by him through thick and thin. In their place came a new set of chums, megawatt celebrities who had not been around when he was at his lowest ebb, but who would add a glamorous touch of stardust to proceedings.

The tragedy of Harry and Meghan is that they could have been life-long royal heroes. The Prince himself was already much loved, second only to the Queen in popularity.

Meghan and Harry join William and Kate on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to view a flypast to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force in July 2018

Meghan and Harry join William and Kate on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to view a flypast to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force in July 2018 

From seeing action on the front line in Afghanistan not once but twice, and from which he had emerged unscathed, Harry had won over those sceptical about his party prince reputation.

After the Army, affection for him soared following his triumphant visit to the Caribbean, where he posed with another superstar, the Olympic athlete Usain Bolt.

If elder brother William represented the dutiful if dull side of royalty, Harry was the fun side. He was open and amusing, taking everything in his stride. All he needed was to find the love of a good woman and his happiness — and ours — would be complete.

His romantic path had been strewn if not with broken hearts then certainly with trepidation. Before Meghan, he had wooed and lost two other beauties — Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas —who valued a life out of the limelight, rather than marriage and the goldfish bowl of royal attention.

In Meghan he found a soulmate who had at least experienced life in the spotlight. This, they both hoped, would provide an understanding for their future together.

But if anything this understanding has served to drive them apart from the very institution they say they want to support. It has led to William and Harry, once the closest of brothers, being alienated from one another, and to a series of ill-judged interventions that have provoked bafflement and, yes, even resentment.

Their preaching to ordinary people about how they should lead their lives — particularly about climate change — and what has come to be seen as a drip, drip, drip of complaints about how they are treated, has led to a real disconnect. Who would have thought that in recent times the mere mention of Harry and Meghan's names at Buckingham Palace would lead some of the Queen's most loyal courtiers to wrinkle their noses and pull a face.

Harry and Meghan ride a horse-drawn carriage after their wedding ceremony in May 2018

Harry and Meghan ride a horse-drawn carriage after their ceremony in May 2018 

The rot set in even before the glow of that May day had passed. Shortly after returning from honeymoon, Meghan was asked by a younger member of the family how it had gone and, more to the point, where they had gone. 'We're not telling anyone,' the new Duchess of Sussex smiled. Was this merely a symptom of someone still adjusting to royal life, or someone who was not about to make any compromises about their privacy?

It was not long before the Markle debacle over Meghan's father was again rearing its head. A sweet but naïve figure, Thomas Markle did not help himself with his sudden fascination for giving interviews about his famous daughter.

But here was a man of limited resources suddenly thrust onto a global stage, unsure of protocol and stumbling from one misadventure to another.

Sympathy, at first, was with his daughter, but questions were soon asked about her and Harry's duty of care towards him. In fact, the seeds of this family fall-out

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