Meghan and Harry make first appearance after six-week break to thank Canada for hospitality – and discretion

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry made their first public appearance in six weeks today after taking an unprecedented break from their royal duties.

Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Sussex have had an exceptionally busy two years and have been attempting to carve out an independent path from traditional royal roles since their 2018 wedding. Since welcoming their first child – eight-month-old Archie Mountbatten-Windsor – the couple have become increasingly protective of their privacy, with Harry in particular keen to give his son the protection from public attention he never had as a child.

On Tuesday, they paid a visit to Canada House in London to thank members of the ambassadorial staff directly for their support during their recent trip there, but perhaps most importantly – their discretion. The Sussexes managed to keep much of the details of their trip secret and it was only after speculation in a Sunday newspaper that Buckingham Palace confirmed they were enjoying respite in the country.

And it was only when music producer David Foster, a former reality tv star whose fourth wife Katherine McPhee knows Meghan since their high school days, let the cat out of the bag about the private Vancouver Island mansion they rented that any real information about their trip became available.

They requested to meet with Janice Charette, Canada’s High Commissioner to the UK, as well as staff to “thank them for the warm Canadian hospitality and support they received during their recent stay”.

During their visit, they toured the Canada Gallery and viewed a special exhibition by indigenous Canadian artist Skawennati, an award winning new-media artist based in Montreal.

After the palace confirmed the couple were holed up outside Toronto, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “Prince Harry, Meghan, and Archie, we’re all wishing you a quiet and blessed stay in Canada. You’re among friends, and always welcome here.”

The couple spent Thanksgiving in Meghan’s native California with her mother Doria Ragland, who also joined them in Canada for their low-key Christmas and New Year celebrations. For the last two years, Meghan has spent Christmas with the royal family and they are following in Kate Middleton and Prince William’s footsteps when it comes to festive hosting and alternating their time between in-laws.

Read more: Meghan Markle: how Britain’s Duchess of Sussex navigated the best – and worst – year of her life

It’s believed they intend on pursuing more work in Canada, an “important Commonwealth country”, which is of little surprise given the privacy they received during their brief time there and Meghan’s established links there. While filming Suits over the course of seven years, she was based in Toronto and they spent the early days of their relationship at her former two-bedroom townhouse in the city’s upscale Seaton Village neighbourhood.

When news of their relationship broke, they decamped to the Mulroney household as Jessica, a stylist is a trusted confidante of Meghan’s, and her husband Ben’s father Brian is a former prime minister, so are uniquely placed to understand the scrutiny under which the couple finds themselves.

During their time there, the couple enjoyed a hike with Meghan’s former Suits co-star Abigail Spencer, who has been enjoying the elevated attention that comes from her royal association and was attending an exclusive Golden Globes party just a few days later.

But this trip wasn’t just a stroll down memory lane, it was about establishing links towards the future. Their trip turned into something of a working holiday as they trademarked their Sussex Royal foundation on hundreds of pieces of merchandise. Last year, they split from the Royal Foundation, originally established by Kate, William and Harry, to launch their own venture.

“Not only will their new foundation stand the test of time, but it will allow them to do some very ambitious things,” a source said. “Their charity will provide them with an opportunity to create something that will be their defining work – and it’s entirely theirs.

In a television documentary broadcast last October, Harry, when asked about the situation, said he loved his brother dearly but they were “on different paths at the moment” and have “good days” and “bad days” in their relationship.

William, the Queen and other senior royals were said to have been left “very worried” about the Sussexes after their emotional appearance on the ITV programme, filmed during their tour of Africa last autumn.

Harry described his mental health and the way he deals with the pressures of his life as a matter of “constant management”.

Meghan admitted feeling vulnerable, and spoke of the difficulty in coping with intense tabloid interest, saying: “It’s not enough to just survive something, that’s not the point of life. You have got to thrive.”

The couple’s high-profile visit to Africa, carried out at the request of the Government, was overshadowed on the penultimate day when the duke condemned the British tabloid press for bullying his wife, as Meghan launched a lawsuit against Associated Newspapers.

The duchess is suing over an alleged breach of copyright and privacy after the Mail on Sunday published a private letter between Meghan and her estranged father.

The newspaper has said it stands by its story and will be “defending this case vigorously”.

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