Since announcing their departure from royal duty on Jan. 8, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have begun to write a bold new chapter—one in which “engagements” are casual and unannounced, free time is spent hiking in the woods near their Vancouver Island home with 9-month-old son Archie, and the rules governing their old life no longer apply.
“This decision [to leave] had been weighing on them for a long time, and they are relieved to have it done,” a friend tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “A weight has been lifted off their shoulders.”
But their new life hasn’t come without a price. After a series of intense discussions with Harry’s 93-year-old grandmother Queen Elizabeth, the couple lost their ability to use their HRH (His/Her Royal Highness) titles, and Harry had to forgo his role as youth ambassador to the Commonwealth. “It brings me great sadness that it has come to this,” he said on Jan. 19. Harry—who served 10 years in the British army, including two tours of Afghanistan—was also stripped of his honorary military appointments.
“The military was a part of his upbringing and his life. He brought a lot to those guys and understood things. It is sad,” says a palace insider.
Despite the sacrifices—Harry also left behind the rest of his family and closest friends—the couple ultimately negotiated “almost everything they asked for,” says the palace insider, with the ability to live and work where they want at the top of the list. As for the loss of their HRH titles, “Harry doesn’t care about the titles,” says a source in their circle. “It doesn’t interest him; it never has.”
As fallout from the couple’s departure continues—it’s unclear whether they will retain the use of their Sussex Royal branding—Meghan is deliberately keeping her circle tight. “She’s keeping a low profile while things settle down,” says an insider.
With their newfound freedom, Harry and Meghan have quickly adapted to life on scenic Vancouver Island in Canada, where they have been staying in a $14 million mansion off the Pacific coast. “They both love to be outside and have been loving it there,” says the friend. When they’re not doing yoga or eating in, Harry will pick up sandwiches at a local spot, and Meghan walks her beagle Guy and the couple’s new Labrador.
“They are enjoying living a quiet life,” an insider says of the couple. “They go for long walks, they do yoga, and Meghan cooks. They are real homebodies who love to chill out with Archie and the dogs.”
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Behind the scenes they are laying the groundwork for their own charity foundation. “These plans take a lot of time, and staff are putting in the legwork to prepare it properly and make sure it delivers on the expectations and the couple’s ambitions,” says a source. Harry has already collaborated with Oprah Winfrey for an upcoming Apple TV+ mental-health project. “He really cares about his work. He’s a good guy,” says the member of their circle. From potential speaking engagements and publishing deals to their own production company, anything is possible.
“It’s full throttle for them right now,” says a close friend. “They have a lot happening in 2020, and it will be really exciting to see.”