James Weir recaps Meghan and Harry in South Africa
BATTERED by months of toxic palace leaks and tabloid stories about demanding behaviour, Meghan and Harry touched down in South Africa for a 10-day tour that could reverse the damage and show they are one with the people - and it all began in the "murder capital".
Look, it's not exactly the Sydney Opera House - where they sauntered around on last year's visit Down Under - but that was a different time.
This is damage control. The location for their first visit in South Africa shows they have a very "go hard or go home" attitude during this tour.
Nyanga is a small township about 30 minutes outside of "the bowl" - the central city of Cape Town - and it's reported one in 206 people are killed each year in the area.
So the royal motorcade made a beeline from the airport to the Methodist Church in the township on Monday, with a quick pitstop to the hotel to dump Archie.
"Murder Capital" is a big call to make. How dangerous is it? I got laughed at by several locals when I asked if I could Uber there. Indeed, the guy who writes The Bachelor recaps probably shouldn't be skipping around Nyanga and asking locals what their WiFi password is, but let's tempt fate.
It was a small and intimate meeting that really captured the essence of daily life in the township. Well, mostly.
Details of the visit remained top secret until the final hour. A local dance troupe of five girls were told last week to prepare a performance for an event, but they only found out at the final moment the special guests they'd be performing for.
Bright eyed and GHD-ed tailed, Meghan and Harry arrived early for the visit, wearing matching Justice Desk beaded bracelets - the organisation they were visiting. Two minutes early to be exact - huge news. This shows how unstructured and loose they're treating this tour. Back to basics, remember? No Mariah Carey behaviour here. Orrr … does it kinda make them seem like uptight nerds who are stressing about punctuality? You can read it whichever way you want. It's Kate Middleton's world, Megan will never win.
The motorcade whizzed down the dusty streets as local kids roamed around and hurled balls. Blue skies stretched over the cape and warm sun beamed down. Army and local police let the Range Rover through the cordoned-off street and it came to a stop out the front of the church. The bongos and the xylophones got louder. The dancers danced harder. Remember that Beyonce performance at the Super Bowl? That was a Rock Eisteddfod compared to this gig.
As the royal couple slid out of the Range Rover, a familiar look washed over Meghan's face - the look you give when you realise you're about to be made to dance in public with no prior warning. Fek.
They walked through the gates and were greeted by the dancers and musicians, dressed in traditional red costumes. The couple didn't want formalities, and these dancers didn't give it to them. It was their moment. Harry led Meghan as they were shown inside the grounds, but Meghan sent a clear message she was the one in control. As her husband moved forward, she turned away and walked backwards towards the dancers, engaging with them and smiling.
We saw this on their Australian tour. One year ago in Sydney, Meghan was a newbie - only months after becoming a royal, it was her first official tour and Harry was meant to be showing her the ropes. Yet she made the calls - directing him to waiting locals and breaking away to meet people.
Still, with control comes stiffness, and Meghan seemed rigid. But please keep in mind she was negotiating the gravel road of a "murder capital' in strappy wedge sandals. Have you ever done that? You'd be stiff and rigid too. I imagine you've really got to engage your core to ensure you don't topple over. It was obvious from the look in her eyes she wished she'd packed a pair of old Vans - hindsight's a cruel dame. But that's the thing about international travel, you always pack for your best self and not the slob you know you are in your regular life. The royals! They're just like us.
Little kids from a local preschool sat in tiny coloured plastic chairs for the special guests to come over. Harry has always been a natural with kids and he crouched in the dirt to talk talk with smiling children. One particularly bold kid sashayed up to him to show off a picture of the South African flag he coloured. Harry tickled his belly and the kid recoiled in shock. The prince did it again and beamed a cheeky grin. And then a goofy dad dance followed - a kind of crouched, knee-bopping, arms-out dance. Try not being in love with him in this moment. I hope the first dance at my wedding is just as cute.
It was around now Meghan realised she needed to learn to crouch in those strappy wedge sandals, because a cute kid was pulling her in for a hug and she was going down whether those wedges allowed it or not. The first mission was accomplished and this was the start of her loosening up.
As they moved around to meet some of the older women who live in the township, one of the ladies yelled something out as the duchess walked away. Meghan stopped and turned and the woman walked up to her to continue the joke. Another woman grabbed her and pulled her into a bear hug. Meghan couldn't help but give the natural smile she usually stifles.
"I said to her, you're so beautiful - just like your mother. And I'm so proud to see you. I saw their parents' wedding - so that means I'm getting nice and old, to see nice things," Thoko Malike, a local grandmother in the township told news.com.au after embracing the duchess and warming her up to the area. "Our community is always looked down, looked down as 'Nyanaga'… but today, today it looked up."
Inside the church, the couple watched a workshop that teaches kids about rights and safety and teaches self defence to girls in the community. Led out of the hall by a group of local girls chanting and wearing boxing gloves, they were formally introduced.
"You strike a woman, you strike a rock," was the refrain the girls sang while fist-pumping the air. In the area, there's a new crime wave sweeping the cape: wig snatching. Indeed, it's not just a Ru Paul activity. People are snatching women's wigs and selling them for fast cash, so this workshop is vital. It was done behind closed doors, so I can't confirm or deny if anyone tried to snatch Meghan's wig.
Harry might excel at joking around with little kids, but speeches are where Meghan trumps. As they were introduced, Harry looked down and fidgeted with his notes while Meghan gazed around and smiled. When he was introduced, he was unsure of what to do - and goofily walking in front of the crowd and climbed up on the tree trunk that was the day's podium.
"This is definitely the first time I've given a speech on a stump," he joked.
Remember, this trip is meant to be casual and easy breezy. Could you imagine if that was the brief a year ago in Australia? How would he begin the speech? "This is definitely the first time I've given a speech in front of someone who has crapped his pants at an Engadine Maccas," perhaps?
But his speech far outweighed what did or didn't go down one fateful night at Engadine Maccas.
"To me, the real testament of your strength isn't physical, it's way up here and in here," he said, pointing to his head and heart. "Your strength is your spirit, which for me means honouring and protecting my wife and being a positive role model for my son."
He then said perhaps the most romantic thing a man could say: "I now introduce my wife to the stump."
Megan jumped up on that bloody stump and didn't miss a word. Speeches are her bread and butter. Look, Suits was no West Wing, but the woman knows how to memorise a couple of words - and she threw her note cards into the wind! Well, she didn't literally throw them into the wind. Could you imagine the bad press press that would get? We already hold her personally responsible for the hole in the Ozone layer after that private jet incident. She doesn't need the diminishing of a South African township pinned to her resume.
What I'm trying to say is, she knew exactly what she was doing.
"May I just say, while I am here with my husband as a member of the royal family, I want you to know that for me, I am here with you as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of colour, and as your sister," she said to cheers, before quoting poet Maya Angelou.
"Each time a woman stand up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women.
"Now, I know its not easy and I know it must feel insurmountable at times, but your commitment to what is right gives us all hope, especially your brothers and sisters here in your community who need you to continue to shine your light brightly."
As she climbed down off the stump and followed Harry out of the grounds, they passed the enthusiastic dance troupe and that familiar look washed across her face. There's a life lesson in this moment and we've all experienced it: If you don't submit, you'll look like an idiot. No one wants to crump in public but, when all eyes are on you, the only option is to crump. So Meghan submitted. As the dance troupe surrounded them when they left the grounds, Meghan finally let her guard down. She moved her hips and raised her hands in the air to clap with the beats of the bongo drums. She flashed the smile she usually restricts and laughed as the girls surrounded her. Finally, she was relaxed. Well, as relaxed as she could be.
The next stop was a tour of the District Six museum, in the area where 60,000 inhabitants were subjected to forced relocations during Apartheid in the 1970s. It called for an outfit chance, naturally, and Meghan rocked up in a denim dress that shielded her from the afternoon breeze. As the sun set over Cape Town's central city, hundreds of locals cheered when the royal Range Rover and its motorcade whirled into the street. What followed was a visit to the Homecoming Centre where the couple joined a community cooking demonstration to showcase local cuisines. After the infamous banana bread incident at the Dubbo CWA last year, did Meghan rock up with a Tupperware container full of her latest attempt at local cuisine?
No. She crumped. That's enough for one day.