The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were jokingly thanked for bringing England’s notoriously inclement weather to a drought-stricken Outback town this week in a rain-drenched visit to Dubbo during their Australian royal tour.
The former Meghan Markle brought banana bread that she baked in Sydney as a gift to a farming family outside Dubbo who were struggling to feed their cattle and sheep through two years of below-average rain.
“When she heard she was coming to a family home, she had to bring a plate, so it was lovely,” farmer Elaine Woodley said, referring to a dish to be shared.
The pregnant American former actress and her husband, Prince Harry, got their hands dirty throwing cotton seed onto hay used to feed the cows because of a lack of pasture.
Heavy rain started falling when the royal couple arrived later at a Dubbo park for a community picnic, but thousands of cheering well-wishers remained enthusiastic.
“As your royal highnesses are aware, our region has been hit by a terrible drought,” Mayor Ben Shields told the drenched crowd draped with waterproof ponchos and holding umbrellas, who erupted in laughter.
“So we’re very pleased that you can bring some of that English weather with you today, and hopefully it will bring some relief to the farming families,” Shields added.
While rain in recent weeks has been welcome, much more is needed to repair the economic and environmental ravages of the extended dry spell.
Drought conditions in New South Wales state this year have been the most widespread since 1965.
Meghan held an umbrella over Harry as he gave a speech, acknowledging the hardships the drought brought to the rural community and urging drought victims not to suffer in silence.
The crowd applauded when Harry touched on his own mental health struggles following the death of his mother, Princess Diana, in a car crash in a Paris tunnel in 1997. He was 12 at the time. Harry, now 34, revealed in an interview last year that he did not seek counseling until he was in his late 20s.
“You are all in this together and, if I may speak personally, we are all in this together,” Harry said. “Because asking for help was one of the best decisions that I ever made. You will be continually amazed how life changes for the better.”
The prince ended by thanking Dubbo for its invitation and for sharing its stories, adding, “And the rain was a gift.”
Drought relief charity Drought Angels director Natasha Johnston commended the couple for their empathy.
“To have them recognize that our farmers are hurting, and show up here, it’s an honor,” Johnston said.
“It’s been unbelievably tough. We’ve had families who can’t put food on the table, who can’t afford everyday basics, who can’t afford water to fill their tanks,” she added.
On arrival at Dubbo airport, the couple appeared delighted when 5-year-old Luke Vincent, who has Down Syndrome, hugged them both and ruffled Harry’s hair and beard.
Luke’s school principal Anne van Dartel said she had told the students that they were not to reach out to the royals. She suspected Harry’s beard reminded Luke of his favorite celebrity, Santa Claus.
“I was very concerned once he started rubbing Prince Harry’s face and his hair, but Prince Harry was completely gracious and was so polite and realized what was happening and [Luke’s] infatuation with his beard,” van Dartel told Seven Network television.
Luke later told Nine Network television that Harry had surpassed Santa in his estimation.
Harry and Meghan are on a 16-day tour of Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand.
The main focus of the tour is the Invictus Games, which start in Sydney on Saturday. The sporting event, founded by Harry in 2014, gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball.
Facts about royal baby-to-be
A prince or princess?
Just when Harry and Meghan were on their flight Down Under, Kensington Palace announced that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are expecting their first child to be born in the spring of 2019. Here are answers to some questions about the baby-to-be.
WILL THE BABY EVER BE KING OR QUEEN?
It is very unlikely. Harry and Meghan’s first child will be seventh in the line of succession for the throne when it is born next spring. The baby will be behind its grandfather, Prince Charles; its uncle, Prince William; its cousins, William’s three children: George, Charlotte and five-month-old Prince Louis; and the baby’s father, Prince Harry.
WILL THE BABY BE A PRINCE OR PRINCESS?
The baby will not automatically become a prince or princess, although it is possible that could happen if Queen Elizabeth II chooses to intervene.
Titles were limited by King George V in 1917 in a way that would exclude Harry’s children unless the queen takes action. The baby will also not be entitled to the HRH designation, meaning “His royal highness” or “Her royal highness.”
The children and grandchildren of the queen are made princes and princesses — that’s why Harry has that title — but this doesn’t apply to great-grandchildren.
The only exception, as expressed by the king in 1917, is for “the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales” — in this case, that would be Prince George, the first child born to William and Kate, the duchess of Cambridge.
The queen can intervene if she chooses to, as she did in the case of William’s other children, but it is unclear if she will do so in Harry’s case because his children will be farther from the line of succession.
WHAT WOULD BE THE BABY’S TITLE BE?
If it’s a boy, he would likely be known as the earl of Dumbarton. A girl would likely be known as Lady Mountbatten-Windsor, with her first name inserted after lady. Since the baby is unlikely to become monarch, Harry and Meghan will have a fair amount of leeway when choosing the child’s first name without having to worry too much about royal tradition.
WHAT CITIZENSHIP WILL THE BABY HAVE?
The baby will have British citizenship due to its father. Harry and Meghan would also be able to apply for U.S. citizenship for the baby because Meghan is an American who lived in the U.S. long enough for her child to qualify. It will be up to them to decide if they want to do so.
It might be awkward for a British royal to also seek a U.S. passport, but the two countries are close allies and there is so much goodwill for Meghan that such a move might not be controversial.
Meghan herself is in the process of obtaining British citizenship. She has not said if she plans to give up her U.S. passport when she becomes British, but British law does not require her to do so. Kirsty Wigglesworth & Rod McGuirk, AP