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Harry and Meghan’s First Tour - the new couple on the world stage

So after four countries, 76 engagements, countless handshakes and a focus on their passions and priorities, Harry and Meghan’s first overseas tour has come to the end of the road.

It finished today amongst the 100 year old redwood trees in the stunning New Zealand town of Rotorua.

Over the last 16 days, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex visited Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand.

There were crowds of people in every place they went to, be that in big cities like Sydney or Auckland or in small markets in the Pacific island towns of Suva or Nuku’alofa.

Harry and Meghan meet a koala bear called Ruby during a visit to Taronga Zoo in Sydney. Credit: PA
Prince Harry and the Butchulla People. Credit: PA

But these tours are more than just about handshakes.

And as we’ve filmed our way across these four beautiful but different counties for a documentary on ITV next week, there is a lot I have learned.

Did you know for example a that human-introduced mammals like stoats and possums are killing 68,000 ground birds like the Kiwi every night?

It’s why the national bird of New Zealand, which lost its ability to fly when these non-native predators didn’t live here, is under threat of extinction.

Did you know that only 3% of Tonga is covered in lowland rainforests that used to cover the whole island?

They are now racing to protect what’s left and keep the invasive non-native trees at bay.

Crowds gathered on South Melbourne Beach to greet the royal visitors. Credit: PA
Prince Harry and Meghan have been given the warmest and most colourful welcome during their visit to the Kingdom of Tonga. Credit: PA

What about the suffering of farmers in rural parts of Australia’s vast Bush? Where the severe drought is killing their cattle and their livelihoods.

Did you know the that there is a particular, and worrying problem with suicides in men from the Māori communities in New Zealand?

Or that the Kava drink which is offered to special guests in Fiji, like Prince Harry, is a mild narcotic?

Prince Harry was offered kava during a traditional ceremony in Nadi. Credit: PA
The Duchess of Sussex receives a hongi during a welcome ceremony. Credit: PA

And that’s before you’ve touched on the impact of the Invictus Games on veterans and their families.

And before you’ve discussed Meghan’s jeans which have become so popular since she wore them, the manufacturer is employing up to 30 new seamstresses in Cambodia.

Oh, and there was also that baby thing we didn’t know about before this tour got underway in Australia.

One of Australia's oldest Royal fans congratulates Harry and Meghan on baby news. Credit: PA

If the Royals are about projecting soft diplomatic power overseas, you’d have to argue this tour was a huge success for the UK.

No politician could have drawn this much attention to Britain on a visit.

And no politician could have focused minds on the big issues which matter most to the host countries.

Were there problems on the way? Yes there were some.

Did people sometimes feel the Duke and Duchess rushed through at speed without paying enough attention? Yes.

The duke and duchess cheered on competitors taking part in a sailing event in Sydney Harbour during the Invictus Games. Credit: Invictus Games/PA

Seven minutes in a market in Fiji where people had travelled widely, brought gifts and wanted to share their struggles, was quick frankly bordering on an insult. Many of the market stall holders told us as much.

Kensington Palace claimed the crowds around Meghan were simply not safe.

The duchess left the market after seven minutes. Credit: PA

Did some Invictus Games competitors wish Prince Harry had spend more time at their events rather than rushing off to Fiji and Tonga? Yes.

Last year, in Toronto, Harry spent everyday at the Games.

This year was different as it was sandwiched in the middle of a royal tour.

The duchess presented gold medals to the winning US team after the wheelchair basketball final in Sydney. Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

But these are minor points compared to the time and attention Harry and Meghan gave the sufferers of mental health problems. Or the visits Harry made to forests dedicated to, and protected by, his grandmother’s Commonwealth Canopy project.

Any in any event, when it comes to Harry and Meghan, demand will always outstrip supply.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex look at a parrot during a visit to dedicate a forest reserve to the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, at Tupou College. Credit: PA
Crowds await the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to the University of the South Pacific. Credit: Phil Noble/PA

So how did the Duchess cope with her first tour?

You’d have to say, Meghan did amazingly well.

It would have been a challenge for any newcomer to the Royal Family - let alone one who is around 14 weeks pregnant as she is.

Meghan met numerous vendors at the market. Credit: PA

People often call these tours a ‘holiday’. They are not.

Giving your emotional energy to those who have contemplated suicide, supporting a charity project, meeting Heads of Government, making speeches on women’s empowerment and being on show all day, every day, is not my idea of a holiday.

Yes, the locations are exotic.

But the schedules are punishing.

And, let’s face it, no one comes to a walkabout to meet a Prince or Princess in a foul mood - no matter what they might be feeling inside.

Luke was fascinated by Harry’s beard Credit: PA
Crowds gathered as early as 5am in a bid to catch a glimpse of the royal couple. Credit: PA

There is one thing most people don’t see on royal visits: that there is a buzz which exists in the air after they have left.

I don’t make this stuff up, it happens.

And if you can keep 99% of your customers happy 99% of the time, Harry and Meghan must be doing something right.

The tour reflected the new chapter in Harry’s life.

Duke and Duchess of Sussex joined a mental health discussion at Bondi Beach. Credit: PA

We didn’t see the party prince of the past.

But we did see a tour which represented who this royal couple are now: newlyweds with a baby on the way with passions for young people, mental health, women and the environment.

And they did so while stepping out onto the world stage for the first time, together.

  • Chris Ship presents a special documentary - Harry & Meghan: The First Tour - broadcast on ITV at 9pm on Monday 5th November