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'It's easy to be anonymous here': How Vancouver Island can provide a 'normal' life for Harry and Meghan

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry

Watching the spectacular sunrise over the Pacific Ocean from the shores of Vancouver Island, the icy air helps soothe my jet-lag and I’m hoping I might catch sight of an orca.

I never expect that we might actually end up trying to catch sight of the woman who’s just rocked the British royal family to its core.

We’ve come to Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada to find out more about the place that might’ve helped influence the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in the weeks before they made their momentous decision to step back as senior royals.

This island is described as a “rugged paradise” with windswept beaches and snow-capped mountains - people come from around the world for the whale watching, hiking and breathtaking scenery.

ITV News films near the spot where Harry posed with Archie at New Year. Credit: ITV News

Among them, Harry and Meghan, who chose to spend Christmas and New Year here during their six week break from royal duties.

Having been here for just a few hours myself, it’s easy to see how spending time here might give you the space to really reflect on life.

At New Year, the royal couple shared a photo of Harry holding baby Archie backdropped by the bright blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, taken from the waters edge in the south of the island.

We find a similar spot and as I stand on the shoreline looking out to sea, I experience a little of what they must have felt during their time here.

Perhaps being in these idyllic, peaceful surroundings, far away from the scrutiny and the intrusion that they’ve struggled with, helped them to make up their minds - that they just didn’t want to return to their old lives.

I meet with a young woman called Asymina Kantorowicz who had a surprise encounter with the royal couple during a New Year’s day a hike in the island’s Horth Hill Regional Park.

She was struggling to take a selfie with her boyfriend when a woman offered to take their photo for them, she described looking up and suddenly realising it was Meghan Markle. She couldn’t believe it at first, until she clocked Prince Harry in the background and it dawned that it “really was them”.

She says she they seemed “really happy, causal and comfortable”.

It seems they could be like ordinary people here - and maybe that’s the attraction of this place. They could be “normal” here.

Vancouver Island welcomed the young royals over Christmas. Credit: ITV News

It was later that day we heard the news that Meghan had returned to Canada after a brief visit to London earlier in the week, when they made their shock announcement.

Then came the rumours that Meghan was returning here to Vancouver Island to be with her baby boy Archie - it seemed we were in just the right place!

So we watched the private jets landing at the small airport, drove by the gated waterfront mansions. But there was no sign of her.

We spoke to people in restaurants and shops who described serving them during their holiday here, they told me the couple seemed happy, friendly and polite. But then the trail ran cold.

It’s easy to be anonymous here, one of the many reasons it’s so popular with the high-profile and the mega rich - who want to escape from it all.

The next day the weather turns, strong winds buffet our hotel, the ocean has turned a dirty grey and the waves crash against the rocky shore. The ferries to the mainland are cancelled, the only way out is by plane. I feel both isolated - and yet protected from the outside world.

It makes me realise why this spot might be the perfect place to shelter, especially if there’s a storm brewing back home.

The island is 'feel both isolated - and yet protected from the outside world'. Credit: ITV News

Of course Canada is close to the royal couple’s hearts, Meghan used to live in Toronto and it’s where the couple made their first public appearance together.

In the town of Sidney I meet Kenny Podmore, who knows the lure of life here. He visited from the Midlands - and has now lived here for 21 years.

He wears a bright red bomber jacket emblazoned with “CANADA” across his chest, he’s the town crier and seems to know everyone and everything here.

“It’s paradise” he tells me as we look out across the sparkling waters, “it’s warm, it’s friendly, the hospitality is second to none, its just a beautiful way of living - so different from what Harry and Meghan are used to.”

The couple have described the “warmth” they experienced here, perhaps it made them realise exactly what they were missing in their lives.

I definitely want to come back.