For now, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are just taking a “step back” from their royal duties, but Princess Diana’s former assistant Paul Burrell thinks they’ll likely never return to their roles. The one-time royal employee reveals that it will be “almost impossible” for the Sussex couple to rejoin their family in an official capacity while chatting exclusively with In Touch. “I doubt whether Harry and Meghan will ever return to the royal fold,” he told In Touch magazine in the January 22 issue. “Once [they’re] out,” he explains, it would be a nearly insurmountable task “to reverse the process.”

Despite that, Paul has no doubt that Harry, 35, and Meghan, 38, made the decision that was right for them. “Meghan has been very much maligned, misrepresented and misinterpreted, particularly by the British media. … The constant media attention and scrutiny, especially by the British media, has made their lives unbearable,” he continues. “They are very brave to jump ship and go it alone and, although they will still have contact with the family, the monarchy machine will forge ahead without them.”

Though he suspects that it was a “joint decision,” Paul suspects that becoming a husband and father played a large role in the former Duke of Sussex’s choice. “Knowing Harry, this decision is not something which he has always considered,” he says. “When single, he was happy to fulfill his royal duties and support his brother, but times have changed, and his priorities are now Meghan and [son] Archie.” Crediting Harry’s decision to his wife and son, Paul adds, “Harry’s sense of duty to his country and his grandmother have been a difficult hurdle to overcome. … For the first time in his life, he has put his family first.”

There is no going back after that, Paul thinks — and he doesn’t think that the redheaded prince would want to. After previously predicting that Harry and Meghan would live on their own terms and no one else’s, he sees the move to step back as a fitting one. “I doubt whether he will miss being ‘royal,'” he explains. “His long term ambition is to be known as a humanitarian like his mother, Princess Diana.” The statement echoes what he told In Touch in October 2019. “I see them making their own rules,” he said at the time. “The way Diana did. After all, Diana’s inspiration and Diana’s knowledge from the past is invaluable to them now.”

The butler believes that any family who is “close” to the Sussex couple will “understand their decision,” including Queen Elizabeth. “Knowing [Her Majesty] and having served her personally for 11 years, I have a particular insight into her thoughts,” he says. “She would have been very upset by the current situation. The queen does not like controversy, change or inconvenience in any form. She prefers continuity, familiarity and calm around her. [But] she holds Harry in great affection, and he is very fond of his granny too. … The queen’s statement is personal and heartfelt and a signal to the world of her affection for her grandson and his family.”

Their connection is complicated by their roles as royals, however. “She does not wish to distance herself from Harry and Meghan as a person, but realizes that her relationship as [a] monarch is a very different proposition,” Paul says. “It is also a clear signal that she is in charge and that she makes the rules. Make no mistake, she may be a granny but she is also queen.”

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