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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Found Leaving Royal Life 'Harder Than They Would Have Ever Imagined'

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Between a global pandemic, family disagreements and daily media scrutiny, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's step back from royal life hasn't exactly been simple or straightforward, but the unexpected changes in course have surprised them for the better, Omid Scobie tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story.

"The hardest part for them was taking those initial steps away from their royal roles," says Scobie, who co-wrote Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family with fellow longtime royal reporter Carolyn Durand.

"That was harder than they would ever imagined. They had had it all mapped out in their heads," he tells PEOPLE. 

Although the couple initially wanted a "one foot in, one foot out" approach that allowed for both royal duty and private work, that arrangement was vetoed by Harry's grandmother, 95-year-old Queen Elizabeth.

meghan and harry
meghan and harry

Samir Hussein/WireImage

"They knew that they had to change things, but what they had actually planned wasn't actually what was best," says Scobie, who spoke with the couple's friends and close associates to write Finding Freedom, which was first published last summer and is now being released in paperback on August 31. The updated edition features a new epilogue, which is excerpted in this week's PEOPLE.

8/30/21 cover
8/30/21 cover

 

For more on the lessons that the couple has learned in a tumultuous year, pick up a copy of the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands on Friday.

"They tried to find a way to compromise," continues Scobie. "But would that have enabled them to have that level of happiness and security that they have today? Probably not. Those ties to the institution [of the monarchy] would have still been strong and there would have constantly been issues about financial endeavors and the business decisions they made."

Now with some time away from the day-to-day demands of working royal life, and aided by the financial freedom secured by their multimillion-dollar streaming, speaking and publishing deals, the parents of Archie and Lili are energized to turn a new page — their "thrive chapter," as Scobie calls it.

Can't get enough of PEOPLE's Royals coverage? Sign up for our free Royals newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more!

meghan and harry
meghan and harry

James D Morgan/Getty

"If we look at where they are now, they feel that it worked out in the best possible way in the end," he tells PEOPLE.

"It's only now that they've found a life that supports their interests and enables them to focus on the things that are important to them."

Watch: What you need to know about Meghan's book