After months of lying uncharacteristically low, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are back making headlines in the most spectacular fashion.
In the space of a few weeks, the couple have alleged they were involved in a “near catastrophic” car chase, Prince Harry became the first senior royal in 130 years to give evidence in court and Meghan’s $20 million Spotify podcast deal was severed after one season.
Let’s first revisit the night of the ‘car chase.
After a beaming Meghan accepted a Women of Vision award at a glitzy gala in New York last month, flanked by Harry and her mother, Doria Ragland, the trio hopped into the back of an SUV to make their getaway, only to find themselves embroiled in a “near catastrophic” car chase after being tailed by “highly aggressive” paparazzi through the streets of Manhattan.
According to a spokesperson for the duke and duchess, the “relentless pursuit” lasted for over two hours and resulted in “multiple near collisions” that “could have been fatal”. The couple’s press secretary, Ashley Hansen, said the pair were left “incredibly scared and shaken up” by the incident, revealing: “I have never experienced their vulnerability as much as I did last night.”
Yet, as so often seems to be the case when Harry and Meghan are involved, mere hours after the story broke other contradictory details started to emerge. New York police officials told NBC that far from being “near catastrophic”, the car chase merely created “a bit of a chaotic scene”. While they admitted the photographers’ behaviour was “challenging”, they were quick to point out that Harry and Meghan “arrived at their destination and there were no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests”.
Meanwhile, New York Mayor Eric Adams expressed empathy for the situation — describing the actions of the paparazzi as “reckless” and “irresponsible” — but said he would find it “hard to believe” there was a two-hour, high-speed chase. And a taxi driver who drove them for 15 minutes of their farcically circuitous journey to get to their destination two blocks away was quoted as saying: “I don’t think I would call it a chase. I never felt like I was in danger.” Once again, it seems that “recollections may vary” when it comes to what really went down with the drama-attracting pair.
Of course, the more cynical among us may question the timing of such a strongly worded statement from the Sussexes. This came only a day after Harry’s lawyers appeared in the High Court to argue that it was wrong of him to be stripped of his armed Metropolitan Police protection when he is back in the UK. The Duke is suing the Home Office over the issue, as well as over the Metropolitan Police’s refusal to allow him to pay for his close personal protection himself.
While no one could refute that being involved in a paparazzi chase would be distressing for Harry, given what happened to his mother, the couples’ demands to Backgrid paparazzi agency that they hand over all the photos and videos taken during the “chase” haven’t gone down well. Backgrid even issued its own witty riposte to the letter from the duke and duchess’s lawyers, stating: “In America, as I’m sure you know, property belongs to the owner of it: Third parties cannot just demand it be given to them, as perhaps kings can do.”
The incident has also started to raise questions about the couples’ relationship, with the rumour mill going into overdrive that the two are now finding themselves on increasingly different paths. While Harry still seems to be hung up on the past, waging war against the UK press on his quest for privacy, Meghan is looking forward. Many people hailed her appearance at the Women of Vision Awards as something of a relaunch, in what’s being dubbed her ‘Meghanaissance’.
All eyes were on Meghan as she took to the stage in a dazzling, strapless £1,500 gold Johanna Ortiz dress and £1,000 Tom Ford stilettos — and told the audience: “It’s never too late to start. You can be the visionary of your own life.” Sharing the stage with pioneering feminist and close friend Gloria Steinem and accepting her award alongside trailblazers like Black Lives Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown, Meghan was clearly in her element.
The gala came just 10 days after the King’s coronation, where a solo Harry cut a starkly different figure. Relegated to a third-row seat, with the Princess Royal’s hat obscuring his view, he looked every inch the spare he has proclaimed himself to be. His blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance marked the first time he had been in the same room as his father and brother since the release of his bombshell memoir at the beginning of the year. It’s been reported that the trio didn’t speak to each other at all during his whistle-stop, 36-hour visit. There seems to be no sign of a reconciliation between the warring brothers, with the Prince of Wales reported to be “horrified” by what his brother revealed in the book.
Meghan, meanwhile, stayed home with the kids to celebrate Archie’s fourth birthday, which happened to fall on the same day as the historic royal event. While her absence was neatly explained away by the clashing date, there was much speculation that she also steered clear due to fears of the public reaction if she came. At the Women of Vision event, Harry and Meghan were so keen to avoid the red carpet — and the awaiting heckles from the crowd — that they decided to enter via a deeply unglamorous Hertz car rental desk instead.
While the duchess once described them as moving together “like salt and pepper”, the couple now seem to be heading in different directions. The duchess’s striking absence from the duke’s promotional book tour fuelled split rumours earlier in the year. It was recently reported that the owner of a leading hotel chain in Montecito had a room set aside for Harry where he occasionally stayed on his own.
Meghan also kept her distance from Harry’s High Court appearance earlier this month. Harry endured two gruelling days giving deeply personal evidence as part of his personal crusade against tabloid media. The Duke of Sussex is suing Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) over alleged phone hacking and unlawful newsgathering throughout most of his life. MGN denies all the allegations against it. In a packed courtroom and with the world watching, Harry revealed details of his relationship with former girlfriend Chelsy Davy, recalled a lapdance he received at Spearmint Rhinos and relived the scurrilous rumour that Major James Hewitt was his father rather than King Charles. Each night Harry went home alone to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor.
“It does seem like Meghan is looking to brand herself independently,” says LA-based royal expert Kinsey Schofield. “She has been reportedly seen around town meeting with influential people in politics and finance. Harry was MIA. Ultimately, Meghan is seeking fame, financial gain, and power. She almost has it all. Meanwhile, Harry’s focus is much different. Security, both financially and safety-wise. And a loving family.”
Meghan’s 2.0 makeover has been under way for some time now. Much has been made of the bolder new look she’s been sporting over recent months, with a sleek, poker-straight hairstyle and less heavy make-up thought to mean she is trying to cut a more serious figure. Her show-stopping outfit at last month’s awards gala couldn’t have been more different from the blandly neutral tones she wore as a working royal, leaving no doubts that global mega-stardom is where she’s set her sights. Interestingly, despite the staggering cost of the outfit, the earrings Meghan wore were from J Crew. The addition of a high-street purchase after the recent years of being dressed head-to-toe in designer labels seems like a calculated move that suggests the duchess could be trying to appear more relatable.
This attempt to peg herself as a down-to-earth duchess might have something to do with the rumours that she’s set to relaunch her lifestyle platform The Tig any minute now. It’s said the rebooted blog will feature articles, interviews and photographs “in the fields of food, cooking, recipes, travel, fashion, style, lifestyle, the arts, culture, design, conscious living, and health and wellness”. It’s thought it would also provide “commentary on the field of personal relationships”, suggesting Meghan might see herself as something of an agony aunt to the rich and famous of Montecito.
The Tig is not owned by Archewell but by Frim Fram, the duchess’s Delaware-based company run by her business manager Andrew Meyer in LA, meaning the project is solely hers. “The Tig is a symbol of Meghan’s success and accomplishments before marrying Harry… [and] it was a product that Meghan was in control of start to finish,” says Schofield. “Meghan is a control freak. That is her comfort zone.”
The duchess also recently signed with one of the most powerful talent agencies in Hollywood, WME. Her team will be led by Ariâ¯Emanuel, whose brother was Obama’s chief-of-staff. The deal will not be about acting but will instead focus on spearheading theâ¯duchess’s business efforts and brand partnerships, as well as her creative work in film and television production. It’s thought the move is all about building Meghan’s global enterprise and relaunching her as a woman of substance.
“Meghan Markle’s collaboration with WME suggests an ambitious expansion and diversification of her brand,” says Stacy Jones, CEO and founder of LA-based pop culture marketing agency Hollywood Branded. “The move suggests that Harry and Meghan are working towards becoming a multifaceted media enterprise.”
The duchess has certainly been busy cultivating friends in high places lately. Just days before her appearance in New York, Harry and Meghan were spotted heading into a Michelin-starred sushi restaurant in Montecito. They were joined by Cameron Diaz and her rock star husband Benji Madden, as well as Gwyneth Paltrow and her TV producer husband Brad Falchuk and billionaire Bumble boss Whitney Wolfe Herd and her Texan oil heir husband Michael Herd.
The glitzy gathering was exactly the sort the duchess must have dreamed of when they moved to California, especially seeing as their celebrity friendships with the likes of the Clooneys and Oprah Winfrey seem to have cooled lately (the duke and duchess were noticeably absent from Oprah’s star-studded birthday bash in February). We’re sure Meghan was thrilled to have the chance to pump Paltrow for inspiration for The Tig — it’s said the duchess was inspired by Paltrow’s Goop brand, which has earned the actress more than £200 million, when creating her own lifestyle website. “Celebrities are still iffy about the couple that attract such negative attention, but that won’t stop strategically planted stories about Gwyneth and Meg sharing girl boss secrets overâ¯edamame,” says Schofield.
Yet, not all is going well. News that Spotify has pulled the plug on Meghan’s Archetypes podcast after just one season can’t have been welcomed behind the doors of their Montecito mansion. It’s reported that the couple did not hit the streaming giant’s productivity targets and will not collect the full £18 million pay cheque. A joint statement from Spotify and Archewell Audio said: “Spotify and Archewell Audio have mutually agreed to part ways and are proud of the series we made together.”
Representatives for Meghan have added, that: “Meghan is continuing to develop more content for the Archetypes audience on another platform.”
In light of all this, it seems the couple’s Archewell brand has been rather neglected of late, with one insider describing it as being “on life support” since the fallout with the royal family. The production company has been likened to a “revolving door” when it comes to staff, with the Sussexes’ having reportedly lost a staggering 16 members of staff since 2018. The latest to go were Fara Taylor, who led the marketing team, and internal content head Ben Browning, who played an “integral” part in the production of Netflix’s Harry & Meghan series. Marketing is now headed up by the couples’ press secretary, Ashley Hansen, in an effort to “streamline the company’s marketing arm”.
Archewell is now understood to be looking to hire writers to develop ideas for rom-coms and other feel-good programmes. “I think Harry and Meghan being less involved in these projects would probably benefit everyone,” says Schofield. “They need to find a team of individuals that they trust and allow them to take control.”
As for what’s next for the pair, only time will tell. Rumours continue to swirl that Meghan’s long-time ambitions lie in politics. Certainly, her recent award presentation by the feminist activist Gloria Steinem would point in this direction. The duchess and Steinem became friends when Meghan moved to Montecito and realised Steinem was also spending lockdown in the area. Since then, the duo have collaborated on a number of politically leaning projects, including cold-calling people and urging them to vote and speaking to Vogue in June 2022 about the Supreme Court’s decision to revoke Americans’ constitutional right to abortion.
There is certainly scope for the duchess to make it in the world of politics, with many of her fans likening her to a Michelle Obama-style figure. “Other than the post-White House Obamas, there aren’t aâ¯lot ofâ¯modernâ¯couples with their star power and background who we can look to and say, ‘Maybe that’s what the Sussexes should try,’” says US-based royal commentator and co-host of the Daily Fail podcast Kristen Meinzer. But you get the sense the couple would need to shake off the drama that seems to follow them around like a black cloud if they ever want be taken seriously in the US.
“I think the duchess really believes that she is capable of changing the world, but I think both Harry and Meghan are currently focused on monetising Team Sussex,” says Schofield. “The long game for Meghan is to be her own lucrative brand.”
Whatever the future has in store for them, one thing’s for sure: far from being over, the Sussexes are only just getting started.