Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Hollywood “comeback” appears to have started in the same magazine that in 2021 proclaimed Prince William the “new leader” of the monarchy.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are on the front page of People this week as a series of insiders speak out anonymously on their behalf.
They were not interviewed though the magazine had exclusive access to the big royal story of the day, a phone call Harry and Meghan made to recipients of a grant they have been involved in via the Responsible Technology Youth Power Fund, which their Archewell Foundation is a member of.
And after unfounded rumors the couple were divorcing, another exclusive described the couple as “playful and flirty,” while a third sought to explain the recent collapse of their Spotify deal—they were reportedly not set up for success.
‘People’ and the Royals
People‘s role in royal reporting has been a complicated one dating back to February 2019 when a front page exclusive proclaimed to have “the truth about Meghan” based on anonymous interviews with her friends.
The Duchess of Sussex was at the time in need of some rehabilitation after a wave of hostile coverage in the British media following allegations in late 2018 that she was difficult to work for and had made Kate Middleton cry.
The splash wound up in the center of a privacy lawsuit between Meghan and The Mail on Sunday over a private letter she sent her father and the duchess’ lawyers had to fight to keep the names of her inner circle secret while insisting she had not authorized the interviews.
Then, in the months after Meghan and Harry levelled damaging allegation at the monarchy in 2021, Prince William was on the People cover twice in as many months.
First, historian Robert Lacey, a consultant on Netflix’s The Crown, proclaimed “William, not Charles” the “new leader” who was “paving the way forward” for the monarchy in an October 2021 cover story.
The piece obviously went down well with the prince as he then wrote a cover essay of his own, in the November 1 edition, promoting his Earthshot Prize climate change awards.
New Harry and Meghan Cover
Fast forward to 2023 and Meghan and Harry are in need of rehabilitation again after a bruising start to the year saw the prince’s book ridiculed by comedians and their Netflix series Harry & Meghan given a Red Tomatoes critics score of 46 percent and an audience score of 19 percent.
Their U.S. approval rating plummeted into negative numbers, though it has since bounced back. They also parted ways with Spotify and executive Bill Simmons called them “f****** grifters.”
Harry and Meghan are, though, back on the cover of People, with the magazine spilling details of the collapse of their Spotify deal, with an anonymous source close to the duchess’ Archetypes show suggesting they were not given the lay of the land and therefore were on “unsteady footing before the ink was dry.”
Or as People put it, they were “not set up for success.” They did pitch ideas but there was too much red tape to get more content out there than Meghan’s single 12-part series.
Of course, it is entirely possible that insiders have been speaking out without Harry and Meghan’s authorization, as the duchess’ lawyers previously argued in the High Court in London in relation to its 2019 cover story about her private letter.
And there are certainly industry experts quoted alongside the unnamed insiders and friends, though the exclusive interviews with grant recipients from the couple’s latest project are harder to explain.
Either way, there are a couple of aspects to the coverage that complicate its potential to positively rebrand them, including the actual cover line.
While all the quotes in the articles published online are positive, the splash headline reads, “Under Pressure,” seemingly reinforcing the narrative that Harry and Meghan are in trouble.
Also, the account of the collapse of the Spotify deal—that they were not given enough help and therefore effectively set up for failure—is a difficult one.
Meghan’s big opening episode featured an exclusive interview with Serena Williams, which she no doubt got because the tennis star is a close friend.
The Sussexes were given a multi-year deal and having vowed to set up their own production company with its own staff they were then also teamed up with Gimlet, at the time Spotify’s own production partner, though that relationship also appears to have disintegrated.
It is not completely clear from the People quotes what additional help Meghan and Harry should have been given but perhaps more significantly still it taps into one of the recurring problems some commentators had with the Netflix series and Harry’s book Spare.
The couple have repeatedly been accused of blaming others rather than owning their own mistakes and it is difficult to imagine a young, up-and-coming podcaster who was not already famous having anywhere near as much support as the Sussexes.
Jack Royston is chief royal correspondent for Newsweek, based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jack_royston and read his stories on Newsweek‘s The Royals Facebook page.
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