Calling the publicity shots: Why Harry and Meghan have every right to stage-manage their PR

A life off-grid has never been on the couple's agenda

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Why are people having such a hard time coming to terms with the fact that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle want to take control of their lives in the public eye?

This week, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they are "overjoyed" to be expecting their second baby and that they are to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, famously a friend of the couple.

This came days after Meghan's legal victory against British newspaper the Mail on Sunday, after the tabloid published parts of a private letter she sent to her father, Thomas Markle.

Their news also comes more than a year after the couple announced plans to step back as senior royals in January 2020.

At no stage have they declared plans to "live off-grid in the Canadian wilderness" – although I am sure that prospect crossed their minds when they read some of the hate and vitriol directed towards them, at Meghan in particular, on the internet.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex holding their son Archie, meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu (not pictured) at the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
When stepping back as senior royals, Prince Harry and Meghan said they wanted to 'raise [their] son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born'. Reuters 

To the contrary, in their earliest announcement about "stepping back" – the exact phrasing used in their January 8, 2020 statement – they say the decision was made in order to "raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter".

They also said they "[looked] forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course".

Hardly the vernacular of a publicity-shy couple cut off from the outside world.

At the same time, they published a vision for their new role on their website, which specified they would "provide access to credible media outlets focused on objective news reporting to cover key moments and events" and "continue to share information directly to the wider public via their official communications channels".

Fast-forward one year and that is exactly what they have done. They have announced a key, and joyous, event – that they are expecting a second baby – via their own spokesperson, sharing an image taken by a professional photographer, who also happens to be a friend.

Collaborations with media platforms have been in place long before they stepped back from the royal family. In April 2019, it was announced that Harry was working on a documentary series about mental health with Winfrey for Apple TV+. The Sussexes have since signed a Netflix deal worth a rumoured £100 million ($135 million); they have also joined forces with audio streaming giant Spotify.

I am still not seeing a publicity-shy behaviour pattern.

It makes sense that Winfrey is the TV personality that would get their first interview. Sure, she's certainly not a "grassroots media organisation", as per their original manifesto, but she has a long history of knowing the couple and working with them. She attended their 2018 wedding.

WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 19: Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre followed by Oprah Winfrey (fourth right) arrive at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle for the wedding of Meghan Markle  and Prince Harry on May 19, 2018 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Chris Radburn - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre followed by Oprah Winfrey (fourth right) arrive at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle for the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry on May 19, 2018. Getty Images

Winfrey also has a history of royal interviews – in 2011 she interviewed Sarah Ferguson, a year after she was caught by an undercover tabloid reporter taking a bribe in exchange for access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew.

Of the interview, CBS has announced: "Winfrey will speak with Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, in a wide-ranging interview, covering everything from stepping into life as a royal, marriage, motherhood, philanthropic work to how she is handling life under intense public pressure.

"Later, the two are joined by Prince Harry as they speak about their move to the US and their future hopes and dreams for their expanding family."

Even this remains true to their original intentions. They are giving managed insight into their life, while attempting to side-step the harassment they faced as senior royals.

Following their Valentine's Day pregnancy news, British tabloid the Daily Star splashed the Misan Harriman photograph that was released with the announcement on its cover, with the headline: "You couldn't make this up ... publicity-shy woman tells 7.67 billion people: 'I'm pregnant'."

The fact that Prince Harry is also in the photo seems to have been conveniently missed in the misogynistic reporting.

Nobody wants to hear they're the gas lighter in a relationship, but I can't help but feel that's what has happened with fractions of the British press. They have been called out for their abusive ways, and now they're acting out. The cycle of abuse could have continued this way indefinitely, if Harry and Meghan hadn't tried to put a stop to it.

Since stepping back as senior royals, the pair have remained firmly in the public eye. They have taken part in high-profile summits via Zoom, handed out meals to those in need in Los Angeles mid-pandemic and even launched a podcast.

At no stage have they behaved like people who wish to live as anonymous members of the general public. Meghan has just asked not to have private letters to her father published for the world to see.

Even the Kardashians dictate and control the lens on their lives, and they literally invited a camera crew into their homes for the best part of 14 years, documenting their every move.

Harry and Meghan, however, never asked to have every step they took documented.

Meghan was a relatively well-known woman who fell in love with one of the most famous people on the planet. A royal who has always had a fraught relationship with the media and public eye; a parent dying following a car chase with paparazzi will do that to a person, though.

Yet here we are, 23 years later, living with the same level of entitlement when it comes to watching the royals.