As Sarah wrote on Friday, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s trip to New York, their first major appearance together since the birth of Lilibet and, really, since their move to America, was set up in many ways like a royal tour, only without the royal fuss and protocol.
There were meetings with world leaders and other dignitaries – and I say “dignitaries” because like his mother, Princess Diana, before him, Harry and by extension Meghan do not need royal titles to make an impact, both on the causes and messages they are supporting and in the culture overall.
Now that they’re unencumbered by royal rules and regulations, Harry and Meghan can lean into their celebrity. As I have always said where the Sussexes are concerned, they are obviously committed to their work, passionate about the change they want to contribute to in the world. And they’re now doing it as celebrities, through celebrity methods. Both things can be true – they can genuinely believe in their work and we can also process their work through a celebrity lens. The difference is that they don’t have to pretend they're not celebrities anymore, the way the British royal family has to keep up with the charade that they’re above celebrity and not influencers when, clearly, they’re both, and in many ways the originals.
Without all that protocol then, Harry and Meghan’s New York itinerary, which was scheduled to look like a royal visit, was also much more casual and less uptight. They made a surprise visit to PS 123 Mahalia Jackson in Harlem where Meghan read from her book The Bench, and Harry sat with the kids, both of them giving out hugs and affection to the children who got to hang out with a prince and princess in the sun. They also made a donation through Archewell in partnership with Proctor & Gamble, stocking the school with supplies and food before heading to lunch at Melba’s, where they gifted $25,000 towards the restaurant’s COVID relief fund.
You know what was on the menu? Chicken and waffles, a combination that is widely believed to have been popularised in Harlem.
As you can see, Harry’s outfit for the day was a black polo and khakis, much more relaxed than the suit he would probably have been required to have on if this was an official royal outing. It’s more in line with the chiller vibe that the Sussexes are branding for themselves. Which was also on display at the Global Citizen event on Saturday.
Harry did put on a suit for the event, without a tie, and he and Meghan kept up their tactile energy throughout, holding hands as usual, and at one point, Harry had his arm around Meghan and tucked her in close while they were onstage – a gesture that would likely be frowned upon by the royal pearl-clutchers back in England.
But the Sussexes received a rockstar’s welcome, particularly Meghan. When she started speaking, the New York crowd was extra receptive. And as we’ve seen, Meghan is an effective public speaker. She’s confident, conversational, and prepared. Together the Sussexes advocated vaccine equity, taking it to the big pharmaceutical companies for not sharing vaccine IP and technology.
Then there was a moment for gossip – and these two know how to highlight a moment for the gossips. When Harry refers to Meghan near the end of their speech as “my wife”, they look at each other adoringly, and he pulls her in close, and the crowd erupts again…as he says something that can be interpreted multiple ways. At the 4:55 mark:
â€œMy wife and I believe that where youâ€™re born should not dictate your ability to survive,â€ says Harry. â€œIt is wrong that so much of the vaccine supply has only gone to just 10 wealthy nations so far. . . Itâ€™s just not okay,â€ adds Meghan.— Omid Scobie (@scobie) September 25, 2021
The Sussexesâ€™ #GlobalCitizenLive speech: pic.twitter.com/Vv2udjKItx
You know what’s most remarkable there? Meghan, of course, being an actor before her royal life, understands how to channel the energy of a crowd. Harry too, to a certain extent, is aware of how that energy works. But he’s been bred to NOT operate on instinct. When he reaches for “his wife” though, he’s responding to the crowd, he’s not fighting that public moment of warmth between them the way he would have been conditioned to by a family that resists displays of emotion. THAT is 100% Diana. And now he’s in a position to truly follow her lead.
On a public relations and Show Your Work level then, the Sussexes trip to New York is a major win. And they’ve been building to this weekend for a while, having been out of the spotlight for so long, and choosing this particular occasion to become the heatscore of the weekend, knowing how many eyeballs would be on them globally – including in England.
The British tabloids seemed pressed over Harry and Meghan’s shine the last few days. Predictable…but they may not have been the only ones. More on that in the next post.