Harry and Meghan: A year of redemption for ‘Hollywood’s biggest losers’

At the close of last year, the Duchess of Sussex vowed 2024 would be a big one for her family. “We have so many exciting things on the slate,” she teased at Variety magazine’s Power of Women event in Los Angeles, where she walked the red carpet alongside the likes of Hollywood A-lister Margot Robbie. “I can’t wait until we can announce them.”

Four years on from Megxit, the shock announcement by Meghan and Harry that they were stepping back as senior members of the royal family, the couple need the duchess’s words to be more than just hype. After severing ties with Harry’s family and his home country in the most spectacular style in January 2020, their fresh start in the US has been far from the unmitigated success story they both might have hoped for.

Last year, which started with the incendiary launch of Harry’s memoir Spare, was a particularly challenging one. Their $20m Spotify deal was axed, with one of the company’s executives branding them “grifters”, and they reported a £8.7m fall in donations to their charitable Archewell Foundation. Pearl, the animated series Meghan created for Netflix, was cancelled, and to add insult to injury, The Hollywood Reporter listed them among 2023’s “biggest losers”.

On a personal level, the olive branch they extended to the royal family by letting it be known that they hoped to spend Christmas at Sandringham was crushed following the naming of the two royals who allegedly expressed “concerns” about Prince Archie’s potential skin colour in the Dutch version of Omid Scobie’s new book. The Sussexes themselves remained silent on the subject and any hopes of a Christmas reconciliation were dashed.

Meanwhile, despite repeated denials, the couple have been dogged by rumours their marriage is under strain and whispers that Harry, separated from his friends and family, is feeling increasingly isolated. They reportedly spent the holidays with Archie and their daughter Princess Lilibet on a luxury holiday in Costa Rica – but only yesterday, Meghan’s mother Doria was said to have moved in with them at their mansion in Montecito to help them through their “tough times”.

They will need to muster all their energy to reset and enter 2024 as they mean to go on. Sources close to the couple have told the sympathetic US media that 2024 will be a “year of redemption”. PR expert Mark Borkowski agrees that a dramatically different approach is required. “2024 is a pivotal year for them,” he says. “There have been too many negative stories around them, particularly in the latter part of last year. They need to do something to recover and find a new positive tactic, because what they’re doing is clearly not working.”

Initially, the Sussexes’ move to sunny California, where Meghan grew up, appeared nothing short of idyllic after the unhappiness they felt in their final months as working royals. Lucrative deals with Netflix, Spotify and HarperCollins enabled them to fund around-the-clock security and buy their opulent £11.6m mansion in Montecito, close to the home of their friend Oprah Winfrey.

“When they first left Britain, they had a cache that was very appealing to brands,” says brand and culture expert Nick Ede. “They could get a slice of the royal family for commercial purposes, which they hadn’t been able to do before.”

The world waited to see what those high-profile deals would produce – and the results were mixed, at best. Meghan’s podcast Archetypes, which included interviews with Serena Williams and Mariah Carey, who memorably accused the duchess of “giving us diva moments sometimes”, was the only show to emerge from their Spotify collaboration before it was canned last July. Reports that Harry had unsuccessfully pitched a podcast in which he proposed interviewing the likes of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump about their childhood traumas were met with howls of derision.

The Netflix documentary Harry & Meghan was far more successful, breaking viewing records on its first day of release. In it, the couple made a string of damaging revelations about the royal family, which included Harry accusing William of screaming at him during the 2020 Sandringham summit which resulted in Harry and Meghan quitting royal life; claiming the palace leaked stories to the press to make the couple look bad; and revealing there was a “huge level of unconscious bias” within the family.

Other Netflix projects, however, have been damp squibs, including Harry’s passion project, Heart of Invictus, a five-part documentary about the Invictus Games, which failed to hit the streaming service’s Top 10 following its release last September.

Author Omid Scobie, who has been described as Meghan and Harry’s mouthpiece following his 2020 book Finding Freedom – an accusation he denies – says these projects have been a learning curve for the couple. “Speaking with people on their team, they said there were some regrets about some of the deals they made,” he says. “Some of them looked far better on paper than they were. In reality, nothing they pitched to Spotify was considered good enough, or to have the right commercial value to produce.”

When Spare was published last January, selling 1.4 million copies in its first day across the US, Britain and Canada, it was even more explosive than the Netflix documentary. There were intimate details of everything from rows between Meghan and Kate (Meghan said Kate must have “baby brain” because of her hormones) to a physical altercation between Harry and William which left Harry lying on a dog bowl, with a ripped necklace – and even an in-depth discussion of Harry’s frostbitten penis.

Its success underlined the Sussexes’ dilemma: the public only seem to care what they do when it involves their time as royals, yet the sense they’re constantly bad mouthing them is precisely what’s diminishing their appeal.

“If you’re a major brand, you’re not going to want to invest in them because you don’t know what the next curveball is going to be,” says Ede. “And whatever you think of the royal family, they have a huge amount of credibility and status, so most brands won’t want to be associated with people who have been negative about them.”

Harry’s book ‘Spare’ detailed fallings out between both Harry and William and Meghan and Kate

According to author Tom Bower, Meghan has made “huge efforts” to land an endorsement deal with a major fashion house, including making strategic appearances on red carpets and in VIP boxes at concerts by Beyonce and Taylor Swift, and none has yet materialised. An insider at Dior, often cited as her ideal, has denied that she is in talks with the brand. The new year has begun with speculation that she may also have been dropped by her agency, the prestigious WME.

Even the Archewell Foundation – tagline: “Shared purpose. Global action” – has seemed to struggle to find its purpose. Ostensibly, it supports small charities and builds partnerships, but Scobie described it as “a lot of everything and little of huge substance”.

While their move to the States appears to have delivered an enviably comfortable lifestyle – they list hikes and ice baths as part of their daily Montecito routine, along with plenty of quality time with their children – their career prospects could now be seen to be worse than ever.

But as Ede points out, show business is a fickle industry, and fortunes can be revived just as quickly as they can flag. And the signs last year were of moves being made behind the scenes, particularly from Meghan.

Harry and Meghan reported a £8.7m fall in donations to their charitable Archewell Foundation


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