Late September in New York can be delightful: clear bright days, temps in the 80s but not quite so muggy, Broadway re-opening, everybody back to school. And so it was with open arms that the United Nations and much of New York welcomed California’s do-good It-Couple of the moment, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, with open arms. They quietly breezed into the East Side’s luxe Hotel Carlyle, the site of Archie’s plush baby shower back in the day, took some serious meetings at the United Nations, made an appeal from the stage at the fully-vaxxed Global Citizen Live concert in Central Park on September 25, hit a couple of local charities, dropped up to Harlem for a well-deserved feast at soul-food queen Melba’s beautiful restaurant, and boom, were en route out of town before many paparazzi were able to hound them too badly from the pavements in front of the Carlyle. It was termed by those involved a very “successful” visit, and it certainly seemed as if the furlong posts the couple passed were signs marking some sort of progress around the track. It is the kind of tactical, pinpoint-bombing run we’re going to be seeing from this couple. For the record, we’ll call it the Archewell Scramble.
A note for the seasoned travelers among us: The Archewell Scramble is not about taking your time. It’s about packing it all in and getting the hell out.
The point of this halcyon trip was, for the couple, multi-layered, and some of those layers were more urgent than not. Context is required: Harry is tanking in the polls in Britain — not that that fact, itself, matters to the man or to his current endeavors — but the reason he’s tanking is that the British have stopped believing what he says. It’s not just the fact of his ungainly exit from royal life, although that has been a wounding process and continues to be one.
The spike downwards for Harry is partly a result of the couple’s flailing in all sorts of — admittedly admirable, charitable — directions at once, their engagement in mental health initiatives, pandemic relief, child welfare, among others, across a wide variety of platforms. In a word, there’s a tremendous amount of wheel-spinning required to get all these well-meant initiatives off the ground, as there would naturally be. But: Things are a bit helter-skelter. Yes, they have a fine Hollywood-veteran team in place. Although many of these efforts are long-term, it doesn’t read as if there’s the necessary laserlike focus to make it all truly happen. Time will tell on that score.
In the meantime, there’s the growing impression in Britain that Harry’s a dilettante, and worse, a bit of a traitor. If it had to be expressed as a thought it would run something like this: He’s insulted his granny and his pop, and he’s traded encouraging our veterans and inner-city kids for going to the Yanks’.
There can be worse things to be than light, but the second element of the considerable downtick in popularity for Harry is that, at the same time as his charitable works are ushered into being — again, from the British perspective — the couple has not held back in issuing an unending stream of rather sharp observations on Harry’s family and Meghan Markle’s experience of it. They do this either in person (to Oprah and/or to CBS correspondent Gayle King), or in several indirect ways at their disposal, podcast, web harangue, whatever. The point is that the amount of unvarnished opprobrium issued by the Windsors of Montecito on, at or about the Windsors of Windsor is big, and the British are rapidly tiring of it.
Naturally, with Montecito Windsors’ new onrushing as-told-to $25-million-plus four-book book deal, the UK is girding for more of the same. In Harry’s case, it’s hard to tell what will mean more, what he’s already said, or what the man’s going to say next. He’s routinely satirized in the take-no-prisoners tabloids of Fleet Street — especially by the Daily Mail, with whose parent company, Associated Newspapers, no less a litigant than Meghan Markle is in a long invasion-of-privacy legal tangle for publishing extracts of a letter she wrote at the time of her wedding to her father. The Mail and the Windsors of Montecito play a very weaponly game of badminton, in other words, nearly as entertaining as the game played between Montecito and Buckingham Palace.
But satirizing Harry and Meghan Markle is not exclusive to the Mail. Pretty much everybody does it, to the point that, reading the London papers, one could come away with the impression that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are, actually, ridiculous. This is the third eddy, then, in the stream of public opinion that has caused such a downturn for Harry in the polls.
So far, so good. The still-young Windsors of Montecito are busy setting roots, running from pillar to post, debating and signing an apparently endless stream of contract offers, and all the chaff stirred up may in fact settle as they start to produce. Suffice it to say that, unlike other startups, they have no trouble with backing. With the book deal putting them at somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million (on paper, and counting), or perhaps north of that given what we don’t know, they are among the most heavily backed couples in entertainment in the country. The question is, rather, what they will actually produce. It’s a big question, for them and for their now several heavily-invested backers.
In New York last week, correspondents assigned to the beat were initially baffled that there was a mysteriously civilian, aka, non-news, camera team with them at all junctures, lending credibility to the notion that Netflix would be taking its pound of flesh for its massive contract with the couple in the form of a reality-show-type day-in-the-life docu-product vehicle. Which is not to say, now that the Kardashians have abdicated, that the Harry and Meghan Markle show will become the next version of that benighted empire, although in ratings and in revenue-stream terms it would be easy to imagine that Netflix executives would want exactly that, or something very close to it.
Either way, Harry and Meghan Markle desperately need to provide a meaningful narrative to and for their doings. They need to be greater than whatever Netflix turns out as The Harry And Meghan Markle Show, however many installments the thing gets. In the largest sense there has to be meat to feed the maw, they can’t just sit in Montecito and collect contracts, the story has to go somewhere. They have to perform. And: It has to be a certain kind of performance. Worthy, if you will, of royalty.
On cue, the United Nations, ever in need of celebrity endorsement, has an open door, and there’s also a VIP charity concert in Central Park that needs a bit of a boost between numbers, and some charities to check in on up in Harlem. All serious, all easy gravitas, all good. Presto: An ideal road-trip for Prince Harry.