Cue Oprah and Bill Clinton’s spin doctor, ‘cos it’s Brand Sussex, baby
Starting with their birthing plan, Harry and Meghan are breaking many moulds to boost their independent profile
Operation Brand Sussex has been well and truly been born with a new Instagram account, a partnership with Oprah Winfrey and a birthing plan that takes royal “one-upmumship” to a new level.
Having moved into their new Windsor home, Frogmore Cottage, on April 1 following a £3m renovation, Harry and Meghan have wasted no time in asserting their independence from the royal family “Firm”.
Having spent the past 34 years as brothers-in-arms, Harry’s separation of powers from William’s Kensington Palace court appeared complete on Thursday with the announcement of the Sussexes’ birth plan made by Buckingham Palace. It came a day after the shiny new Instagram account – complete with Harry and Meghan’s intertwined HM cipher – announced the “exciting” news of a partnership with Winfrey for a forthcoming “dynamic multipart documentary series” on mental health launching on Apple in 2020.
The billionaire US chat show host, 65, later explained that she and Harry would be “co-creators” and joint “executive producers” on the project to break the stigma surrounding mental health – which they have been secretly developing for months.
The collaboration follows reports that Winfrey was planning an interview with Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland.
The duchess’s influence appeared to shine through her husband’s quote on the initiative, in which he said: “I truly believe that good mental health – mental fitness – is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities and a purpose-driven self.”
Both announcements coincided with the arrival of the royal couple’s new PR guru, Sara Latham, to the palace last week. It has now emerged that Harry played a major part in the recruitment of the experienced and very well connected former adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton following a string of negative headlines about Meghan – as well as damaging revelations by her father, Thomas Markle, and half sister, Samantha. This publication has learnt that the duke, 34, instructed the Prince of Wales’s former spokesperson, Paddy Harverson, to help recruit the new communications chief – an Anglo-American “longtime Democratic fixer” who was also involved in Barack Obama’s election campaign as well as previously working at the department for culture, media and sport.
Described as “incredibly left wing”, although Latham has been appointed to lead the royal couple’s communications strategy it is thought she will also act as a “special adviser” after Jason Knauf, Kensington Palace’s former spin doctor, was moved into a similar role by the Cambridges.
According to a well-placed source: “Harry and Meghan wanted to build their own team and didn’t want their staff to be working for the Cambridges as well. They wanted autonomy and see it as a disadvantage to be in with all the others at Buckingham Palace. There is a sense that sometimes the Sussexes think the world is against them. Harry has always complained about being sidelined by William but now I think they see this as an opportunity to really spread their wings.”
And so came Thursday’s announcement confirming reports that the royal couple plan to keep the birth of their first child private, having decided against the Lindo Wing, where Kate gave birth to Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
Although royal mothers, including the late Diana, Princess of Wales, have almost all given birth at the private maternity unit at St Mary’s Hospital Paddington in recent years – famously posing on the hospital steps afterwards – the Sussexes have once again chosen to break the royal mould by opting for something different. “Their Royal Highnesses have taken a personal decision to keep the plans around the arrival of their baby private,” read the palace statement. “The duke and duchess look forward to sharing the exciting news with everyone once they have had an opportunity to celebrate privately as a new family.”
In the absence of any further details from Buckingham Palace, the current thinking is that Meghan is planning to have a home birth, with the queen’s surgeon gynaecologists, Alan Farthing and Guy Thorpe-Beeston, on standby should there be complications. The royal couple are then expected to introduce the newborn to the world at a stage-managed photo shoot in the grounds of Windsor Castle a few days afterwards.
The Sussexes’ decision is understood to have been taken with the approval of the queen, who had all four of her children at either Buckingham Palace or Clarence House, although one wonders what her majesty makes of reports suggesting that Harry and Meghan have infuriated royal household and staff members in Windsor by banning them from using a car park – because it overlooks their new home.
“At nearly 93, you get the sense that the queen just shrugs her shoulders, but it is fair to say it hasn’t gone down too well,” said an insider.
The alternative birthing plan once again puts the Sussexes at odds with the Cambridges following reports of tensions between the two royal couples. With yet more toxic rumours continuing to swirl about the Duchess of Cambridge’s falling out with Rose Hanbury, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley, observers are now questioning the role played by the so-called “Turnip Toffs” in the rumoured frictions. While the real reason behind the rift remains unknown, it has certainly led to go much chatter among William’s – and in turn Harry’s – wider circle, which sources claim has put the brothers’ relationship under strain.An insider explained: “The princes have a great many mutual friends and it has been awkward, to say the very least, to have all these rumours flying around. I think there has been a sense of Harry and Meghan trying to distance themselves from it all.”Operation Brand Sussex may very well be their way to do that.– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)