By Andrew Adie
Today I had a vision. It was of a young man, walking out of the surf, ripped abs, pulling a microphone from behind his back and starting to sing “Mysterious Girl” then slowly spinning to camera to reveal he has the face of Prince Harry.
Why? Because from a brand and reputation perspective Harry and Meghan risk becoming the new Peter and Katie. The reasons they first became famous lost in a constant whirl-wind of highly paid lifestyle stories, revelations and exposes.
Regardless of how you feel about The Duke and Duchess of Sussex: Freedom seekers who had the courage to throw off a life they didn’t choose and seek a new life they wanted for themselves and their children; or self-indulgent publicity seekers who gained what they wanted and then sniped from the sidelines; the reality is that the world looks set to consume an unending diet of life stories, explosive revelations and memoirs.
On one level you could argue that it doesn’t matter. None of us are forced to read or watch their updates. They have a brand and they’re selling it at a point when it has maximum commercial value. They have a young family, they undoubtably have security needs and office requirements that don’t bother the rest of us, we all need to make a living and there’s nothing wrong with ambition.
However, on another level they’re damaging the reputation of The Royal Family with a one-sided narrative which the rest of the Family find very hard to rebuff. The Royal family are choosing not to engage because they, presumably, feel they will stoke the fire and as an institution responding to this level of narrative isn’t what they do.
Had the expose ended with the Oprah interview and then reverted to the Sussexes living a life of ‘freedom’ we would probably have moved on. The challenge for Brand Sussex is that they haven’t.
The announcement of Prince Harry’s memoir delivering the story ‘not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become’ risks hugely undermining their own brand values (defined by with another memorable line ‘service is universal’).
We have to see all of this through a global lens. What lands in the UK is very different to what is heard in the US, perspectives matter and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have appeal on a number of different levels to a US audience that doesn’t have the same embedded loyalty to The Queen and Royal Family.
Yet, the major challenge that Prince Harry and Meghan face is that ‘service is universal’ appears to have been accompanied by relatively little service. Blockbusters like the Invictus Games has been postponed due to Covid, the last one being in 2018. Other charity work (for Meghan animal welfare charity Mayhew and Smart Works, for Harry WellChild and Rhino Conservation Botswana) are no doubt valuable but they don’t stir the national heart strings.
Even philanthropic elements of Harry’s memoir have sparked questions. The proceeds are due to go to charity but what about the $20million advance? I don’t begrudge Prince Harry making money from his book, the issue is presentational. If it’s not all for charity then don’t try to pretend it is. Stand tall and say you’re making some money from it. It’s not a crime. Charity will still be a major beneficiary. If you’re deeply sensitive to accusations of cashing in your reputation and making money from criticizing your family, then don’t do it. A charity donation (even a very large one) won’t make that go away.
However there is a longer term challenge here. If they are to avoid becoming the new Peter and Katie they have to find a platform and a mission that is about more than scoring points against The Royal Family.
Without a clear purpose that sits beyond making money and complaining, then the ‘man that I have become’ is something of an enigma and will be set and judged by the viewing public. That risks them becoming caricature and it has a definite sell-by date. Regardless of what you believe and think of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the way they have been treated and behaved, one thing is for sure. The stated aim of the memoir to ‘help show that no matter where we come from, we have more in common than we think’ is potentially quite optimistic.
The US audience may embrace the rebelliousness of their approach, the UK may wince at another onslaught of criticism but everyone can judge whether ‘service is universal’.