One of the reasons the Sussexes gave when they left official royal life was that they wanted more privacy. They have since been mocked as hypocrites in some quarters by critics who say that they continue to court global attention.
But such sniping, perhaps deliberately, misses an important point: that the couple have managed to provide a level of privacy to their children which far outstrips what they were able to offer Archie in the first few traumatic months after his birth, or, indeed, what Kate and William have been able to give their children.
Full-face photographs of William and Kate’s kids (often taken by Kate) are routinely handed out on their birthdays and the children also make several carefully staged public appearances each year where the press are given opportunities to photograph them.
They are also co-opted into other digital marketing stunts by their parents: think Instagram clips thanking the NHS for their work or marshmallow-roasting wedding anniversary videos, for example.
These handouts represent a long-established palace peace deal with the media. The media get pictures of the children and the press are supposed to not publish any unauthorized images of the children in return.
Although the deal is uneasy and occasionally breaks down—just last week The Daily Beast revealed the palace hit the roof after unauthorized pictures of the Cambridges lunching in a pub garden were published by the Sun—the architecture of the arrangement generally holds up.
Despite the fact that the arrangement gives the palace a level of control of the narrative which other celebrities would give their eye teeth for, William still loathes the principle of having to hand over pictures of his kids for public consumption. He reluctantly acquiesces.
Harry loathed it too and now, free from that collectively-bargained media compromise, he and Meghan are pursuing a far more radical policy. They appear to be seeking nothing less than complete anonymity for their kids by aggressively pursuing photographers, and, in one extraordinary case, bankrupting an agency which distributed pictures of Archie.
The result is that, four months after her birth, the public still have absolutely no idea what baby Lilibet looks like.
Not one photograph of their daughter, authorized or not, has yet been published. The couple have even declined to announce any christening date for her.
Archie has a slightly higher profile on Google Images, although the fact that the last picture of Archie to be published showed his back, which the couple shared on his second birthday in May, gives a clue as to how the Sussexes intend to manage access to their children’s images going forward. The black-and-white shot showed a rear view of Archie holding a bunch of balloons.
The last time the world has seen his face was in a video screened of the couple playing with Archie on the beach in their Oprah Winfrey interview.
Before that, the couple published an image of him being held by his father on the shores of a Canadian lake to mark New Year’s Eve 2019.
There have been only a handful of notable unauthorized images of Archie that have made it into the public domain. The Sussex’s ferocious response to such intrusions has been remarkable, and a salutary reminder to the press that Harry and Meghan will go to extreme measures to protect their children’s privacy.
They sued Hollywood agency X17 over drone-snapped images which were taken of Archie and Meghan’s mother, Doria, at the luxury home they occupied in Canada over Christmas 2019. Bunte, a German supermarket tabloid, ran a photo of Doria pushing Archie, then 14 months old, in a toy car.
As part of the settlement, X17 pledged to never again deal in any photos of the couple or their son taken by drone, zoom, or telephoto lenses “in any private residence or the surrounding private grounds.”
X17 declined to comment to The Daily Beast on the affair.
Another agency, Splash, publicly blamed its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on the cost of legal action against it by Harry and Meghan after it distributed pictures taken of Meghan walking in a public park with Archie in a papoose. Splash was perhaps unwise to rattle the Sussexes’ cage, having previously been forced to apologize to the couple when they lived in England for chartering a helicopter to fly at low altitude over the couple’s private home in the Cotswold village of Great Tew.
Second time round, although Meghan was in a public place when the photograph was taken, and the case against the agency was arguably less cut and dry, the Sussexes went to war on Splash. In March it filed for bankruptcy, citing the “unbearably expensive” legal action.
Giles Harrison, a veteran paparazzo and CEO of agency London Entertainment, told The Daily Beast that the Sussexes’ proclivity to sue has had a chilling effect on his industry’s inclination to cover and photograph the family.
“A lot of people have decided that it is kind of not worth the hassle. It is not worth the fall-out that comes from it. If you get the pictures of them, they are gonna try and sue you no matter what happens, no matter where you were, no matter if you were in the most legal, public place on the planet. And they can afford to sue you a lot more than you can afford to defend yourself.”
Some photographers do, of course, still work the beat, precisely because the scarcity of Sussex family photos has driven up their value. Harrison is reluctant to put an exact figure on such pictures but says: “They are worth a lot. If you got lucky and got a family photo of them all together at Disneyland, you might never need to work again.”
Harrison says that while protecting your children’s privacy is a difficult task in L.A., doing so effectively is a potent expression of power, wealth, and status: “There is a level of celebrity that if they don’t want the kids to be photographed, they basically won’t. Think Beyoncé and Jay-Z or Brad and Angelina in the first few years of their kids’ lives.”
The upshot of all this is that we don’t know a huge amount about how exactly the children are being brought up other than what the Sussexes have allowed to enter, or at least not blocked from, the public domain.
It’s hard to imagine that Meghan and Harry wouldn’t move heaven and earth to enable their kids to meet others their age, but Archie has never been photographed with friends or playmates. A super-secure, ultra-private seven-acre Montecito compound is handy like that.
Internet sleuths have, however, concluded that Archie has attended preschool after Page Six published photos in April this year of him being carried along an L.A. street by his mother while sporting “a green backpack and space-themed lunchbox.” The pictures were taken by an anonymous photographer and credited to the Backgrid agency.
What is clear is that a huge amount of both parents’ time is devoted to their children: Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand wrote in their biography Finding Freedom that Archie was taken on “daily walks” by his parents, and they also described how a “hands-on” Harry was put in charge of changing Archie’s diapers.
We also know that after a mysterious incident with a “unprofessional and irresponsible” night nurse the new parents decided to do without night-time help (although they do have a nanny).
Meghan has always portrayed herself as a hands-on mom. In her moving article for The New York Times in which she described having a miscarriage she carefully portrayed her home as a relatable scene of domestic normality, describing her morning routine in a series of staccato sentences: “Make breakfast. Feed the dogs. Take vitamins. Find that missing sock. Pick up the rogue crayon that rolled under the table. Throw my hair in a ponytail before getting my son from his crib.”
She also spoke in that piece of being “exhausted” in the early months of Archie’s life, an admission of vulnerability that endeared her to many parents.
We also saw a few more glimpses of their domestic life in the Oprah interview: the famous backyard rescue chickens, and, of course Archie playing contentedly on the beach with his parents, toddling happily from one to the other.
There is no reason to believe that baby Lilibet will receive markedly different parenting from her brother.
The most visible outward expression of Harry and Meghan’s love and concern for their children, however, will ironically enough, continue to be shielding them from the prying eyes of the world.
It will of course get more and more difficult for Harry and Meghan to protect the children as they get older and have to leave the house on a daily basis to go to school or playgroups.
As the royal commentator and writer Christopher Andersen, author of the bestselling biography of Harry and William Diana’s Boys, told The Daily Beast: “As the littlest Sussexes get older they face the inevitable hounding by an intrusive paparazzi—photographers jumping out from behind bushes and parked cars and all that. I’m sure Harry especially wants to shield them from that trauma as long as humanly possible, so that his children can have something akin to the proverbial “normal” childhood.”
A spokesperson for the Sussexes declined to respond to queries for this report.