Prince Harry appeared somewhat conflicted, but Meghan Markle, ever the consummate professional, was radiant with her smiles when the cameras started whirring on the viewing deck of One World Trade Center in New York City on Thursday morning.
Meghan smiled expertly and consistently, but an army of conflicting emotions marched across Harry’s face. It was strangely reminiscent of the alternately grumpy/happy Harry that seasoned royal reporters, whom the prince despised with a passion as an apparent point of principle, well remember from the days of yore.
Harry has said that banks of photographers trigger negative emotional responses connected to his mother’s death in 1997. “Every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash, it takes me straight back,” he has previously said.
It was clearly an excruciating one minute and 45 seconds, lined up with New York Governor Kathy Hochul, the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, his wife Chirlane McCray, and son Dante.
Given that Harry absolutely loathes the individual members of the press, absolutely loathes being commodified, and believes that photographers doing their job triggers PTSD, one has to wonder what he was doing there.
The photographers started to panic when they realized the encounter was about to be over, less than five minutes after Harry and Meghan had arrived.
One snapper, apparently panicking that he had missed his shot, was heard calling out, “Team Archewell… this is an unshootable shot from this angle…can we have the honor of one shot in the center right there…”
They didn’t move.
If the photographers were a little put out, however, that is as nothing compared to the disappointment of the journalists when they realized that Meghan and Harry were leaving the engagement having said … absolutely nothing.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Meghan said, “It’s wonderful to be back, thank you,” when asked how she was enjoying her trip to the Big Apple.
Mayor de Blasio said that they were “wonderful guests” and added he was excited to tell them about “the work we’re doing.”
That still didn’t really answer the nagging question hanging over this whole affair, which was, what were they actually doing there, posing for the cameras like it was 2018 and Megxit had never happened?
Were they paying tribute to the victims of 9/11, nearly two weeks after the 20th anniversary of that terrible event? Their subsequent visit to the 9/11 memorial and museum suggested so.
Were they convening with de Blasio to discuss his “work” for the city, such as initiatives for marginalized communities?
Were they preparing the ground for Meghan’s run for office?
Or was it a more straightforward PR stunt? Just a little raising of their profile, maybe trying to replace the memories of a summer of rather undignified accusations and recriminations with a sober, grown-up, but still nice and shiny relaunch?
Given that Harry and Meghan’s team declined to offer any context for today’s engagement to The Daily Beast, it’s anyone’s guess.
What we do know: Thursday’s brief stop at One World Trade was merely an hors d’oeuvre—the main event is their participation in a global vaccine equity rally at Central Park on Saturday.
This when we can expect to see them speak—!—and it will also be the first test of their personal chemistry with a large live crowd since they embarked on their new life. A reception that is anything less than rapturous would be astonishing.
On Thursday, the couple also managed to squeeze in another on-brand meeting with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield. She later tweeted that they had an “important discussion” on COVID-19, racial justice, and mental health.
Inevitably, the Daily Mail has laid siege to their swanky hotel, the Carlyle, photographing Harry drinking in the hotel’s legendary Bemelmans Bar, apparently without Meghan, on Thursday night, after another set of pictures were published in the Mail of the couple drinking cocktails with Meghan’s close friend, fashion designer Misha Nonoo, and her husband Mikey Hess, the previous evening.
So, perhaps the NYC trip is all about positive profile-raising, outside of the context of warring with the royals.
Duncan Larcombe, the former royal correspondent for the Sun who is also a biographer of Harry, told The Daily Beast: “What happened on Thursday is a very interesting development, and represents an escalation in their ambition. I think it is pretty clear they do actually want to be royal in all but name, while also being free to do deals with Google and Spotify and whoever else wants to buy a piece of the royal family.”
Larcombe said the event gave him a flashback to being at Ground Zero with Harry on an official royal tour in 2008, adding: “Looking at it, I did think for a moment, ‘Hang on a minute, are they back doing royal jobs? Has he been asked to do this by the Foreign Office?’”
The most important lesson to be drawn is that Harry and Meghan still matter. Very clearly, they have not lost their ability to summon the world’s media at the click of a finger; the event was only announced on Wednesday evening and by Thursday morning, hundreds of bleary eyed media workers were gathered waiting for the couple to appear. Harry and Meghan say “jump,” and the media—the nemesis they still need so much—brings the skipping rope.