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Harry Meghan Getty 1.jpg

What Kind of Celebrities Do Harry and Meghan Want to Be?

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | June 23, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | June 23, 2023 |

Harry Meghan Getty 1.jpg

Much has been made about the announcement that Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, had parted ways with Spotify, with whom they had previously signed a lucrative deal to create original content. The pair had only produced one podcast for the platform, and word began to emerge that this simply wasn’t good enough for Spotify given how many millions they’d sunk into this much-publicized deal. Bill Simmons certainly couldn’t keep his mouth shut, declaring the couple to be ‘grifters.’ It has, of course, made the British press, who make obscene amounts of money professionally targeting the Sussexes, very happy. I must admit I was kind of baffled by their lack of output with Spotify. Talk about easy money. Then again, perhaps that’s part of the problem here. This is not a couple short of opportunities, but since leaving behind life as active members of the British royal family, they have seemed unsure of their direction. What is it they actually want to do?

Whether they like it or not, whether they truly want to embrace the label or try and work against it, Harry and Meghan are celebrities. In fairness, all of the major British royals are, and they’ve used the sheen of ‘tradition’ to try and rebuff accusations of using the press in celebrity-adjacent ways for their own self-promotion. It’s a weird kind of fame to live with, one I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, because it offers few of the true benefits of celebrity but all of the pitfalls and a heavy dose of imperialist bullsh*t. The Sussexes aren’t exactly free of these constraints: they have their titles, they are still tied to the Windsors, and many of their desires as public figures are still rooted in the expectations of royal duty. Yet they did divorce themselves from that system for a reason. They wanted a kind of freedom that comes with old-school celebrity: the openness of choice in terms of projects and media access, the lack of obligation to adhere to outdated notions of ‘protocol’, and, of course, the money.

The last detail is often seen as some sign of their insatiable greed. Oh, look at them trying to make a living with their immense privileges. I, a tabloid hack who makes six-figures writing columns that denigrate trans people and provide PR to the Tories, would never lower myself to such depths. Cute. But hey, wouldn’t you use every door opened to you in the most efficient way possible? If I were Meghan, I would say ‘yes’ to it all: the Netflix deal, the Spotify contract, the offers of books and public speaking and panel appearances. We all would. And none of this is new to this couple, least of all Meghan who made her living pre-Harry as an actress, blogger, and philanthropist. She can navigate this system, but now, as a couple and the Brand known as Team Sussex, there are far more caveats attached to this. I’m not sure they know what they want or how to get it.

Public service is key to their agenda, much in the same way it was when they were full-time royals (mostly because that’s the only way that monarchy can continue to pretend it contributes anything to the planet in return for taxpayers funding their helicopters, toilet seat changes, and lawyer fees.) Harry’s own causes are numerous, with his most notable focus being the Invictus Games and his interest in working with veterans. Meghan had a slew of charitable work to her name long before she got married, from speaking at the UN to being an ambassador for fresh water in Africa to shining a light on the stigma of menstruation in India. They know their stuff and would be much sought after supporters for any charity. But you can’t make a living as a philanthropist. That’s the kind of stuff you do when you’ve already bled the planet dry with capitalistic fury and have more money than you’ll ever spend. You need literal billions to do this full-time, and you don’t get that kind of cash the old-fashioned way. You either inherit it or are an evil bastard or both (hello, the Sackler family.)

Harry and Meghan are not poor. Not by a long shot. But they’re not Bezos rich. The media stuff like the Spotify deal is meant to aid in these endeavours but also act as its own kind of promotional platform. Meghan’s podcast for Spotify, Archetypes, was her attempt to bridge this gap, spotlighting the ways that women are unfairly stereotyped and how one tries to overcome this. The podcast was fine, not my usual listening fare but slickly executed and with an enviable slate of celebrity guests. Meghan knows how to project herself for the microphone and is never less than appealing. My main issue with Archetypes was its lack of thematic cohesion. It could have gone so much deeper on these prickly issues than I think Meghan’s team were willing to go. She and Harry aren’t radical figures and they don’t want to de-mainstream themselves in any way.

The podcast also highlighted a major quandary for the couple. To be celebrities, they’re expected to give something of themselves to the world, which is the exact reason they rejected royalty’s stifling demands. Nobody is entitled to them, of course. It’s every person’s choice to be as public or private as they desire, and many of the savviest celebrities navigate this ecosystem without revealing anything they don’t want to (this is why Beyonce is so excellent at what she does.) Meghan is under no obligation to spill the beans. It’s just a shame that a podcast marketed on its openness feels so hesitant. There are moments in interviews where you can feel a really great conversation starting before Meghan backs away.

And that’s a big issue here. The thing that traditional celebrity wants from the Sussexes, and the thing they want them to heavily monetize, is mostly off-limits. Their Netflix documentary had moments of candour but still resisted the easy road. Harry’s memoirs went deeper and became a major best-seller, but you can’t replicate that over and over. Everyone wants this pair to basically sh*t-talk the royal family night after night, like a bad stand-up gig or one of the many monarchy hangers-on whose full-times jobs seem to be royal ‘commentary.’ Even if that weren’t a finite pool of #content, it’s clearly not what the Sussexes want. And why should they? That sounds like it’d suck!

So, how do you sell yourselves as a brand when the big hook to potential buyers is off the table? If I were a Sussex, I would focus my efforts on behind-the-scenes deals, producing and the like, with a side-order of public speaking. Stick to your strengths and take the time to explore this new world you inhabit. Work with agents and creatives to figure out your niche. Most of us would die for these opportunities but they require a lot of labour to be at their fullest potential. Being famous doesn’t necessarily equip you to be good at being a celebrity, and I think the Sussexes still have a ways to go in figuring out who they truly are separate from the obligations and safety net of the crown.