Harry and Meghan expected NDAs from school kids, teachers during NYC visit

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Newly released documents show that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s team made a number of demands on New York City public officials, teachers and elementary school children during the couple’s high-profile 2021 visit to the city, to ensure that they would be portrayed as favorably as possible and as quasi world leaders in their 2022 Netflix documentary.

For example, for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s visit to a public elementary school in Harlem, their Archewell team asked school employees and students’ parents to sign a release for their participation in filming for an unnamed Sussex “project,” according to documents obtained by the Daily Mail.

The releases included a confidentiality clause, which barred students and teachers at P.S. 123 Mahalia Jackson School from discussing the filming of the “project” on social media or with with any news outlets, the documents show. The students and teachers also were barred from making any “negative, derogatory, or otherwise unfavorable statements” about “any of the released parties,” presumably meaning Harry and Meghan, the documents show.

For another stop — a visit to One World Observatory with New York Governor Kathy Hochul and NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio — emails released under freedom-of-information requests showed that the couple’s head of communications, Toya Holness. said that “under no circumstances” should four U.K. tabloids be allowed to cover the event.

The tabloids, including the Daily Mail, are known for their critical coverage of the Sussexes and their litigious history with the couple. Press secretaries for Hochul and De Blasio were copied into the emails but did not appear to raise concerns about restricting certain outlets from an event in a public space, the Daily Mail said.

Harry and Meghan visited New York City in September 2021 as part of a media blitz, as they were seeking to relaunch themselves publicly after they stepped away from royal duties in 2020, moved to the United States and retreated from most appearances during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Sussexes appeared to treat the trip as a quasi royal tour, even though the couple no longer had royal status. The media, as well as officials from New York City and the United Nations, likewise appeared to hold up the couple as visiting dignitaries, despite their lack of official status.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 23: (L-R) Governor Kathy Hochul, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio, Chirlane McCray and Dante de Blasio pose at One World Observatory on September 23, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 23: (L-R) Governor Kathy Hochul, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio, Chirlane McCray and Dante de Blasio pose at One World Observatory on September 23, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images) 

Emails released by the Port Authority, which owns and runs the One World Trade Center, suggested that the Sussexes were given protection by either the New York City police or the governor’s security team, the Daily Mail said. After Harry and Meghan stepped away from royal duties, the UK government stopped providing them with taxpayer-funded security.

During the trip, Harry and Meghan also visited the United Nations to talk about vaccine equity and spoke at the Global Citizen festival in Central Park. The couple garnered a great deal of positive coverage from their trip to P.S. 123, where Meghan read aloud from her recently published children’s book, “The Bench,” to a crowd of second-grade students.

For the entirety of trip, the Sussexes were followed by a camera crew, the Daily Mail reported. It wasn’t confirmed at the time, but the crew was filming the couple for their six-part Netflix series, “Harry and Meghan,” which premiered more than a year later in December 2021.

In the months and days before the trip, Harry and Meghan’s Archewell team communicated with New York City officials, particularly those from the Department of Education, according to emails.

According to the emails, the Archewell team was vague about the reasons that a camera crew were accompanying the Sussexes to the school on Sept. 24, 2021. Holness told officials that the crew would be “capturing archival content for future use, including potential digital/production projects.”

Danielle Filson, then the education department’s press secretary, warned the Archewell team that the children “can’t be featured” in any material that is “promotional.” In response, Chanel Pysnik, head of unscripted content at Archewell, said that the content “could be used in a future documentary” but was “not intended to be promotional in nature.”

But other emails revealed the promotional aspects of the school visit. The emails, for example, showed that Archewell and representatives from Penguin Random House, which published “The Bench,” debated over details of the school visit.

Dominique Cumin, a publicist with the publisher, wrote: “My team is looking into all things carpet, cushions, décor etc. More to come.”

Video of the event showed Meghan sitting under a tent in the school playground on a soft blue box, reading “The Bench,” as Harry and students listened to her as they sat on a green mat and green cushions.

The emails also show that Archewell team members, education officials and Penguin Random House also were involved in editing a press release that was jointly issued by the Department of Education and Random House Children’s Books. At one point, Holness wrote Filson to ask whether some of the wording about the visit could be made to sound “more substantial than a read-aloud.” She asked for the description to include mention of “community supports or the arts.”

The press release described how Meghan and Harry, through their foundation, donated free cleaning and hygiene products from Procter & Gamble — then a corporate partner — to the school’s pantry. The couple also donated a washer and dryer for students to wash their uniforms, as well as two garden boxes filled with fresh vegetables and herbs. In a line about Meghan helping to donate reading nooks to schools in New York City, a Penguin Random House executive appeared to change a line from “five” schools to “many.”

One of the outlets invited to cover the event was Vogue magazine, which described the “brilliant, sunny September morning” and which offered details about about how Meghan “peppered” the kids with praise. “Soon there were hugs, even tears,” Vogue said. The report also noted most of P.S. 123’s students come from low-income backgrounds, with the Daily Mail saying that 95% qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.

The Daily Mail, though, noted that Meghan’s outfit included a $5,840 Loro Piana cashmere coat, matching $1,680 pants and up to $387,000 in jewelry.

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