Aides working for the Duchess of Sussex wanted to rebrand her own book reading as a charitable event to make it sound “more substantial”, it has emerged.
A series of emails released via a Freedom of Information request have now revealed the lengthy negotiations that took place behind the scenes, as the Sussexes’ head of PR thrashed out the details with officials from the New York City Department of Education.
The two sides debated the language of a Department of Education press release that would announce the involvement of the Sussexes and the NYC schools chancellor, Meisha Porter, the most senior official in the department.
Toya Holness, who worked as the Sussexes’ PR, objected to the phrase “read aloud”, writing: “Can we make the description sound more substantial than a read aloud?
Removed entire paragraph
“Something about community support [of] the arts? Please.”
Danielle Filson, the NYC schools press secretary, replied: “Yes!”
In one edit, Ms Filson removed an entire paragraph about The Bench, to the frustration of Ms Holness.
“I like all your edits, except the Bench section,” she wrote.
“If you take out all the info about the book, I think it’s weird to only have her bio and not his,” she said, apparently referring to Harry.
Ms Filson admitted that she had been trying to ensure the release did not sound too much like an advert for Meghan’s book.
“Yes totally!” she replied. “Just wanted to make it a bit less promotion-ey.”
Elsewhere, a publicist working for Penguin Random House revealed that her team was looking into “all things carpet, cushions, decor etc” for the school visit, apparently to make the aesthetic more appealing.
A news release from the publisher was amended to say that the Sussexes’ Archewell Foundation “worked with” consumer giant Procter & Gamble to provide free personal health and hygiene products for the school, as opposed to the company just handing them over, according to the emails obtained by the Daily Mail.
Capture ‘archival content’
All children and staff involved were asked to sign a release form in which they agreed not to discuss or make “negative” statements about the project.
Ms Holness said the Archewell team wanted to film the event to capture “archival content for future use, including potential digital/production projects”.
Chanel Pysnik, head of unscripted content at Archewell, said the content “could be used in a future documentary” but was “not intended to be promotional in nature”.
The Sussexes are understood to have been “thrilled” with the engagement, which formed part of a three-day visit to New York that also included meetings with politicians about Covid vaccines and an appearance on stage at a concert to promote vaccine equity.
The trip also saw Prince Harry, in his role of president of African Parks, meet the president of Angola, João Lourenço.
A source close to the couple said it was “standard practice” when filming children for release forms to be signed by parents or guardians granting permission for them to appear on camera.
“Archewell followed a similar practice to ensure permission was voluntarily granted for footage to be captured, and notified the department in advance of filming,” they said.
It was not a prerequisite for the visit, and the couple were said to be grateful to the school for hosting them.