Meghan Markle, Harry’s Twitter mistake reveals looming PR disaster
Tuesday - 18/08/2020 10:08
In a huge PR fail, Harry and Meghan have done exactly what royal insiders feared. It’s left some wondering if there’s a way back for the couple.
Royal Twitter, you might think, is a genteel place. Where various accounts debate their favourite variety of Fortnum & Mason royal tea blend or enjoy polite exchanges about merits of various brooches in the Queen’s vast collection.
You would be wildly mistaken.
“Anorexic wrinkly hoe.”
“Ugly horse face b**ch.”
“Ugly ass British aristocratic vapid do-nothing b**ches.”
These are just some of the vicious things Tweeted by the account @Henryscousin, a pro-Meghan, anti-royal family account.
Welcome to the pitched and brutal battleground of royal social media fanaticism.
There is a certain irony that the noxious underside of royal fandom came to light inadvertently this week after Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, personally phoned a supporter to thank them for raising more than $80,000 for one of Meghan’s favourite charities.
The problem? The woman they called is also connected to the @Henryscousin profile that had previously posted the above abusive posts among others, per The Sun.
Here’s a quick explainer. In opposition to the outpouring of hate that Meghan received when she started dating Harry, an online army of sorts assembled to call out the barrage of racism, sexism, and xenophobia that Meghan faced.
That army bills themselves as the #SussexSquad. This year, the group launched the campaign #InspiredByMeghan, an online fundraiser that pulled in $80,000 for CAMFED, an organisation that helps girls and women get an education in Africa and which is supported by Meghan.
As a way of thanks, Harry and Meghan called the key fundraiser behind the push, a woman named Dani Trin from Lisbon.
Trin is reported to have told followers: “This was a short call with the sole purpose to thank us all for our efforts in putting such an amazing effort in and also for our enthusiastic support in the past two years.
“They both sounded so thankful, so moved and so happy for having our support.”
However, Trin, according to The Sun, has also used the @HenrysCousin account in the past, the same account which has called the Duchess of Cambridge a “Karen” and “b**ch” and Prince William an “a**hole”.
In short: Harry and Meghan accidentally called and thanked a woman connected to a Twitter account that has posted malicious abuse about members of the royal family. Hardly the sort of move likely to get them back into Gan-Gan’s good books.
Trin has denied posting the abusive messages and has said she is one of eight squad members with the password to the account.
(There is no suggestion that Harry and Meghan had any knowledge of, or condoned, the offensive messages.)
Speaking to The Sun, Trin said: “I feel like it’s not my place to condemn or approve another
person’s tweets. It’s their opinion. Henryscousin was like a forum and I had no control what other people posted. The group disbanded and the account was deactivated due to irreconcilable differences.”
This would have been a highly embarrassing snafu for Harry and Meghan at any time, however this latest PR storm comes the exact same week that both the Duke and Duchess have spoken out about online toxicity and hate. Awkward.
Writing in US business and tech magazine Fast Company, Harry said that social media was fuelling a “crisis of hate” and that the world needed to “remodel the architecture of our online community in a way defined more by compassion than hate”.
Then, late last week a radiant looking Meghan spoke as part of a conference organised by The 19th, a new non-profit news site that focuses on gender and politics. Sporting the sort of Californian inner glow that would have launched a thousand Santa Barbara real estate deals, she condemned online “toxicity”.
For Harry and Meghan who are currently taking their first steps to establish themselves as leading voices on a number of pressing social issues, the @Henryscousin situation is a particularly humiliating moment.
Right when they are (impressively) beavering away to prove their intellectual and activist chops, they are instead facing another mortifying public relations debacle.
During the calls, which took place while the couple was still living in Canada, among the things which came up was a discussion of the fictional island of Changa-Changa and the royal promising to help ‘Greta’ free 50 penguins ostensibly stuck in Belarus and move them to the North Pole. (Belarus, as every good geography student would know, is landlocked. Nor do penguins live in the North Pole.)
This was not how the Sussexes’ post-palace days were meant to go.
Having swept out of Westminster Abbey on March 9 after Harry and Meghan’s final official outing, they left to start their new life in North America on a tide of thrilling promise.
The crowd-pulling, magnetic and zeal-inducing duo – were off to enjoy global superstar billing and were set to ink megawatt deals for books and documentaries. They would be international leaders, humanitarian luminaries and best friends with Oprah!
More than six months since announcing they were quitting as working members of the royal family, the only thing that has unequivocally materialised is the Oprah part given their new $20 million home is the same upscale Santa Barbara where she lives.
Harry, like those mythical penguins, has lived his entire life in a certain sort of captivity, first the palace machine, then the army and then the palace again.
Having been released from that regal bondage, and without the help of the cadre of highly experienced private secretaries, aides and courtiers that went with it, does he have the street smarts to survive without finding himself committing to save fictional Belarusian penguins?
Incidents like the ‘Greta’ calls and now the @HenrysCousin debacle raise the question, just who is looking after Harry and Meghan right now? Members of the royal family are traditionally surrounded by a protective bureaucratic layer to keep those with grasping, self-serving interests far from the royal inner sanctum.
And this is the danger those, used to being cosseted by staffers, face once they are left to wander outside the palace gates on their own.
Consider Sarah, Duchess of York, who fell for an undercover reporter from the now defunct News of the World who posed as a ‘Fake Sheik’ in which she offered access to her ex-husband Prince Andrew, then a British trade envoy, in exchange for $900,000. (She later apologised and Andrew denied having any knowledge of the meeting.)
Harry and Meghan are clearly driven by the best of intentions. Now they are living in a house with a home cinema, tennis court, pool and koi pond, they could spend their days lolling about the place enjoying a decidedly indolent and luxurious existence.
Let’s face it – Harry and Meghan could both clearly do with a spot of downtime with the koi after a turbulent and bruising two years. Instead, they are both hellbent, in the best possible way, of using their platform and voice to create change.
The issue is that no matter how pure their goals or principled their actions, having left behind highly experienced royal staffers it appears they are now in something of a vulnerable position.
Last year it was reported that Harry and Meghan had hired LA firm Sunshine Sachs to handle their public relations, a move that the Daily Mail has estimated could be costing them $250,000 every year.
Having left their British staff behind, and with a new Californian crew on deck, the possibility of hitting a few rocky publicity shoals ahead looms large.
The key difference here is that courtiers et al are tasked with being on permanent lookout for publicity danger; PR experts, by contrast, are paid to make their clients shine. Put simply, this is about inherent wariness versus wide-eyed optimism.
The call to Trin, at face value, probably seemed like a great idea, a chance to thank those supporting Harry and Meghan at the grassroots level. But this reminds me of the sort of lightning bolt moment that crops up in a brainstorming session and is then not backed up by someone sitting down and doing the dull due diligence.
What Harry and Meghan need are not just guardians but militant gatekeepers, constantly pre-empting any sort of embarrassing situation a la the @Henryscousin imbroglio.
The Sussexes, to their eternal credit, are clearly on a mission – all they need now is someone to make sure that mission never, ever has anything to do with penguins.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a