All in all, Prince Harry’s keynote speech on July 18 at the United Nations in celebration of Nelson Mandela International Day was a decent strike, both for the prince, for the Mandela Foundation that invited him, and for the UN. The prince took great care to outline the particulars of the great man’s monumental 27-year incarceration, quoting generously from Mandela, with, as ever, a nod to the prince’s mother, Diana, whose acquaintance with Mandela was a heartfelt one. Harry mentioned the photograph of Diana and Mandela together, laughing, comfortable in each other’s presence at a meeting in 1997, a photo given to Harry by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which Harry said he has “on my wall and in my heart.” Though Harry kept his focus on the subject of the man, the message there was that his mother was still with him, and with us.
The prince enumerated several of the current crises facing Africa, from the historic drought on the Horn of Africa to the work of his own charity supporting children orphaned by HIV in Lesotho and Botswana, Sentebale. He kept the big issues — the biggest of which was Mandela’s own global reach and unceasing activism— firmly in view. It was Harry at his best, straight-arrow, heart-on-his-sleeve, telling us what he thought.
He closed with the words, “Let’s seek out what we have in common, empower all people to reclaim our democracies, and harness the light of Mandela’s memory to illuminate the way forward.” Unashamedly idealistic, with a grand dollop of that extreme Diana-like ease of connection to all people, you could almost think that Harry’s Mandela International Day speech was a bit of the old Harry, prior to his abrupt and publicly bitter 2019-2020 departure from British monarchy and from his family. In an odd way, the speech somehow worked as evidence that that other, original, charming Harry — the one who can effortlessly meld the personal and the political — still somehow exists.
Except. If we can say that any man now has some overhead, Prince Harry has overhead, not the least of which is his wife and family now that he’s no longer a working royal. Meghan Markle may have money stashed away from her years in Canada as a television actress and “lifestyle” blogger, and it’s to be hoped that she does. But, whatever it is, that amount will not bear the freight even of her considerable carbon footprint, such as the private jets she took to and from the Queen’s Jubilee in June, or even the prodigious staff ginning up “content” for Archewell’s entertainment and media arms. On the surface, at least, there is no content from Archewell’s for-profit content arms that is making money. Facing intense problems of its own, Netflix, having bit deep into the Windsors of Montecito enterprise with a reported $100 million, just canceled Ms. Markle’s one show Pearl, an animated film that had been nearing production.
Harry seems to realize that he has to get out there and gin up some ducats. This is why, upon arrival in California and in Hollywood, in 2020 and 2021, Harry and his wife cut a veritable blizzard of deals, most famously with Netflix and Spotify, but also with the corporate-mental-health startup BetterUp and on towards his inevitable as-told-to autobiography.
The most immediately looming moneymaking projects in the pipeline are inextricably products of this new, rain-making Harry. The first is his as-told-to autobiography with The Tender Bar author JR Mohringer, a book that has now been rescheduled to become an anchor in the autumn book lists. The second, which will debut at some unspecified point when Netflix believes that it has enough narrative in the can, is the ongoing documentary/reality show of Harry and Meghan behind the scenes as they manage their many global charitable efforts and commercial projects under the Archewell umbrella. Of the two projects, the book will arguably be the more explosive, and, for Harry anyway, successful.
But when we last visited some of the deals drawn and and generated by the principals of the budding foundation/political engagement engine/entertainment production house/self-betterment entity/lifestyle empire, there was the problem of content. Concretely, that means that there is a large creme-de-la-creme superstructure of Hollywood and Silicon Valley talent across Archewell’s divisions. But aside from ongoing production work on the documentary Soul of Invictus — a documentary taking a deep dive, with Harry, into the 2020 Invictus Games — and aside from the continued work on the personal documentary/reality show by Netflix and the couple, and a documentary series on mental health with Oprah “The Me You Can’t See,” there’s been no product. The couple has a lot riding on this autobiography and on the Netflix documentary of their lives, in other words.
Part of the problem is that it’s just plain hard to produce impactful content in any medium, and that difficulty is compounded when it is as difficult as it is to pinpoint what the production entity, Archewell, is actually meant to do. It’s a very broadly-cast not-for-profit/yet-somewhat-commercial media/charity enterprise. But when we last visited some of the deals drawn and and generated by the principals of the budding foundation/political engagement engine/entertainment production house/self-betterment entity/lifestyle empire, there was the problem of content. And that problem has not gone away.
The second complication is that the couple are, admirably, deeply politically engaged in a wide array of causes, some of which, such as Sentebale, Harry’s Lesotho and Botswana HIV-orphan charity, or Invictus, are well established. But these efforts and many others take time, and don’t rake in the lucre. Hence: They seem rushed, and spread quite thin. It was enroute to the Hague Invictus ceremony and games that they dropped by Windsor to reacquaint themselves with the Queen.
This picture isn’t alleviated — in fact it is only intensified — by the longstanding tensions between the Windsors of Montecito and the Windsors of Windsor. These tensions reached a high point with the March 2020 charges of racism leveled by the couple at Harry’s family in the CBS interview with Oprah Winfrey. This brings us back to Harry’s upcoming book, due out in a few short, breezy back-to-school weeks. For their part, the Royal Family is reported to be dreading the publication.