Inside Harry and Meghan’s crumbling Archewell dream as Sussexes blasted over ‘toe-curling’ shows and ‘naive’ ideas

PRINCE Harry and Meghan Markle’s Archewell brand was heralded as the start of a new era for the Sussexes – for both their professional and charitable goals.

But the organisation has been beset by difficulties, including a storm this week that saw its charity arm cleared after being reportedly declared delinquent.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Archewell brand has been beset by difficulties
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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Archewell brand has been beset by difficultiesCredit: AP

The charity arm was cleared this week after being reportedly declared delinquent.
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The charity arm was cleared this week after being reportedly declared delinquent.Credit: BackGrid
The Telegraph reported Archewell had been ordered to stop raising funds after a mix-up showed it as failing to submit records and pay a bill.

It was alleged it had been slapped with a delinquency notice and banned from raising or spending or raising money until it paid the fees.

The Sussexes’ team claimed the documents were filed and the cheque sent but it wasn’t processed on time.

And in a statement on Tuesday night, California’s Department of Justice later confirmed the charity is “current and in good standing”.

Archewell was created with huge fanfare in 2020 as a mix of for-profit and not-for-profit businesses when the couple stepped down from the Royal Family.

Its charitable arm was to focus on fund-raising and supporting projects around the world, while the business side of things concentrated on media productions.

The accounting mix-up has now been resolved, but this isn’t the embarrassing event to hit the Archewell brand since it was formed.

PR expert Mark Borkowski says the couple may have “over-promised” what they could deliver when they launched Archewell – particular given the intense scrutiny they are under as one of the most famous couples in the world.

And he says they need a success soon to limit any damage this latest PR storm has on their brand.

“As an organisation it was possibly over-promising at a time when it was trying to message the world this exciting new horizon of their brand,” Mark explains.

“We have seen all the time that they have used the media, or floated stories through commissaries in the media which have come to haunt them.

“If you are so high-profile, probably some of the most famous people in the world, everything you say gathers attention particularly across socials.

“So messaging hasn’t been right and obviously the complications of setting something up that is so big has been a challenge.”

Dream dented

Things started off well for the Sussexes and Archewell. In 2021 the charity was gifted donations totalling £10.3m, and they had signed mega-bucks deals with streaming giants Spotify and Netflix.

But last year the charity arm reported a massive hit, with donations dropping by £8.7million compared to the previous year.

Next Archewell faced a staffing crisis with five key executives leaving within the space of 14 months.

The mass exodus saw manager Bennett Levine stepping down, following president Mandana Dayani who quit after just 18 months.

Head of audio Rebecca Sananes left her position in December 2022, while Fara Taylor – who was the head of marketing – and Ben Browning – the head of internal content – stepped down from their roles last year.

Catherine St-Laurent was the director of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Archewell foundation but left after a year
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Catherine St-Laurent was the director of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Archewell foundation but left after a yearCredit: LINKEDIN
Mark believes the couple may have struggled to find people who shared their vision – and help them to deliver the goods.

“People have always said that there was a drive and determination to achieve, and of course your focus can upset people who probably don’t buy into your vision,” he explains.

“I think that has been the heart of the issue again – that their drive means it is probably a difficult match to find people with the same sort of considerations that they have for what they are trying to build.”

‘Toe-curlingly cringey’

The main money-makers for the couple’s Archewell Productions were the deals with Spotify and Netflix, rumoured to be worth more than £100million in total.

The Duke and Duchess were lined up to host and produce podcasts for Spotify, with Meghan interviewing several celebrity guests including her tennis ace pal Serena Williams for the Archetypes series.

The much-talked about podcast was described as “toe-curlingly cringey” by one critic, and the Sussexes and Spotify announced last year that they had parted ways by mutual agreement.

Bill Simmons, a senior Spotify exec, later cast doubt on that version of events after he labelled the couple “f***ing grifters. On his self-titled podcast he said: ‘The F***ing Grifters.’ That’s the podcast we shoulda launched with them.

“I gotta get drunk one night and tell the story of the Zoom I had with Harry to try and help him with a podcast idea. It’s one of my best stories.”

Meghan's podcast was described as 'toe-curlingly cringey' by one critic
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Meghan’s podcast was described as ‘toe-curlingly cringey’ by one criticCredit: Alamy

Their documentary series was more of a success, but other Netflix projects have raised eyebrows
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Their documentary series was more of a success, but other Netflix projects have raised eyebrowsCredit: Netflix
The couple’s Netflix docuseries Harry & Meghan was hailed a success, but their two other projects Heart of Invictus and Live to Lead were seen as distinctly underwhelming.

And the couple’s recently rebranded website sussex.com ominously makes no mention of their mega-bucks partnership with the streaming giant.

Despite this, Mark Borkowski says signing Meghan and Harry was a huge coup for both streaming services, generating millions of dollars worth of publicity.

“For all the deals they have done, those channels have got huge amount of publicity from booking them,” he says. “So they have used them and they have used the noise that is generated through having them.

“But we all know that creating content is difficult, it is a challenge. I think there was a sort of naivety in what they thought they could deliver.

“It is always about having a great team. There were lots of comparisons with the Obamas and people like that. But they have clearly had challenges in the teams they have had a round them to deliver the content.”

The couple have faced ridicule in the US, particularly on shows like Family Guy
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The couple have faced ridicule in the US, particularly on shows like Family GuyCredit: BackGrid

Questionable ideas

The couple’s next two films for Netflix are going to be a cooking and gardening show featuring Meghan, while the second programme will take an in-depth look at Harry’s favourite sport Polo.

However, some critics argue Archewell Productions would have to come up with some content with much wider-appeal if their Netflix deal is to continue.

Mark believes the couple are “scrambling around” and need to make their next steps a success to avoid any further tarnishing of their brand.

He says: “Polo might be niche and elitist, but if it gives an insight into a world….

“Who would have thought farming would be such an interesting thing and then you have Jeremy Clarkson?

They keep throwing stuff against the wall and things don’t stick. Everything they do is under intense scrutiny

“I wouldn’t underestimate the topic, but it is whether they have the skillset, the storytelling and the narrative to engage people. It comes back again to what I said – their problem is that expectations are so high and they never manage expectations.

“They don’t have the ability to manage expectations because of how they set their course back when they split and went to California.

“I think they set the bar too high, and clearly there was a belief in that but I think if they came back and looked at these things again I don’t think they would do the same thing over again.

“Unfortunately when you are the most famous couple in the world, there is no sympathy. They are scrambling around and all the time in the backs of their heads they have the idea that they have to succeed.

“They keep throwing stuff against the wall and things don’t stick. Everything they do is under intense scrutiny, which someone launching a similar business would not be under and then perhaps have more chance of making it work.

“The challenge they face is that they need a success. As soon as someone has a success then lots of things are wiped away. They are in desperate need of a success, and if they don’t one there is damage. They need something fast.”

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