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Friends of the British royal family have mocked Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s account of a “near catastrophic” car chase in New York, after photographs, videos and other participants’ accounts gave a very different—and much less perilous—impression of the evening’s events, with one friend of Prince William quipping, “Recollections may vary.”
The friend added: “I thought they were leaving the royal family for a quieter life. If flashbulbs give Harry flashbacks, I don’t understand why he is going to award ceremonies.”
Asked if William, whose spokesperson has declined to comment on the incident, would at least take Harry’s side on the issue of invasive paparazzi, the friend said: “William and Catherine have put up with shit like this in the past. Everyone understands his anger at the photographers, but making hysterical statements doesn’t help matters, especially when, as the queen might have said, recollections may vary.”
A friend of King Charles, whose office has also said he won’t be making a formal comment, told The Daily Beast: “Charles will completely understand Harry being upset at being pursued by the paparazzi. He knows how scary it can be. But he has always tried to get Harry to understand that complaining about photographers or the media is pointless. It just makes it all worse.”
Indeed, that is exactly what appears to have happened in this case, with the incident redounding badly on Meghan and Harry’s credibility. A widespread impression is forming that the couple exaggerated when they described “a near catastrophic car chase at the hands of a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi,” after they left the Women of Vision awards ceremony at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in midtown Manhattan, where Meghan was being honored.
The Sussexes described what ensued as a “relentless pursuit, lasting over two hours.”
No-one doubts the sincerity of Harry’s anxiety, especially given the manner of his mother’s death. Few would envy him a life constantly punctuated by photographers jumping out of bushes and following him in cars. He has said that he suffers symptoms akin to PTSD when confronted by camera flashes.
That, however, does not affect the simple truth that a protracted, out of control pursuit through the city simply does not tally with the reality of New York’s traffic-clogged streets, a point made by the mayor, Eric Adams, who said, “I would find it hard to believe that there was a two-hour high speed chase.”
A spokesman for the NYPD also appeared to play down the severity of the incident, saying, “The NYPD assisted the private security team protecting the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. There were numerous photographers that made their transport challenging. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrived at their destination and there were no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests in regard.”
So, what did happen after Harry and Meghan left the award ceremony?
CNN reported that Chris Sanchez, who was part of the royal security detail, said Harry and Meghan were followed from the event by a dozen vehicles. Sanchez said he’d “never seen [or] experienced anything like this,” and that “the public were in jeopardy at several points.” The couple switched cars “more than once” during the incident, he added.
CNN also reported that Thomas Buda, who runs a private security business contracted to help the couple, corroborated Sanchez’s account. Buda told CNN that the couple’s convoy took a circuitous route from 23rd Street to 96th Street “before security brought the couple to the 19th police precinct on East 67th street. From there, the couple were moved to a yellow cab but it ended up circling the block and returning them to the police station.”
That this was not a (Netflix) remake of The French Connection was made abundantly clear by comments from taxi driver Sukhcharn Singh who drove the party, which included a security guard, from a police station for a few blocks as they tried to lose the paps.
The driver essentially said it was no big deal and they were never in danger, shrugging: “It’s New York.” However, Singh did say Harry and Meghan looked “nervous and scared.”
Harry and Meghan were ultimately returned safely back to their NYC base for the evening around midnight, Buda told CNN.
On social media, the pushback to the couple has been brutal after multiple photos and videos showed them trundling through New York in the back of a taxi, with Meghan apparently smiling, a point that was seized on by the photo agency Backgrid, which typically is a big customer for paparazzi shots. In its own statement, Backgrid also accused Prince Harry’s security escort of “driving in a manner that could be perceived as reckless. The vehicle was seen blocking off streets, and in one video, it is shown being pulled over by the police.”
#HarryandMeghanExposed was one of the politer hashtags to be trending on Twitter by Thursday evening.
“If I had to guess, I would say this is Harry going, ‘This is unacceptable, I’m going to say something,’ and no-one having the balls to say, ‘Well, maybe not, sir, that would be really fucking stupid…”
— PR executive to The Daily Beast
Security professionals have been quick to criticize the couple for prolonging the alleged chase. Simon Morgan, a former police bodyguard to members of the British royal family, told the Guardian: “The chase is taking place because of you, so you ask: can you get to your residence, can you get to your place of safety—we always used to favor a police station… can you get to the police station and seek refuge there and let the incident die down? There are different strategies you can use, but playing that cat-and-mouse game is one that is fraught with danger.”
A similar point was made by a paparazzi driver filmed by Good Morning Britain who said the pursuit was “very tense,” and appeared to blame the Sussexes’ driver. “Their driver was making it a catastrophic experience,” he told ITV on condition of anonymity. “If they were going 80mph, I would probably have been going 20mph behind them and hoping to keep sight of them. So if it was dangerous and catastrophic, it was more than likely based on the person that was driving.”
Many questions remain about the incident, but the most pertinent of all may be why Harry and Meghan decided to go public with their alleged ordeal.
A London-based PR executive who has worked for the royals told The Daily Beast: “If I had to guess, I would say this is Harry going, ‘This is unacceptable, I’m going to say something,’ and no one having the balls to say, ‘Well, maybe not, sir, that would be really fucking stupid and it is going to totally overshadow everything your wife has been doing tonight, her big comeback.’ This is what happens when people do their own PR.”