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Newly released emails have unveiled the extraordinary lengths Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s team went to pull off the couple’s high-profile visit to New York City in 2021.
The files, obtained by DailyMail.com via a FOIA request, show how the Sussexes’ high-powered aides had pulled strings behind the scenes to ensure they were presented in a positive light during a series of public appearances that were filmed for their $100million Netflix documentary.
For one of the stops in their three-day tour, representatives for Harry and Meghan raised the idea of bringing cushions and a new carpet to a public school in one of New York’s low-income areas to better fit with Meghan’s aesthetic.
The emails show Archewell staff had a say in which school they would visit, went through multiple edits of press releases to make their appearance sound ‘more substantial,’ and even amended the public diary for top school officials.
Emails obtained by DailyMail.com show the coordinated efforts by Harry and Meghan reps to produce and market the couple’s September 2021 visit to P.S. 123 in Harlem
Prince Harry was snapped sitting among young school children who were given green cushions to sit on during Meghan’s reading of her book
A cache of emails obtained by DailyMail.com via a FOIA request reveal the strings their high-powered aides had pulled behind the scenes to ensure the Sussexes were presented in a positive light
The press list for their events was also tightly controlled and restricted to Meghan-friendly publications, such as Vogue and other outlets, while British tabloids were banned.
The emails show students and faculty at the Harlem elementary school were even asked to sign consent forms for filming that also banned them from discussing the project or making ‘negative’ remarks about the famous couple who were visiting.
Harry and Meghan’s trip to New York in September 2021 was designed to showcase them as world leaders as it included a stop at the United Nations to talk about vaccine equity.
Toya Holness, who has a degree in strategic PR from the University of Southern California, has parted ways with the couple
Their itinerary included a speaking appearance at the Global Citizen festival in Central Park, where they were constantly tailed by a camera crew for the six-part Netflix series, Harry & Meghan, which premiered last December.
According to the correspondence, event planning started six months earlier in April 2021 and was spearheaded by Toya Holness, one of the Sussexes’ PR staff who previously worked at the New York City Department of Education.
On the second day of the trip, the former royals made an under-the-radar visit to P.S. 123 in Harlem where Meghan read her new children’s book, The Bench, to a class of second-grade students in an outdoor ‘read aloud’ event on school grounds.
The inner-city school has a 91 per cent black and Hispanic student population – 95 per cent of which qualify for free or reduced-price lunches due to their low-income backgrounds.
But when the Duchess appeared at the school on September 24, 2021, she arrived wearing a $5,840 Loro Piana cashmere coat and matching $1,680 pants.
Meghan Markle hugs children at the school in Harlem during the September 2021 visit where she read her book
Three days prior to the couple’s arrival, Archewell representatives contacted the New York City Department of Education with a ‘location’ and ‘appearance’ release form for filming to run by their lawyers
When NYC schools officials asked the Sussexes’ team what the film footage was for, Holness vaguely explained the content ‘could be used in a future documentary’ and was ‘not intended to be promotional in nature’
The papers granted the Sussexes’ film crew permission to ‘capture archival content of Archewell events for future use’, but did not refer to their film project by name
The form included a confidentiality clause that banned students and teachers from discussing or making ‘negative’ statements about the project.
She accessorized her look with around $387,000 worth of jewelry including her $350,000 engagement ring, a $4,500 diamond ring from her first public engagement with Harry as his fiancée, Princess Diana’s $23,000 Cartier Tank watch, a $6,900 Cartier Love bracelet, and a $3,000 Jennifer Meyer tennis bracelet.
According to the emails, three days prior to the couple’s arrival, Archewell representatives contacted the New York City Department of Education with a ‘location’ and ‘appearance’ release form for filming and asked them to run it by their lawyers.
Meghan sat down with students at the elementary school to read them her new children’s book, The Bench, published in 2021
The papers, which granted the Sussexes’ film crew permission to ‘capture archival content of Archewell events for future use’, included a confidentiality clause that banned students and teachers from discussing or making ‘negative’ statements about the project.
It read in part: ‘I agree that without the prior written approval of (the) Producer, I shall not discuss this Appearance Release, the Material, the Project itself, or my participation therein with any third party prior to the initial exhibition of the episode of the Project in which I appear’.
The release banned those who signed it from posting on social media ‘now or in the future’ about the filming.
The document stated: ‘I agree to not make negative, derogatory, or otherwise unfavorable statements about, or otherwise denigrate or disparage, any of the Released Parties’.
When NYC schools officials asked about what the footage was for, Holness was vague.
Emails between Archewell staff and Meghan’s publishers show a discussion about securing ‘carpet, cushions, décor etc’ for the event
Holness requested editing the event’s description in the press release to sound ‘more substantial’ by including the couple’s objective to ‘support’ the community
The press release went through multiple rounds of editing, including Filson’s decision to scrap a description of Meghan’s book to make it ‘less promotion-ey’
She said that the documentary crew were ‘capturing archival content for future use, including potential digital/production projects’.
Danielle Filson, the NYC schools press secretary, warned the Archewell team that the children ‘can’t be featured’ in any material that is ‘promotional’.
Chanel Pysnik, head of unscripted content at Archewell, gave another vague answer, that the content ‘could be used in a future documentary’ but was ‘not intended to be promotional in nature’.
The final email in the chain, sent two days before Harry and Meghan visited the school, was from Pysnik and asked for the ‘best way’ to get the release ‘agreed to and signed’.
Other emails show that Archewell and representatives from Penguin Random House, which published ‘The Bench’, debated extensively over the minutiae of the school event.
Dominique Cimina, a publicist with the publisher, wrote: ‘My team is looking into all things carpet, cushions, décor etc. More to come’.
Video of the event shows Meghan sitting under a tent in the school playground on a soft blue box with the pupils and Harry sitting on a green mat and green cushions.
The two sides emailed over the language of the Department of Education press release with Filson taking out the entire paragraph about The Bench.
Holness replied: ‘I like all your edits, except the Bench section. If you take out all the info about the book, I think it’s weird to only have her bio and not his’, apparently referring to Harry.
An edited draft of the press release shows the title was amended to make the event appear more ‘substantial’ than a ‘read-aloud’
Despite the event being held at a public school where the majority of students have low income backgrounds, Meghan arrived at the September 24, 2021 event wearing a $5,840 Loro Piana cashmere coat and matching $1,680 pants
In a telling response, Filson replied: ‘Yes totally! Just wanted to make it a bit less promotion-ey’.
Holness objected to the phrase ‘read-aloud’ for use in the public schedule for New York Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter, the most senior official in the department.
She wrote: ‘Can we make the description sound more substantial than a read aloud? Something about community support (of) the arts? Please’.
Filson replied: ‘Yes!’
A representative from Penguin Random House appears to have changed a line in their own press release stating that Meghan was donating reading nooks to five schools in New York, replacing ‘five’ with ‘many’ to make it seem like a larger number.
A news release from the publisher was amended to say that Archewell ‘worked with’ Procter & Gamble to provide free personal health and hygiene products for the school, rather than just the consumer products giant providing the items.
The list of journalists attending was tightly controlled and included friendly left wing outlets including The Huffington Post, New York magazine – which later did a flattering profile of Meghan – the New York Times, and Oprah Daily.
Harry and Meghan are neighbors with Oprah Winfrey in Montecito, California.
When Holness mentioned that Vogue might come – they were included on the final list – Filson replied: ‘!!’
Such control over the media was even more apparent during Harry and Meghan’s first stop on their trip: One World Trade Center in Manhattan.
The couple visited the top of the tower where they were met by then New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, his wife Chirlane McCray and New York governor Kathy Hochul.
In an email sent to Filson just a day before the event, Holness gave her a heads up about Vogues’s potential appearance
Emails show Holness restricting media access to the couple’s appearance at the One World Observatory a day earlier, stating ‘under no circumstances should we let in folks from the 4 UK tabloids’
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are pictured visiting One World Observatory on 102nd floor of Freedom Tower on September 23, 2021
But behind the scenes Holness was once again pulling the strings, this time to bar British newspapers that Harry and Meghan don’t like.
The day before the couple arrived in New York, she wrote: ‘Just one flag, under no circumstances should we let in folks from the 4 UK tabloids (Daily Mail, Sun, Mirror and Express. Thanks!’
Among those in the email chain who did not raise concerns was Bill Neidharts, Mr de Blasio’s press secretary at the time, and Kate Smart, Governor Hochul’s deputy press secretary.
On the day of the event a DailyMail.com journalist who tried to attend was told they were denied entry because they had not confirmed their attendance the night before.
That claim appears at odds with the request by Holness in the emails.
Archewell did not respond to DailyMail.com’s request for comment.
Emails released by the Port Authority, which owns and runs the World Trade Center, suggested that the Sussexes were given protection by either the the NYPD or possibly the Governor’s security team.
A lieutenant with the Port Authority said two days before the visit that the ‘NYPD Intelligence Division/ NY Governor Executive Protection Detail confirmed, that there is a planned visit by The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Prince Harry and Megan Markle) on Thursday September 23, 2021’.
On their trip the Sussexes were driven around in two large SUVS by men including one who is normally Taylor Swift’s bodyguard.
Their itinerary included a speaking appearance at the Global Citizen festival in Central Park, where they were constantly tailed by a camera crew for their Netflix show
Harry and Meghan’s trip to New York in September 2021 was designed to showcase them as world leaders as it included a stop at the United Nations to talk about vaccine equity
Their second car was driven by burly men in suits with badges on their lapels, who appeared similar to NYPD officers who protect visiting dignitaries. They drove with blue and red lights on through the streets of Manhattan.
After the Sussexes stepped down as working royals their UK-funded security was removed, forcing them to pay for their own.
Prince Harry sued the Home Office to force it to allow him to pay for police protection whilst visiting the UK but a High Court judge rejected his case. He is currently bringing a second legal action along the same lines.
On a trip to New York in March this year, the Sussexes claimed that photographers pursued them in a ‘high speed’ chase, claims which were mocked by the current Mayor, Eric Adams.
The NYPD and the DOE did not respond to a request for comment
A spokesman for Adams said they could not speak for a previous administration.
Archewell said that it followed standard practice when it came to the NDA.