“Near catastrophic car crash”. That’s how a spokesperson for Harry and Meghan described an incident yesterday, in which the paparazzi are alleged to have pursued the pair after they left the Women of Vision Awards in New York City.
It’s a very evocative way to describe events. If the Sussexes were going to make such sensational claims against the paparazzi and, by implication, the police for failing to protect them, then you’d have expected them to present a stronger case.
They should have had their account corroborated by the NYPD in advance. They should have offered video and photographic evidence, for example from dashcam or CCTV footage. They might have gathered some independent witness statements. Some of those things may emerge in the coming days, but so far Harry and Meghan have laid themselves open to criticism from the haters, of which there is no shortage.
According to the couple’s account, the altercation with photographers was prolonged and risky. “Last night, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Ms Ragland were involved in a near catastrophic car chase at the hands of a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi.”
“This relentless pursuit, lasting over two hours, resulted in multiple near collisions involving other drivers on the road, pedestrians and two NYPD officers.”
It almost sounds like an action movie, doesn’t it? A two-hour car chase along New York streets, with heart-stopping near-misses and police involvement?
But was the chase as “near catastrophic” as Harry clearly believes it was – no doubt because of his lifelong traumatisation after his mother’s tragic death? The taxi driver who eventually got them to their destination said that they seemed nervous.
It’s at least possible that, for perfectly understandable historical, personal reasons, the Sussexes gave an account that emphasised their own sense of danger. The speeds, for example, surely cannot have been as rapid as when Diana went into the tunnel in Paris, and the police were escorting them, which was not the case for his mother in 1997.
The New York police, whose officers were involved in the incident, has been much more prosaic about things. Admittedly, a hardened New York cop’s idea of chaos on the streets of his city is going to be different from that of a prince, but even so the contrast in language and demeanour is striking.
As the late Queen once remarked “recollections may vary”, which is generally a good rule in life, and Harry above all should know how aggressive the media can be in pursuit of the truth when presented with a huge story such as this. He cannot, even in these circumstances, expect his account to be accepted as the end of the matter because there are so many questions that it invites.
The biggest question of all being: to what extent does the Prince’s presentation of this incident benefit his current crusade against the tabloid media machine? And, as such, is it perhaps the case that his recollection of events could at least help the ongoing Harry and Meghan PR machine?
Regardless of the specifics, it can’t be denied that the timing of the chase – breathlessly recounted by the UK and international media, as it draws obvious the parallels to the death of Princess Diana – greatly benefits the image that Harry and Meghan have cultivated over recent years as perpetual victims of the boundaryless press, circling vultures that we are. As Harry takes half the UK newspaper industry to task over its relentless pursuit of gossip, how convenient it must be to have a very public proof-of-concept manifest for all the world to see!
We can’t say for sure what exactly happened, but Harry may find that his version of events, rather than shoring up sympathy for the couple, backfires wildly if the official account is not so exciting. The inquisitions will go on for days at least, and the more people want to discredit his statement, acting under whatever motive, the more unpleasant life is going to be for him and his family. In not getting his side of the story fully evidenced and as cast-iron as it could be, he merely invites more of the kind of unwelcome, intrusive attention he’s tried to eliminate. It is, in other words, turning into a catastrophic PR event.