LONDON – The latest chapter in the drama surrounding Prince Harry and Meghan’s treatment by the tabloid media was much ado about something.
But exactly what happened Tuesday night in New York when the royals left a gala event and were followed by a group of photographers is not completely clear. No fender was bent. No traffic citations issued. Nobody was hurt.
What is evident is that the royal couple was shaken and the pursuit will likely further fuel Harry’s fury at the media as well as his greatest fear that his wife could meet the same fate as his mother, Princess Diana, who died in a car crash while being chased by paparazzi.
The couple’s representatives claimed they had been pursued by photographers in a “near catastrophic car chase” through the streets of Manhattan. Photographers who were involved confirmed they followed the couple for miles over an extended period but described it as a low-speed affair. A photo agency later contended it was Harry and Meghan’s security guards who acted recklessly.
Harry's perception of what happened — and his whole relationship with the media — is undoubtedly colored by his mother's fatal crash when he was just 12 years old.
“My mother was chased to her death,” Harry said in the mental health docuseries “The Me You Can’t See,” discussing his fears about Meghan being hounded by the media. “And now look what’s happened. You want to talk about history repeating itself? They’re not going to stop until she dies.”
Security for Harry and Meghan has been an issue since the British government stripped them of protection when they moved to California in 2020, and it figures in three of his legal cases against the government and tabloid press. The couple have said they fund their own security.
The New York run-in occurred the same day a lawyer for Harry argued in a London court that he should be able to challenge a government decision denying him the right to pay police for his own security in the U.K.
On Tuesday, Harry and Meghan, also known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and her mother, Doria Ragland, were leaving the Ms. Foundation Awards in Manhattan when photographers — some irritated that they had been denied access to the couple earlier — began following their vehicle, riding in cars, on bicycles and at least one scooter.
For unknown reasons, Harry and Meghan's driver and a second vehicle with them took a circuitous route through Manhattan, first heading uptown on the West Side, then circling back to Midtown, then to the East Side and on to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, a highway on the edge of the East River.
A spokesperson for the couple called it a “relentless pursuit” that resulted in “multiple near collisions."
Relentless, definitely. But one photographer involved told The Associated Press that he kept up with the couple's vehicle on his bicycle for miles as the group moved through Manhattan traffic.
At one point, the couple sought refuge in a police station before attempting to evade the photographers in a yellow cab. By that time, police patrol cars had gotten involved and gave the taxi an escort. The cab driver said he drove Harry and Meghan around only briefly, returning to the vicinity of the police station after just a few minutes. During that time, when they were stopped behind a garbage truck, photographers crowded around the cab taking pictures through the closed windows.
Police spokespeople declined to answer questions about the episode, saying only in a statement that the presence of so many photographers on the road made the transport of the duke and duchess “challenging.”
Still, New York Mayor Eric Adams condemned the paparazzi as “reckless and irresponsible.”
A photo agency issued a statement denying the freelance photographers involved had done anything wrong and insisting that they had “no intention of causing any distress or harm.”
On the contrary, Backgrid USA said the photographers present reported that part of Harry’s security escort "was driving in a manner that could be perceived as reckless.’’ But Backgrid also said it took the couple’s concerns seriously and would investigate.
Harry, the younger son of King Charles III, has argued his safety was compromised by the absence of police protection during a short visit to the U.K. in July 2021, when his car was chased by photographers as he left a charity event.
His battle with the news media has taken two shapes: speaking out against his perceived mistreatment, part of what he calls his life’s mission to reform the press, and taking tabloid publishers to court in London, where one case is currently on trial.
The bulk of Harry's lawsuits are against the British tabloid press. Three cases center around a phone hacking scandal that dates back more than a decade.
The lawsuits — including an ongoing trial against the publisher of the Daily Mirror in which the duke is supposed to testify next month — are providing fresh reminders of the unscrupulous tactics employed by some journalists and private eyes hired by the papers.
Harry and other high-profile claimants in the cases, including Elton John and actor Elizabeth Hurley, allege nefarious practices that went as far as bugging, wire tapping and using deceit to get medical records.
The newspapers have generally denied wrongdoing and say the claims were brought too late.
In moving to the U.S., Harry and Meghan have tried to take control of the narrative. They stepped down as working royals in 2020, citing what they described as the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media toward Meghan, who is biracial.
They sat for a two-hour TV interview with Oprah, launched a six-part series on Netflix about their life together, and Harry released his best-selling memoir, “Spare.”
The media blitz has been met with sympathy and contempt. British tabloid headlines about the couple are often negative.
On Wednesday, The Sun’s main story on the incident was titled “Harry Fears” and partially quoted the cab driver — who only witnessed a bit of the pursuit — in a headline that says “chase claims are ‘exaggerated’ and there was ‘no reason to be afraid.’”
The Mail Online's top royals story was a column roasting Meghan for focusing on a “woke set of radical feminist priorities aimed at rescuing her reputation while getting richer.”
In the U.S., the TV show “South Park” spoofed the couple in an episode called “The Worldwide Privacy Tour” in which the “prince and princess of Canada” — cartoonish Harry and Meghan lookalikes — jet around the planet in a publicity spree to get people to stop talking about them.
The episode was widely mentioned in the aftermath of the so-called chase, with hecklers saying the sequel had just been written.
Associated Press journalists Robert Bumsted and Michael R. Sisak contributed from New York.