When the first three episodes of Netflix’s Harry & Meghan were released on Dec. 8, the first official response from Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace was that neither of their press offices nor any members of the royal family had been approached to comment for the docuseries. That story soon changed, and communications reviewed by BuzzFeed News now show that not only had the press representatives been contacted, one of the top palace communications officials tried to get advance footage.
The royal family’s top press officials initially told reporters they had not been contacted for comment by the producers of Harry & Meghan, a six-episode behind-the-scenes look at the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the circumstances that led them to step back as working members of the royal family. Hours later, the officials changed their story, saying that they had been contacted by “a third-party production company” but their attempts to verify the company’s authenticity with Netflix and Archewell Productions (the Sussexes’ production company, which co-produced the docuseries) received no response.
However, Harry & Meghan production company Story Syndicate told BuzzFeed News that not only had the chief press officers at Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace been contacted for an official response, but that Lee Thompson, communications secretary for the Prince and Princess of Wales, confirmed receipt of the email and requested to see footage from the docuseries.
The Palaces’ public statements have cast doubt on the due diligence performed by the production company and the professionalism with which Harry & Meghan was created. In turn, the companies behind the docuseries have raised serious questions about the extent to which the royal family’s press offices were aware of the contents of Harry & Meghan — and the actions they claimed to have taken to verify the authenticity of communications from the docuseries’ production company.
Spokespersons for each palace said that they contacted Archewell Productions and Netflix in an attempt to verify the authenticity of the production company’s email. These spokespersons said that they did not receive a response to their inquiries from either Archewell Productions or Netflix and thus were unable to provide a response. They also told reporters that the emails they received did not address the entire series.
These facts were widely reported by royal reporters from many publications, attributed to a “royal source” or a “senior royal source.”
BuzzFeed News can confirm that these “royal sources” were Thompson and his counterpart at Buckingham Palace: Tobyn Andreae, communications secretary to King Charles and Camilla, the Queen Consort. The two regularly brief selected royal reporters — and provide instructions about how these briefings and guidance are to be attributed — in a WhatsApp group.
Emails between Thompson and one of the show’s producers, dated Nov. 30, were obtained by BuzzFeed News and their authenticity was confirmed by Story Syndicate. A spokesperson for Story Syndicate told BuzzFeed News that Thompson did not reply to a follow-up email in which the company declined to provide clips from Harry & Meghan (as is standard industry practice) but reiterated the claims that would be made and requested Kensington Palace’s official response.
Story Syndicate said that it had no evidence of anyone from Buckingham Palace reaching out in response to the initial email and confirmed that it was sent not to a general mailbox but to Andreae’s direct email address. (A spokesperson added that there was no “bounceback” to the email, an automatic reply that indicates an inbox is full and the recipient might be unable to read the message.) This spokesperson also noted to BuzzFeed News that a request for comment sent to Jason Knauf, former royal employee and current director of the Earthshot Prize (a competition founded by Prince William), on the same date as the emails to both palaces received a response that was included in Harry & Meghan.
A spokesperson for Netflix said the company can find no evidence that it had been contacted by either Kensington Palace or Buckingham Palace through any common channels of communication, but cautioned that there is a possibility an email could have been sent to an obscure account.
The Sussexes' global press secretary, Ashley Hansen, told Buzzfeed News that an Archewell employee from an unrelated branch of the company was contacted by a royal employee after the deadline Story Syndicate had given for a response to be included in the docuseries. Hansen said that neither she nor any other members of the Archewell communications team (which represents Archewell Productions, Archewell Audio, and the Archewell Foundation) were contacted by spokespersons for the royal family.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace for comment.