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Prince Harry's Bombshell Statement Is Unprecedented for the Royals

"Nothing like this has ever been done by a member of the royal family before."

In a surprise move that shocked many Palace insiders, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle upended their official tour of Africa on Tuesday when they dropped a legal bombshell that put the focus squarely back on the couple's increasingly contentious relationship with the British media. Harry released a detailed and highly charged statement about the British tabloids' coverage of Meghan on the duke and duchess's official website in a truly unprecedented move. "Nothing like this has ever been done by a member of the royal family before," a Palace insider told me.

According to my source, the announcement was timed to coincide with the legal action Meghan has initiated against The Mail on Sunday, accusing the newspaper of unlawfully publishing a private letter she wrote to her father, Thomas Markle, shortly after her wedding to Harry in 2018. Excerpts from the handwritten, five-page letter appeared alongside an interview with Thomas in The Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail online in February 2019.

Harry addressed the details of the lawsuit in his statement, which was posted on the penultimate day of their African tour. "The contents of a private letter were published unlawfully in an intentionally destructive manner to manipulate you, the reader, and further the divisive agenda of the media group in question," the statement read. "In addition to their unlawful publication of this private document, they purposely misled you by strategically omitting select paragraphs, specific sentences, and even singular words to mask the lies they had perpetuated for over a year."

Then, he added: "I have been a silent witness to her private suffering for too long. To stand back and do nothing would be contrary to everything we believe in. Up to now, we have been unable to correct the continual misrepresentations—something that these select media outlets have been aware of and have therefore exploited on a daily and sometimes hourly basis."

Some royal insiders are worried Harry's explosive statement will overshadow all of the positive efforts made on the couple's Africa trip. "The duke and duchess have done marvelously well connecting with everyone they've met and bringing attention to important issues, like eradicating the world of landmines and the importance of empowerment and education in young girls' lives," my source told me. "That's why this very strongly worded announcement coming at this time is so surprising. It's bound to distract from the tour."

Royal insiders were also shocked by Harry choosing to pointedly compare Meghan's press coverage to the relentless harassment his mother, Princess Diana, endured in her lifetime. "I've seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person," he wrote. One line of his statement was particularly chilling: "I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."

The prince noted that his "deepest fear is history repeating itself."

ITV's royal news editor Chris Ship told viewers he was "astonished" by the ferocity and timing of Harry's statement.

young prince harry at his mother diana's funeral, prince harry father

After a disastrous summer where Harry and Meghan were plagued by one public relations nightmare after another, the 10-day trip to Africa had been, by most accounts, going well by putting the focus back on their charitable and human rights initiatives and thrilling royals watchers with (very controlled) glimpses of baby Archie Mountbatten-Windsor during a trip to Capetown last week.

"Harry had evoked the memory of the princess in such a meaningful and touching way just last week when he retraced her steps by walking in a field of landmines. It was a poignant reminder of what a positive impact Diana had on such an important issue," said a Palace insider. "To resurrect all the ugliness of the harassment Diana suffered at the hands of the paparazzi is so sad. Harry must have his reasons for doing this now, but it's quite unfortunate for all concerned."

Harry's anger at the British media over what he believed to be unfair treatment of Meghan started early in their relationship. In 2016, when the couple first started dating, the prince's communications secretary issued a strong statement on his behalf warning the media that "a line has been crossed" and condemning "the abuse and harassment" directed at Meghan.

In early 2019, several of the prince's friends told me that Harry had grown increasingly upset at his inability to shield Meghan from the media during her pregnancy and that the couple was determined to keep their family life private. In his most recent statement, Harry referenced this concern: "Unfortunately, my wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences—a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son."

Just hours before the statement was released, everything appeared to be business as usual for the couple. Meghan was attending a charity event in Johannesburg for women who had been victims of violence. She seemed in good spirits as she told a reporter she was eager to reunite with Harry, who was traveling back from Malawi. "I miss him so much," she said.

Schillings, the law firm representing Meghan, announced the duchess filed a High Court claim against The Mail and its parent company Associated Newspapers over the alleged misuse of private information, infringement of copyright, and breach of the Data Protection Act of 2018. In Harry's statement, he announced the couple will pay their own legal fees and any damages that are awarded will be given to an anti-bullying organization.

As for The Mail on Sunday, the newspaper said it "stands by" the story it published and will "be defending this case vigorously." And for more on happier times for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, here are Harry and Meghan's Most Adorable Couple Moments.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

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