When Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, made their shocking announcement Wednesday on Instagram - that they plan to step back as senior royals and split their time between the United Kingdom and North America - they also encouraged their 10.4 million followers to visit their new website, SussexRoyal.com, to find more information.
One part of the glossy site that hinted at a possible reason behind their bombshell decision? The "Media" section.
In several long paragraphs, Harry and Meghan explained that they will be taking a "revised media approach" in their new roles. Most significantly, they will no longer be a part of the "royal rota" system - essentially a press pool - in which a group of U.K. outlets get exclusive access to royal events and share that information with other publications.
However, the couple emphasised that they will "provide access to credible media outlets focused on objective news reporting," adding that they understand that there is great interest in them as members of the royal family. "They welcome accurate and honest media reporting as well as being held to account if appropriate," the website reads.
The key words here, of course, are "credible," "accurate" and "honest," apparent digs at the brutal tabloid stories that Harry and Meghan have endured for the past several years. In the fall, the couple sued the Mail on Sunday newspaper for publishing a private letter that Meghan wrote to her estranged father after her wedding; Harry also filed a lawsuit against The Daily Mirror and The Sun, claiming they hacked his phone.
Royal experts and observers say there are many complicated reasons behind Harry and Meghan's new path. But it seems clear that intrusive tabloid coverage added to their motivation to step away from royal tradition.
"I think it had a significant impact," said Elaine Lui, the "etalk" and "The Social" TV personality who runs the website LaineyGossip.com and has monitored the media's obsession with the royals. "I don't think it's the whole story, but I think it's part of it. If we go back historically, Harry has hated the royal rota forever. That's a fact. It has been made very clear, he blames a lot on the media for what happened to his mother. . . . I've heard from people I've talked to that he was already asking questions about detaching himself from the royal rota as far back as a year ago."
Harry and Meghan started dating in summer 2016 but managed to keep their relationship under wraps until that fall, when the Daily Express broke the news that Harry had been secretly dating actress Meghan Markle, best known for her role on USA's "Suits." The articles were initially positive; the paper gushed that Harry was "besotted" with his new girlfriend: "In recent weeks royal watchers have noticed that Harry, fifth-in-line to the throne, has had a notable spring in his step and can't stop smiling."
Things quickly took a turn: "The fact that she is American and a divorcée will also have raised eyebrows in Buckingham Palace," The Telegraph wrote. The Sun ran an interview with Samantha Markle - who deemed her half sister "a social climber" who "is not fit to be a royal" - and published a post about one of Markle's scenes in "Suits" that showed up on a porn website. (The tabloid deleted the latter and apologised.)
Multiple sites noted that Meghan had an African American mother and white father, resulting in racist headlines. "Harry's girl is (almost) straight outta Compton: Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed - so will he be dropping by for tea?" The Daily Mail headlined a story that included crime statistics from Meghan's mother's neighbourhood in Los Angeles.
Several days later, Harry took the extraordinary step of publicly confirming their relationship by releasing a statement that condemned the "wave of abuse and harassment" that Meghan had seen. He noted "the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments."
Although the couple were still photographed everywhere after they got engaged in November 2017, the tone of the articles seemed to calm down - at least the ones about Meghan herself. The U.K. press still delighted in printing details about her family, from her estranged father to her nephew's legal marijuana farm. Their wedding the following spring also received fairy-tale coverage from many tabloids - although it didn't remain cozy for long.
"Not long after the wedding, they took their gloves off," royal historian Marlene Koenig said, "because it sells papers."
There was an onslaught of critical stories, most of them pointed claims about Meghan: She's too demanding and bombards her staff with text messages at dawn. She's feuding with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, about Meghan's treatment of the palace staff - oh, and she also made Catherine cry during Princess Charlotte's bridesmaids dress fitting. She's coming between Harry and his brother, Prince William. She had the nerve to ask if St. George's Chapel could be sprayed with air freshener before the wedding.
"They would always bring up the word 'protocol,' " said Koenig, pointing to the many gasps when Meghan made fashion choices that were said to be frowned upon by the queen. "Protocol applies to official state events, or who sits next to who. . . . It does not apply to off-the-shoulder dresses or nail polish."
The stories continued at a relentless pace, even after Meghan announced she was pregnant - how she was "flaunting" her bare legs without tights at six months pregnant, or even how she cradled her growing stomach. (The Telegraph: "Meghan CAN'T STOP showing off: Duchess uses these SNEAKY tricks to flaunt her baby bump.") She was ruthlessly criticized after she attended a baby shower thrown for her in New York and paid for by her friend Serena Williams.
Meghan had plenty of defenders as well: Five of her closest friends were dispatched to People magazine to "stand up against the global bullying" of Meghan. Celebrities from George Clooney to Elton John spoke up on the royal duo's behalf.
Lui said that if there was any "tipping point" for the couple's frustration with the media, she would guess that it was the "hoopla" made over their use of private jets this past summer.
"What a huge story, for almost two weeks, the British tabloids made out of that when they're not the first and only members of the royal family to fly private," Lui said, pointing out that another royal story - the revelations about Prince Andrew's association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein - didn't get the same amount of attention in the press at the time.
Though the royals are known to rarely speak out about such personal issues, in an ITV documentary this past fall, Meghan was candid as she spoke about struggling with her treatment.
"When I first met my now-husband, my friends were really happy because I was so happy. But my British friends said to me, 'I'm sure he's great. But you shouldn't do it. Because the British tabloids will destroy your life,'" she told reporter Tom Bradby. "I think I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip. I tried! I really tried. But I think what that does internally is probably really damaging."
Now, as Harry and Meghan start the complex process of moving away from the traditional duties of royal life, they have certainly found a solution - by leaving. Unsurprisingly, the British tabloids are critical and furious about that as well. But Lui added that the outlets' issues with royalty go far beyond nasty headlines and columnists.
"I think it's far too simplistic to just blame the tabloids," Lui said. "It's a multilayered problem - the tabloids are getting leaks from somewhere. . . . Only certain people are able to leak that information. There are vipers and backstabbers all over the place in the royal family."