What this week's fictitious Harry and Meghan gossip reveals about the Royal Family's wider problems
The Earl and Countess of Wessex are on an official royal visit to the Caribbean, but all eyes remain on Harry and Meghan - again.
You probably don't know this, but for the past four days Prince Edward and Sophie, the Countess of Wessex have been on an action-packed royal tour of the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. The tropical locale and busy itinerary should have provided royal reporting gold, especially after the couple have been hailed by the British media as the family's "secret weapon" and "central figures" for the future of the monarchy.
But, despite the hype, no one – including said press – appears to be watching. At the time of writing, I can find only a tiny handful (around eight) articles about their visit online – two of them belong to the Cayman Compass and Cayman News Service.
Instead, media outlets have kept the focus on a couple they repeatedly call irrelevant – Harry and Meghan.
Read more: It’s time for Andrew to realise that a comeback is never going to happen
Bar a few promotional appearances for the Duke of Sussex's release of Spare, the couple hasn't been seen in public for months. But despite the lack of fresh news from Team Sussex to pore over, it hasn't stopped sections of the press from obsessing over them on a daily basis. Although King Charles, Prince William and Kate, Princess of Wales have all been busy carrying out engagements, almost the entirety of this week's royal news cycle has centred around fictitious claims and breathless commentary on the Sussexes.
At the centre of this is the now-infamous South Park episode, which certainly pulls no punches in its merciless parodying of Harry and Meghan's tabloid personas – complete with "Stop looking at us!" protest signs and a tell-all book about the Royal Family called Waaagh!. According to one newspaper, it spells "the beginning of the end" for the couple's popularity in the US. "A clear sign their star has fallen,” wrote another, who has clearly never seen South Park before.
Given that other celebrities lampooned by the show include Tom Cruise, Oprah, the Queen (killed in a 2007 episode that quickly got banned in the UK), William and Kate, Hillary Clinton and Jennifer Lopez, I have a feeling they will be just fine.
Meghan, according to The Spectator, was supposedly left "upset and overwhelmed" for several days by the episode. The "California sources" quoted in the article, however, must have been drunk or high, because none of it is actually true. Claims that the Archewell founders are planning to sue the show's creators, a rumour that first started life on an obscure YouTube channel but somehow ended up on a British broadcast news network, also turned out to be nothing more than fantasy. "Nonsense," a spokesperson for the duke and duchess told People magazine. "Totally baseless, boring reports."
Watch: Five savage moments from that Meghan and Harry South Park episode
With Harry and Meghan currently out of sight and busy behind the scenes with various philanthropic and commercial endeavours (the pair are currently focused on work helping create safer online spaces for young people and new Netflix projects with their production company) a cottage industry of fake news and inaccurate gossip about the pair is thriving in lieu of new information.
Other recent tales about the Sussexes have suggested the couple are:
"Going through tough times" (false – "Couldn't be happier!" said a friend)
That they just hired "showbiz dealmaker" Adam Lilling to help "go all-out" on becoming billionaires (not quite – the entrepreneur's venture advisor company Plus Capital has been working with the pair since moving to the US almost three years ago and it's "old information and not news", according to an Archewell spokesperson)
Details about Meghan's impending return to Instagram were shared in a lengthy broadsheet essay (wishful thinking – a source says she has no account on the platform at present or on the horizon. "This is all trash," added the rep)
On top of this, there's near-daily "exclusives" in almost every paper about the couple's supposed plans for King Charles's coronation in May.
The reality, sources tell me, is that no-one, no matter how well-sourced, knows their plans right now – the couple has yet to be invited and can't make a decision, nor any form of itinerary, until that happens. At this point, much of the above is typical tabloid fare – news of this nature, even when totally false, still gets the clicks, and revenue, that publishers desperately need. But it also speaks to a bigger issue that Britain's other oldest institution is currently facing – the lives and work of the Royal Family just isn't grabbing the attention of readers and viewers as they once did.
When you realise that the only other royal story this past week to receive even a fraction of the volume of Sussex headlines were articles about the Princess of Wales's Bafta red carpet outfit, it becomes clear that The Firm might just have a public interest crisis on their hands.
As Sophie and Edward fly back to Britain on Friday, the couple and their team might be questioning whether their barely-covered visit was worth it. The palace may not have made coverage easy, by failing to provide sufficient media access to the trip, but that's never stopped the press when hungry for a headline before. And for an overseas trip that came at a cost to the struggling British taxpayer (in security alone), the bigger risk is that soon members of the public will start asking the same.