After a series of “extraordinary” claims about her wedding being compared to Nelson Mandela’s release and her suggesting the journalist refers to her “guttural sounds” in a conversation with The Cut, questions are being asked about who’s pulling the strings behind the scenes at Sussex HQ and on this week’s European tour. Who — if anyone - is advising Meghan as she makes her first speech on British soil since stepping back as a royal? Has there been a reshuffle since their last UK visit — and are Harry and Meghan even listening?
“I was so overwhelmed by this experience, I think, I think I even saved my little paper place-marker with my name on it,” Meghan told crowds at last night’s One Young World Summit in Manchester, remembering the first time she appeared at the event as “the girl from Suits”.
She added that the moment was “Just proof: proof that I was there, proof that I belonged, because the truth was, I wasn’t sure that I belonged,” with commentators quick to criticise the speech for being “confusing”, “insincere” and “me, me, me”. So did the same team advise her this time?
The Duke and Duchess first started assembling their Hollywood dream team back in 2020, when they moved into their new home in Montecito, Santa Barbara. Insiders suggested there’d been a reshuffle early last year, following their stepping back as royals and unveiling of projects including the Archewell foundation. Among their big hires at the time were former Pinterest communications chief Christine Schirmer, former Bill Gates staffer (and friend of the Trudeaus) Catherine St-Laurent, and hot-shot Hollywood producer Ben Browning, the brains behind Emerald Fennell’s Oscar-nominated film Promising Young Woman.
St-Laurent announced she’d be stepping down last spring, saying she’d continue to provide “daily guidance and support” for Archewell in a senior advisory role, and others have since followed in her footsteps. Meghan is said to have parted ways with her long-term agent Nick Collins last year, and their global press secretary Toya Holness is reported to have quietly left the job earlier this year.
In their places, a series of fresh new hires: podcast guru Mandana Dayani as President of Archewell; high-flying Hollywood exec Ashley Momtaheni as Holness’ replacement; and top journalist Rebecca Sananès as head of audio as Meghan launches her podcast, Archetypes.
The newly assembled team might boast glittering CVs, but commentators have been asking “who is advising [the couple] and why are they making so many PR blunders”. According to royal expert Phil Dampier, the problem is that the Sussexes are “simply not taking the advice given to them”, adding his opinion that “Meghan very much wants to be in control” and that “either the PR people are bad at their job” or “they are ignoring them”.
So how much influence has each of the new team had to do with the Sussexes’ new magazine-covering power brand — if at all? From their hot-shot strategy mastermind who used to work for Hillary Clinton to the Duchess’ longtime power lawyer, meet the Sussex’s Hollywood dream team (3.0).
Role: President of Archewell
USP: Podcaster, entrepreneur and angel investor who once interviewed Hilary Clinton and recently attended Brooklyn Beckham and Nicola Peltz’ wedding
Background: Iranian-born Dayani is one of the newest members of the Sussex squad, being hired as Harry and Meghan’s new president in June 2021.
As an attorney, activist and tech adviser with experience in fashion, media and podcasts, she is well suited to the Sussex brand: her CV includes stints as vice president at the fashion and media company Rachel Zoe and being the founder of voter participation organisation I Am A Voter and female-centred event series The Learning Series — impressive accolades even aside from the fact that she arrived in the US as a refugee after fleeing Iran with her family.
The former New Yorker is no stranger to mixing with A-listers. Her Instagram followers include actress Jennifer Aniston, author Glennon Doyle and poet Amanda Gorman and in April she posted a series of Instagram pictures from Brooklyn Beckham and Nicola Peltz’ star-studded Florida wedding.
Other career highs include the time she interviewed Hillary Clinton alongside fellow podcast host and Will & Grace actress Debra Messing, which will undoubtedly have stood her in good stead for advising Meghan on her Archewell podcasts.
“So grateful everyone gets to finally hear again from the kind, brilliant, compassionate leader I get to work with every day,” she wrote on Instagram last week, announcing Meghan’s new Archetypes podcast. Clearly, she’s a big fan of her boss.
Role: Executive VP for Global Communications at Archewell
USP: High-flying Hollywood exec and PR guru who began her career on American breakfast TV
Background: Momtaheni is an even newer hire than Dayani. On May 30 she starting as executive vice president for global communications as a replacement for Toya Holness, the Sussexes’ former global press secretary and ex-footballer who reportedly quietly left Archewell earlier this year. She had recently attended the Invictus Games in the Netherlands with the Sussexes while overseeing the filming of their Netflix documentary about it.
Momtaheni might not have any experience with former royals but her CV is littered with blockbuster household names: she started her career at Warner Bros and Good Morning America, which regularly reports on stories about the Sussexes, and has since worked as director of corporate communications at United Talent Agency and as head of communications for US media company Annapurna Pictures.
Before joining the Sussexes, she was VP of global communications and media relations at Universal Filmed Entertainment Group.
Role: Head of Audio at Archewell
USP: Content creator and journalist who previously produced a podcast for New York Magazine
Background: Attention has been turning to Sananès and her previous role ever since Meghan’s bombshell interview with The Cut this week.
The LA-based journalist and audio expert previously worked as lead podcast producer of Pivot, a series by Vox Media and New York Magazine, publisher of The Cut. Could she have pulled strings to help put her new boss on the cover?
Sananès worked in public radio before joining Pivot, which will no doubt have proved useful in her latest role. She is currently executive producing Meghan’s new Spotify podcast series Archetypes, which she describes as “the most scrutinized woman in the world talk[ing] about the labels all women deal with”.
“Watching #Archetypes soar to the number #1 podcast in the world and the outpouring of connection, kindness and support has been beyond my biggest dreams,” Sananès wrote on Instagram this week alongside a picture of herself in front of an Archetypes billboard in New York’s Times Square.
“This is what women do together. Thank you to our team, our listeners and the special people around me.”
Role: PR guru brought on to “transform their image”
USP: Barack Obama’s former staffer known for being a “shrewd operator”
Background: She helped re-elect Obama as a 19-year-old undergraduate in 2012 (she won a scholarship to join the ex-president’s team). A decade later, New Yorker Barbot has been hired by the Sussexes to help “transform their image” - a sign of the couple’s political ambitions?
The PR superstar previously worked as a press secretary for the New York City Department of Education and reportedly left a job at top US PR firm BerlinRosen to join Harry and Meghan on Archewell. She’s already flown overseas with them at least once, joining them in Holland for the Invictus Games. She has described herself on Twitter as a “year-round iced coffee drinker”.
Role: Senior Advisor at Archewell
USP: Former Pinterest exec who studied at the same university as the Duchess of Sussex
Background: Before joining the Sussexes in California, Schirmer worked as head of communications for image-sharing platform Pinterest in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley. She had been in charge of the site’s communications since 2017 and left the company in July 2020 to help Harry and Meghan boost their global image as their head of communications. She has since been promoted to senior advisor.
The English and French-speaking media executive previously studied journalism at Northwestern University - the same US university as Meghan Markle, with sources confirming it was “quite possible” the two had met there - and has since worked as corporate communications manager at Apple and in communications at a San Francisco-based marketing company called Digg.
On her LinkedIn page, Schirmer, 42, describes herself as a communications leader and advisor who loves “building teams, learning new things and making the conversation interesting” and on Instagram she calls herself a comms advisor, mum and “pop culture enthusiast”.
A publicist who knows her told the Daily Mail: “Christine is the real deal. She’s widely respected in the industry as one of the best and smartest there is. And through her work with Pinterest and other tech companies she is the perfect person to launch a global brand.”
Role: Executive Director of the Archewell Foundation
USP: London-based political PR guru with an interest in diversity and charitable giving.
Background: Holt started his role as the Sussexes’ UK head of engagement and communications in September 2020, having previously worked as a reporter and in political PR for the Cabinet Office, Liberal Democrats, 10 Downing Street and Nick Clegg, then as senior communications officer for The Royal Foundation — making him one of Prince Harry’s longest-serving team members.
Following St-Laurent’s departure from the Archewell Foundation last year, Holt took over as executive director and relocated to Hollywood from his home in Clapham. He is now responsible for the Sussexes’ Netflix and Spotify deals, worth an estimated £100m.
Holt graduated in journalism at the University of Lincoln in 2003 describes himself on Twitter as a “Brit based in LA”, an “occasional runner” and “regular volunteer” (he volunteered as director of communications for Pride in London from 2016-2017).
Role: Head of Content for Archewell Productions and Archewell Audio
USP: Veteran film and TV producer behind current Oscar nominee Promising Young Woman
Background: Fellow Brit Browning is no stranger to working with big names. Last year the award-winning film producer was nominated for an Academy Award, BAFTA Award, and PGA Award for his work producing Emerald Fennell’s new film Promising Young Woman, starring Carey Mulligan. His work also includes the HBO limited series I Know This Much Is True starring Mark Ruffalo.
In his new role with the Sussexes, the King’s School Canterbury alumni is expected to be working closely with Netflix and Spotify as part of the Sussexes’ estimated £100m production deals, which he notes will have “unparalleled global reach”.
“From the moment they shared their vision for Archewell as a global production company that will spotlight diverse voices and share uplifting stories, I knew I wanted to help with this unique opportunity,” Browning said last year in a statement after reportedly being recommended for the role by a mutual contact. “It’s a thrilling company to be starting.”
Role: Senior Strategic Advisor to Archewell
USP: Creative expert with a passion for social impact who used to work for Hillary Clinton
Background: Roth might not have interviewed Hillary Clinton like Dayani but she did used to work for her, serving as the director of creative engagement for her presidential campaign in 2016.
The Alaska-born mother-of-one has held various creative positions since then, producing the Glamour Women of the Year Awards and taking editorial roles at publications including GQ, Esquire and Marie Claire Australia.
In 2020 she admitted that she realised she was “rife with internalised racism” after marrying her black African-American husband Jordan Keith, the founder of a shopping app.
She is the founder of social impact organisation Invisible Hand, through which her role as Senior Strategic Advisor to Archewell came about. The organisation describes itself on Instagram as “a social impact and culture change agency that harnesses the power of creativity and storytelling to propel the world forward”.
Role: Business manager
USP: Hollywood business mastermind behind the renewal of Meghan’s lifestyle website The Tig
Background: Meyer, who runs Beverly Hills-based business management firm Freemark Financial, is reportedly the mastermind behind the Duchess’ business endeavours - he was among the Sussexes’ wedding guests in 2018 and it was he who filed to renew the trademark for Meghan’s lifestyle site The Tig in September 2020.
Over the years, Meyer’s clients have included Ellen Pompeo, Anna Kendrick and Alexander Skarsgard and he was named one of Variety’s ‘elite’ business managers for 2020.
Meyer told Variety last year that he finds clients introspective in their strategies, “whether that be real estate projects that they are working on or ethically based investing.”
The certified public accountant lives with his wife Stephanie in a six-bed, $6million mansion in LA’s Holmby Hills.
USP: Ben Kingsley’s power attorney helping the Duchess with her legal affairs
Background: Harvard graduate Genow has long been one of the top attorneys in Hollywood - he is a founding partner of California law firm Stone, Genow, Smelkinson, Binder & Christopher and he’s represented actors including Sir Ben Kingsley and Greg Kinnear.
Power lawyer Genow has long been an adviser of the Duchess and is believed to have been kept on behind-the-scenes to help handle her legal affairs.