The British royal family knows the paparazzi struggle too well. Wednesday evening, Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, left an event in New York City and claimed they were followed for over two hours and involved many bystanders who were endangered due to the pursuit. Throughout the pursuit, the couple, along with Meghan Markle’s mother, left their black SUV and switched into a taxi cab to try and get away, but that proved to be unsuccessful until the couple reached the New York Police station after. Some argue that this entire chain of events was staged, or even a farce. Video or photo evidence has yet to be revealed, and is eerily similar to what Prince Harry’s mother, the late Princess Diana, endured.
By the Visual Journalism Team; May 18, 2023
Conflicting accounts of an incident which Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s spokesperson described as a “near catastrophic car chase” have emerged since it was made public on Wednesday.
New York police said “numerous photographers” had made the couple’s journey on Tuesday evening “challenging” but added there had been “no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests”.
And a taxi driver who briefly drove them suggested their spokesperson’s account was “exaggerated”, while some photographers involved have denied parts of it.
Here is everything we know so far about the incident.
What were the couple doing?
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex had been attending an awards ceremony hosted by the Ms. Foundation for Women at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in Manhattan, where Meghan was among the 2023 Women of Vision Award honourees.
The couple and Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, were seen leaving and getting into a black SUV at about 22:00 (03:00 BST).
The BBC understands that Harry and Meghan, who are usually based in California, were staying at a friend’s house while in the city, but did not want to compromise their security by returning there directly.
Law enforcement sources told CBS News, the BBC’s US partner, their vehicle circled the venue for about an hour in an unsuccessful effort to shake off the paparazzi.
They then went to the New York police department’s 19th precinct police station, where they switched vehicles in another attempt to get away, CBS says.
While in the taxi they were filmed during one encounter with photographers.
What do the Sussexes say happened?
According to the Sussexes’ spokesperson, “a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi” followed them for “over two hours”. They said the “relentless pursuit” resulted in “multiple near collisions involving other drivers on the road, pedestrians and two NYPD officers”.
It was alleged that those involved in the chase broke multiple road rules – including running a red light, driving on the pavement, driving while on the phone, driving while photographing and illegally blocking a moving vehicle.
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It was also claimed that the presence of police did not stop the pursuit.
What happened in the taxi?
When they got to the police station, the Sussexes’ security guard flagged down a taxi, driven by Sukhcharn “Sonny” Singh.
He told BBC News he had driven a block when his taxi “got blocked by a garbage truck and all of sudden paparazzi came and started taking pictures”. He was then asked to drive them back to the police station.
Despite the incident taking place in the centre of Manhattan, almost no footage of it has emerged. However, video of the encounter with photographers described by the taxi driver was released on social media.
In the one-minute of footage the stationary taxi can be seen outside the Park Avenue Armory in East 67th Street with police cars with flashing lights two cars further behind.
The camera tries to look in through the rear windows of the taxi before a man gets out of the front passenger side, walks around the vehicle and gets back in. At least two people with cameras can be seen around the car and lots of flashes are seen in the footage.
The taxi then pulls away and drives down the street towards Central Park with the person filming appearing to run behind along the pavement. The taxi can be seen turning left into Park Avenue, and the two police cars that were behind them with their lights flashing can be seen turning right at the junction.
Mr Singh said the pair “looked nervous” about what was happening, but the paparazzi were not being aggressive. Asked about the spokesperson’s description of the chase, he said it was “exaggerated”.
What do the photographers say?
Entertainment picture agency Backgrid said it was investigating the conduct of four freelance photographers it said were involved in taking images of the Sussexes on Tuesday night.
However, the agency said the photographers disputed some aspects of the Sussexes’ statement.
The agency said: “We understand that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s security detail had a job to do, and we respect their work.
“We do, however, want to point out that according to the photographers present, there were no near-collisions or near-crashes during this incident. The photographers have reported feeling that the couple was not in immediate danger at any point.”
One paparazzi driver who told ITV’s Good Morning Britain he had been involved in the incident said the photographers had been hoping the couple would go for a meal after the award ceremony.
“For the most part, I was driving and it was very tense trying to keep up with the vehicles,” he said.
“They did a lot of blocking and there was a lot of different type of manoeuvres to stop what was happening.”
The paparazzi driver, who was not named, told the programme: “Their driver was making it a catastrophic experience… If they were going 80mph, I would probably have been going 20mph behind them and hoping to keep sight of them.
“So if it was dangerous and catastrophic, it was more than likely based on the person that was driving.”
What have police said?
In a statement on Wednesday, New York police confirmed it had assisted the couple’s private security team during their “challenging” return home.
“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrived at their destination and there were no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests in regard,” it said.