Judging by the slick, minute-long video released this month by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Archewell Foundation, the past year has been nothing short of a triumph.

Harry and Meghan have previously waited until the New Year to showcase the good works of their charitable foundation via a glitzy ‘impact’ film. 

But this year’s offering — packed with group hugs, smiles, glamorous selfies and accompanied by a soaring soundtrack — appeared online just hours after the Princess of Wales shared a charming clip of herself with her three children helping at Windsor Baby Bank, a charity for families in need.

An unfortunate coincidence? Possibly. 

But at the end of what has undoubtedly been a tumultuous year for them both, what one might call their ‘annus horribilis’, the Sussexes have plenty of reasons for trying to generate a bit of positive PR — not least the news that Archewell has suffered a plunge in annual donations of nearly $11 million (£8.6 million).

According to a public disclosure form filed last week with U.S. tax authorities, the charity recorded a deficit of $674,485 (£530,064) in 2022.

Royal appointment: The Duke and Duchess attend the closing ceremony of the Invictus Games in Dusseldorf in September

Archewell has suffered a plunge in annual donations of nearly $11 million (£8.6 million)

Archewell has suffered a plunge in annual donations of nearly $11 million (£8.6 million) 

The $2 million (£1.6 million) it received from two anonymous donors in 2022 didn’t even cover its $2.67 million (£2 million) costs which, as well as grants to various good causes, included more than $425,000 (£333,982) spent on strategic support and PR.

More, in a moment, of the state of the foundation, three years after it was launched. More, too, of the fallout from the publication of Endgame, the controversial biography written by a journalist with close ties to the couple. 

And more on what Meghan might be planning after being seen in an advert for her friend’s coffee company.

But let us return to the release of the Archewell video — followed by the couple’s Christmas card, showing them, all smiles, at the closing ceremony of last year’s Invictus Games — which coincided with Harry and Meghan’s appearance on The Hollywood Reporter’s ‘biggest losers of 2023’ list.

Savaging them in its ‘brutally honest rundown of who had the best and worst year in entertainment’, the film industry bible blamed the pair’s ‘whiny Netflix documentary, whiny biography and an inert podcast’ for their inclusion among 11 on the list. 

It added that they had ‘fled a life of ceremonial public service to cash in on their celebrity status in the States’ and that ‘the Harry and Meghan brand swelled into a sanctimonious bubble just begging to be popped’.

With next month marking the fourth anniversary of Megxit and the couple’s decision to quit the UK for a ‘life of service’ in California, is it possible Hollywood has fallen out of love with them?

‘I think they are in a precarious position at the moment,’ says brand and culture expert Nick Ede, who worked with Meghan in London a decade ago. 

‘After Megxit they mopped up millions from the likes of Netflix and Spotify but it feels like they’ve lost their way in terms of who they are and what their actual purpose is.’

Ede says the couple have been left isolated by endless dramas; the publication of Harry’s memoir Spare in January, farcical claims in May of a ‘near catastrophic car chase’ in New York and the ongoing royal racism row after the publication of Omid Scobie’s Endgame.

‘They are in dangerous territory,’ adds Ede. ‘Maybe they’ve isolated themselves because they don’t trust anyone, but I think largely it’s because people don’t want to be associated with them and don’t want their brands to be tarnished.

Row: Claims in Harry's book, Spare sparked backlash in January

Row: Claims in Harry’s book, Spare sparked backlash in January 

Humiliation: South Park showed couple promoting book...and asking for privacy in February

Humiliation: South Park showed couple promoting book…and asking for privacy in February 

Dispute: The couple said they were in a 'near catastrophic' car chase in May. The claims were denied

Dispute: The couple said they were in a ‘near catastrophic’ car chase in May. The claims were denied

‘They’ve created a really difficult position where people may have lost trust in them and trust is one of the most important things any brand, any charity, any person needs.’

Back, then, to Archewell which, despite this week’s heart-warming video, appears to have enjoyed mixed fortunes over the past year.

A look at the figures on its income tax form for 2022 is certainly intriguing. What stands out is the huge disparity in donations compared to earlier years.

In 2021, two mystery donors handed the foundation $10 million (£7.8 million) and $3 million (£2.4 million), but last year the only major donors gave $1 million (£786,194) each. Thanks to the hefty earlier donations, the charity still boasts net assets of over $8.3 million (£6.5 million). 

Speculation has been rife as to the identity of Archewell’s most generous 2021 donor. The money was funnelled to the charity via the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, a non-profit used by wealthy philanthropists to give tax-free grants.

While there has been some talk that Harry simply gave half of his reported £20 million advance for Spare to Archewell, other rumours suggest the payment came from TV presenter Oprah Winfrey as thanks for the interview the couple gave her in 2021. 

But at the time, she and TV channel CBS denied making financial payment.

There has been further speculation that the donor could have been Marc Benioff, billionaire internet entrepreneur, philanthropist and owner of Time magazine, which in 2021 included Harry and Meghan in its top 100 influential people and put them on its cover.

At the time, the magazine praised the Sussexes, saying: ‘They turn compassion into boots on the ground through their Archewell Foundation.’ 

In 2022 and 2023, however, the Sussexes didn’t merit a mention on the list. And Benioff told the Mail last week: ‘We aren’t involved in Archewell.’

Crisis: Scobie book reignited royal race row in November

Crisis: Scobie book reignited royal race row in November 

Back on screen: Meghan appears in advert for friend¿s firm in December

Back on screen: Meghan appears in advert for friend’s firm in December 

With donations to Archewell down, employee-related expenses have shot up from $163,085 (£128,216) in 2021 to $640,441 (£503,510) in 2022. 

Harry and Meghan do not take a salary for the one hour a week they have recorded as working for the foundation, but Archewell’s executive director, James Holt, who was head of communications for the Sussexes and the Cambridges in London, was paid $207,405 and given a $20,000 bonus.

The foundation also paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to outside advisers. Genevieve Roth, former adviser to Hillary Clinton, received $180,524 (£141,926) via her company, Invisible Hand.

Herlihy Loughran, a firm run by former Palace aides Beth Herlihy and Clara Loughran, was paid $127,807 (£100,481), while Jiore Craig, an ‘online harms researcher’ was paid $120,000 (£94,343).

Amid dozens of charitable donations, Archewell handed out grants to social justice organisations, including charities fighting against gender and racial inequality.

A donation of $165,000 (£129,722) was given to create a ‘play space’ for children in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers died in a school shooting in May last year. A further $100,000 (£78,619) went to the Halo Trust, a mine-clearing charity supported by Diana, Princess of Wales.

As in 2021, $125,000 (£98,274) was also handed to civil rights organisation NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to fund the ‘Archewell Foundation Digital Civil Rights Award’.

According to Nick Ede: ‘Archewell has quite a big war chest which enables it to fund various things, but the biggest quandary is who Meghan and Harry are. What actually is their purpose? Is it to criticise the Royal Family or is it to be philanthropic? Because one distracts from the other.’

The past year has certainly been a turbulent one for their ex-Royal Highnesses, with fears that ongoing personal sagas risk overshadowing their charitable work.

‘It’s been damage after damage to their reputation,’ says Ede.

Barely a month of 2023 has passed without some drama, beginning in January with Harry’s memoir, Spare, which sold more than 3.2 million copies worldwide after one week of publication.

Harry faced a backlash for several of its revelations; among them his claim to have killed 25 Taliban in Afghanistan and his allegation that Prince William knocked him to the ground in a row about Meghan.

The past year has certainly been a turbulent one for their ex-Royal Highnesses, with fears that ongoing personal sagas risk overshadowing their charitable work

The past year has certainly been a turbulent one for their ex-Royal Highnesses, with fears that ongoing personal sagas risk overshadowing their charitable work

Sources quoted in US Weekly say the couple are hoping 2024 will be 'the year of redemption'

Sources quoted in US Weekly say the couple are hoping 2024 will be ‘the year of redemption’

In February, makers of the animated U.S. TV series, South Park, took aim at the couple via a parody of their decision to step back as senior members of the Royal Family. 

The ‘Worldwide Privacy Tour’ episode featured the ‘dumb and stupid’ Prince of Canada and his wife promoting his book while demanding privacy.

In March, a Florida judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed against Meghan by her half-sister Samantha Markle after statements in the couple’s 2021 CBS interview with Oprah Winfrey as well as in a biography about Meghan, Finding Freedom. But a new complaint was filed last month and a trial is set for November 2024.

In May, the Sussexes faced ridicule after what they called a ‘near catastrophic car chase’ along the busy streets of New York. 

Their claim that they suffered a ‘relentless pursuit’ by paparazzi which lasted over two hours was challenged by photographers who were there, as well the city’s police. The driver of the taxi they were in said: ‘I don’t think I’d call it a chase.’

Celebrity publicist Mitchell Jackson delivered a withering verdict: ‘After the whole car chase thing in New York, people just feel like they’re untrustworthy and melodramatic and it’s just going to revolve around them and they will distract from what they’re trying to promote.’

In June, Meghan’s Archetypes podcast was dropped by Spotify after just one season. The company was said to have been less than impressed by Harry’s ideas, including interviews about childhood trauma with the likes of Vladimir Putin and the Pope.

The firm’s head of podcast innovation and monetisation, Bill Simmons, called the pair ‘f***ing grifters’ after the $20 million (£15.7 million) multi-year deal was ended. 

Jeremy Zimmer, chief executive of United Talent Agency, said: ‘Turns out Meghan Markle was not a great audio talent or necessarily any kind of talent. Just because you’re famous doesn’t make you great at something.’

The couple still have their $100 million (£78.6 million) five-year Netflix deal, signed in 2020, but it has so far only yielded a six-part series, Harry & Meghan, as well as Harry’s one-off Heart Of Invictus documentary.

In November, the publication of Omid Scobie’s book Endgame reignited a row over allegations of racism within the Royal Family when a Dutch translation of the book inadvertently named King Charles and the Princess of Wales as the two family members who allegedly discussed the skin colour of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s unborn baby — before it was hastily pulled from bookshops.

While the Sussexes have distanced themselves from the book and Scobie has denied being ‘Meg’s pal’, the Duchess previously gave briefing notes to an aide to assist the author with Finding Freedom, his biography about her.

The couple still have their $100 million (£78.6 million) five-year Netflix deal, signed in 2020

The couple still have their $100 million (£78.6 million) five-year Netflix deal, signed in 2020

With next month marking the fourth anniversary of Megxit and the couple's decision to quit the UK for a 'life of service' in California, is it possible Hollywood has fallen out of love with them?

With next month marking the fourth anniversary of Megxit and the couple’s decision to quit the UK for a ‘life of service’ in California, is it possible Hollywood has fallen out of love with them?

Mark Borkowski, one of Britain’s most experienced crisis managers, told the Mail the book had ‘backfired spectacularly’ for the Sussexes and despite several red carpet appearances, Meghan’s plans for a Hollywood relaunch were ‘clearly not working’.

Her signing to talent agency, William Morris Endeavor (WME), was announced with a fanfare in April. 

Since then, no major deals have been forthcoming. WME was said to be ‘horrified’ about Omid Scobie’s new book and ‘exasperated by a never-ending scandal’ that threatens to ‘take a wrecking ball’ to the Sussexes future plans.

This week the Mail contacted the agency to ask if reports Meghan might be dropped by it were true. 

No reply was received. However, her decision to star as an intern — her first acting role since 2017 — in a 30-second advert released this week for her friend’s coffee company Clevr Blends, does suggest she has no intention of disappearing.

Sources quoted in US Weekly say the couple are hoping 2024 will be ‘the year of redemption’. And there’s no doubting next year is going to be crucial for the Sussexes and the future of their brand.

Nick Ede says the pair ‘need to create a strategy as to who they are and what their purpose is’.

He added: ‘In the larger scheme of things, they’re just not that big in Hollywood where you’ve got the likes of the Kardashians and the Clooneys and Katy Perry.

‘They haven’t proven their worth. They haven’t won Oscars or Emmys or written screenplays. They’ve not done anything to warrant the fame they think they deserve. That’s the biggest problem here.’

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