Jobs appear to be like buses for Prince Harry. Wait a lifetime for an opening and two come along at the same time.
The former Royal’s first foray into the corporate world has seen him take up the role of chief impact officer at Silicon Valley coaching firm BetterUp, while also sitting alongside Rupert Murdoch’s daughter-in-law on a commission aiming to fight “misinformation”.
Neither role appears to have required the 36-year-old former Army captain to submit a CV or go through the usual vetting processes as he adds mental health coach and anti-fake news campaigner to his résumé.
Yet in keeping with a new breed of “celebrity responsibility”, which has increasingly seen the rich and famous flex their corporate muscles for the greater good, the highly prominent positions look set to propel the cash-strapped Prince to ever more lucrative heights, as LA’s most sought-after recruit.
Just as when Jennifer Aniston became the ‘chief creative officer’ of a natural supplement range or when David Beckham backed a cannabinoid skincare company, these mutually beneficial ‘ethical’ tie-ups can be worth their weight in publicity gold. And not just for the company that gets their endorsement.
As showbiz agent Jonathan Shalit puts it: “Like corporate responsibility – this is celebrity responsibility. There’s been a shift in people’s mindsets. Two, three years ago the mindset was: ‘What’s in it for me, how can I get paid a shedload of dosh, how can I maximise my income?’ Now people desire to give back and give back support to the community.”
While pointing out that Harry is “above celebrity,” he adds: “Many celebrities are very responsible in trying to use the strength of their platform to help others.”
The announcement of both roles last week certainly played into the idea that this was more than just a money spinner for the Montecito-based ex pat – although there is no doubt all sides are set to benefit financially.
While BetterUp may be carrying out noble work in its offer of “personalised coaching, content and care designed to transform lives and careers” – it all comes at a price.
Having spoken about his struggles with grief following the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, Harry said of his appointment to the “unicorn” tech firm: “(I) want us to move away from the idea that you have to feel broken before reaching out for help,” insisting he intends to use the job to “create impact in people’s lives”.
The Duke added: “Being attuned with your mind, and having a support structure around you, are critical to finding your own version of peak performance. What I’ve learned in my own life is the power of transforming pain into purpose.”
He said his goal was to “lift up critical dialogues around mental health, build supportive and compassionate communities, and foster an environment for honest and vulnerable conversations” and he hoped to “help people develop their inner strength, resilience and confidence”.
It might strike the cynical as Californian word salad akin to Aniston’s declaration, upon joining Vital Proteins, that: “Collagen is the glue that holds everything together. I’ve always been an advocate for nourishing your wellness from within.”
Yet as Alexi Robichaux, who co-founded BetterUp in 2013, points out, Harry does bring a unique perspective. “He comes from a very different background,” to other executives, he says, adding: “He’s synonymous with this approach of mental fitness and really investing in yourself. It was not a hard internal sale. He will obviously have the whole organisation sprinting to help him.”
Robichaux confirmed Harry was joining the company’s leadership team as an “officer of the corporation”, which suggests it is a paid role, although public relations expert Mark Borkowski thinks it “highly likely” he has been offered equity in the firm, which values itself at $1.73 billion.
“This previously unknown start-up has now got instant recognition,” he says. “I always said that if Harry and Meghan wanted to generate income, they should look to Silicon Valley. Getting eyeballs onto the company like this, with all the competition, is the hardest job in PR – but now the whole world is talking about it. That’s the effect signing up someone like Harry can have.
“If he’s got points in this firm and it goes gangbusters, he could make some serious money.” Borkowski cites the example of shares in Cellular Goods, the synthetic cannabis firm backed by Beckham, shooting up by 310 per cent after it launched on the London Stock Exchange in February following news of the star footballer’s investment.
“This is all about the ongoing narrative, now,” adds Borkowski, referencing the Oprah Winfrey interview in which the Sussexes raised serious concerns about the Royal family’s handling of racism and mental health issues.
“The impact of generating more connections to his brand is an ongoing struggle for him. But by taking that narrative, which is embedded with that interview along with mental health issues, then he can certainly have a credible corporate platform.”
Yet considering some of the discrepancies that have surfaced since the interview aired in the US on March 7, can Harry really be considered a reliable voice when it comes to combating what he has described as the “avalanche of misinformation”?
Critics have been at pains to point out that his appointment to the Aspen Institute’s new Commission on Information Disorder, a six-month project that will examine the “modern-day crisis of faith in key institutions” appears somewhat at odds with the Sussexes’ repeated insistence that they do not look at newspapers, magazines or social media.
Equally awkward is the fact that the Prince will be sitting alongside Kathryn Murdoch, who is married to James Murdoch, the former chairman of News of the World publisher News International, who resigned from his father Rupert Murdoch’s media empire last year.
As with Harry’s decision to appear on CBS, despite the US network once sparking outrage in 2004 for showing a “distasteful” photo of his mother after her fatal Parisian car crash, the move suggests the exiled Murdochs are now considered reformed characters thanks to their new found work on democracy reform and climate change.
As Harry himself put it, information disorder is an issue that demands “a multi-stakeholder response from advocacy voices” including, apparently, the wife of a man who was found by a Parliamentary report in 2012 to have shown “wilful ignorance of the extent of phone hacking” and being “guilty of an astonishing lack of curiosity” over the illegal practice that Harry, William and Kate were all subjected to along with Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall and a string of palace aides.
It is not thought Harry is being paid for his work with the think tank, founded in 1949, which will look at everything from last year’s US election to vaccine safety and marginalised communities.
It is his listing on the Aspen Institute’s website, however, which perhaps provides the biggest clue to the sixth-in-line to the throne’s direction of travel as he settles into life in the US.
Referenced by his full title, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, the soon to be father-of-two is described as a “humanitarian, military veteran, mental wellness advocate and environmentalist.”
Despite his blood-born Royal status, Shalit believes this repositioning is actually intended to put him on a par with his high-achieving wife. For unlike her husband, who left school with two A-levels before training at Sandhurst Military Academy, it is Meghan – a Northwestern University graduate with a successful acting career under her belt – who is arguably the more employable of the two, on paper at least. As an American, the pregnant mother-of-one also doesn’t carry the burden of Harry’s complicated visa and tax arrangements, amid confusion over whether he is living and working in the US as a “diplomat” or as a person with so-called “special talents”.
“I’ve met Meghan on a number of occasions and she is a hugely astute woman, very bright, incredibly impressive,” says Shalit.
“So for Harry to keep up with his wife, he’s got to find his own name and identity and this is the start. He doesn’t need celebrity. When you’re Royal, you’re the biggest celebrity in the world. But what this does is allow Harry to have relevance.”
When it comes to making an impact, Royal relevance is clearly going to be the jewel in the crown of Harry’s very LA relaunch.