VICTORIA—Publicly, the mayor of B.C.’s capital city said she would welcome the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to city hall. Privately, it appears the reaction of Victoria city staff to the arrival of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was much like that of the Royal Family: We are not amused.
Emails between Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and her communications team, obtained through a Freedom-of-Information request, show a conversation about how Helps might respond to media requests in the wake of news last month that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle might decide to live in the West Coast city.
Helps’ office received at least three different interview requests from U.K.-based media outlets in the four days after the royal couple issued a statement that they were planning on taking a “step back” from their official royal duties to spend part of their time in North America.
The British media’s attention had turned to Victoria, the major city closest to the mansion that had acted as the famous couple’s home for six weeks over the Christmas holidays. The couple has since dropped their “royal highness” titles and resumed living on Vancouver Island to begin a phase of life more separate from the British monarchy.
It wouldn’t be long before the British reporters were asked to lay off — lawyers for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex reportedly sent a letter to the British press threatening legal action after Meghan and her young son Archie were photographed walking in a public park north of Victoria.
But before lawyers weighed in, the British press was eager to learn all it could about the charming Vancouver Island city that seemed on the verge of poaching two of their favourite story subjects.
One of the requests to Mayor Helps’ office came from London-based ITV news, which had flown out an entire television crew to Victoria to cover the surprise royal move. They reached out to Helps the morning they landed for a last-minute interview on camera about the city, and its excitement to welcome Meghan and Harry.
A newspaper request from the Glasgow-based Sunday Post mused: “I take it you would welcome the Royal couple as residents?”
While the mayor’s responses to these questions were not included in the Freedom-of-Information request, conversations with her staff appeared to be less than enthusiastic.
Contemplating how to respond to the first request on Jan. 9, the city’s Manager of Engagement Sheldon Johnson asked Helps if she wanted to respond at all.
“If you’re lukewarm as I am, I’d suggest something like: ‘I’m never surprised when anyone decides to move to Victoria or anywhere on Vancouver Island,” Johnson wrote in an email to Helps. ‘There is no shortage of beautiful surroundings, but the people are warm, kind and welcoming of anyone looking to make a home for their family.’ ”
The mayor responded saying they would decline the interview requests by saying that they wanted to respect the couple’s privacy.
“If we have actual confirmation that they are moving here, then we will comment as you suggest, great quote!” she wrote.
Later, another communications adviser wrote that the advice was still to “stay on sidelines” when it came to requests about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
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Once Prince Harry rejoined Meghan on Vancouver Island, the mayor did make select comments in the media, telling the New York Times she would welcome the couple to city hall, while also expressing her opinion that declaring an oath to the Queen as a public official is an “anachronism.”
Reached by the Star this week, Helps said she didn’t have much to add about the couple.
“Ourselves and our residents are grateful that they’ve chosen this slice of paradise to call home,” she wrote. “We welcome them here and want to give them the privacy they desire.”
With a file from The Canadian Press