Jaws collectively dropped across the country on Wednesday afternoon at the sight of a news notification that felt a little too close to home: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had been in a ‘near-catastrophic’ car chase in New York.
The unmistakable similarity to the fate of Princess Diana added another level of fear to the already worrisome situation, but since then the story has become murky with conflicting versions of the incident. Recollections may vary, indeed.
Harry and Meghan’s statement called the chase ‘near-catastrophic’, but a taxi driver who picked up the couple (as well as Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, and their security guard) has said he didn’t feel in danger at all. The deputy police commissioner for the New York Police Department called the transport incident “challenging” but maintained that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrived at their destination with “no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests.”
So what really happened? Here’s what each of the key parties have said.
Harry and Meghan’s statement called the chase ‘near catastrophic’
The first the world heard of the car chase was via Prince Harry’s official spokesperson, who issued the following statement: "Last night, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Ms Ragland were involved in a near catastrophic car chase at the hands of a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi.
"This relentless pursuit, lasting over two hours, resulted in multiple near collisions involving other drivers on the road, pedestrians and two NYPD officers.
"While being a public figure comes with a level of interest from the public, it should never come at the cost of anyone's safety.
"Dissemination of these images, given the ways in which they were obtained, encourages a highly intrusive practice that is dangerous to all involved."
The couple’s press secretary said the couple were ‘incredibly scared’
Another source close to the couple — their press secretary, Ashley Hansen — told Sky News: "I have never experienced their vulnerability as much as I did last night. They were incredibly scared and shaken up.
"There were several times where the car stopped and security got out. There were instances where the police confronted the paparazzi and had asked them to stop or give them space, to do this safely.
"Unfortunately that wish was not respected."
The taxi driver who didn’t feel in danger
At one point, Harry and Meghan changed vehicles from a black car to a taxi to try and evade the paparazzi. The couple’s security guard flagged down taxi driver Sukhcharn Singh, who drove the royals around New York for roughly 10 minutes of their journey and was paid $50 for the trip. Singh told The Washington Post: "I don't think I would call it a chase. I never felt like I was in danger.
"It wasn't like a car chase in a movie. [Harry and Meghan] were quiet and seemed scared but it's New York - it's safe.
"[Photographers] kept following us and were coming next to the car. They took pictures as we stopped and were filming us."
Singh said his car was pursued by two vehicles, a black Honda Accord and an older grey Honda CR-V, and that the journey was kept short because the couple’s security guard felt wary, asking Singh to return to the area where he originally picked them up. Other reports have claimed that Harry and Meghan were followed by as many as twelve vehicles at certain points in their journey.
The security guard who said it could have been fatal
One of the sources who claimed the couple were followed by up to a dozen vehicles was Chris Sanchez, a member of Harry and Meghan’s security detail. “I have never seen, experienced anything like this,” he told CNN. “What we were dealing with was very chaotic. There were about a dozen vehicles: cars, scooters and bicycles.
“The public were in jeopardy at several points,” he added. “It could have been fatal. They were jumping curbs and red lights. At one point they blocked the limousine [which was carrying the couple] and started taking pictures until we were able to get out.”
One journalist said the chase reached speeds of ‘up to 80mph’
Omid Scobie, the journalist and co-author of Harry and Meghan biography ‘Finding Freedom’, told Newsnight that he’d been told by certain sources how the “two hour” car chase reached speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.
“What I understand from speaking with their team and from sources — this was a pursuit that went on for two hours, it was sort of a game of cat and mouse with paparazzi who were desperate to get a shot [of the couple].
"This was a pursuit that went on for two hours, it was a game of cat and mouse"
Royal biographer Omid Scobie says Harry and Meghan's car 'went up to 80 miles an hour' at times during New York paparazzi incident#Newsnight | https://t.co/P0zxS1DNGF pic.twitter.com/G8q9pwfQGd
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) May 17, 2023
“As they meandered and sort of weaved throughout the streets their car sometimes sat in traffic surrounded by photographers on bikes and cars behind them, and then there were moments when the road was clear and the car went up to 80mph, trying to lose some of the people that were following them.”
The mayor of New York doesn’t believe it was a two-hour high speed chase
New York’s mayor, Eric Adams, was highly sympathetic to the royal couple’s experience and described the behaviour of the paparazzi as “reckless and irresponsible,” noting that two NYPD officers were at risk of injury.
“The press or paparazzi, you know, they want to get the right shot, they want to get the right story,” he said.
“But public safety must always be at the forefront. In a briefing I received [I heard] two of our officers could have been injured... I don't think there's many of us who don't recall how [Harry's] mum died.
"It would be horrific to lose the innocent bystander during a chase like this and something to have happened to them as well."
However, he did note that the two hour time stamp was unlikely, saying he would find it “hard to believe” there was a “two-hour high-speed chase.”
The NYPD said the journey was ‘challenging’
Julian Phillips, deputy commissioner of public information in New York, confirmed that the NYPD “assisted the private security team protecting the Duke and Duchess of Sussex" during the journey.
He said the “numerous photographers” made the couple’s transport “challenging” but confirmed that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrived at their destination and with “no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests.”
Two further New York police officials appeared to play down the incident saying they do not believe the incident was “near catastrophic” and described a “bit of a chaotic scene”.
Royal policing expert said the whole incident should never have happened
Dai Davies, a retired police chief superintendent who previously lead the royalty protection department in the UK, told the Daily Mail that it “beggars belief” that Harry and Meghan had been put in a taxi to escape the papparazzi. “Cool heads should have applied and questions need to be asked of his security team,” he told the paper.
“They failed to take adequate precautions and to put him in a taxi beggars belief. Something has gone horribly wrong with the strategy, planning and tactics. I am not defending the paparazzi whatsoever but it seems to me that it was the decisions made by Harry and Meghan's security team on the night that put civilians in danger — not least an innocent taxi driver who found himself surrounded by photographers. It's just an incredulous decision.”