Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sightseeing tour led by Thomas Markle’s friend sparks outrage over privacy

A celebrity sightseeing tour that promises to take passengers within feet of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Montecito home has sparked backlash over privacy concerns.

The bus tour - advertised as the “Royal Celebrity Tour of Los Angeles and Montecito” - is being led by photographer Karl Larsen, a close friend of Meghan’s estranged father, Thomas Markle. According to The Mirror, each tour costs $1,200 (£958.84) for a group of six.

A listing for the sightseeing tour first popped up on the site Tripening, where it was advertised alongside a photo of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex sharing a kiss at a polo match in Santa Barbara. The description for the Royal Celebrity Tour, written by Larsen, read: “I’m the world-famous celebrity photographer Karl Larsen, a best friend of Thomas Markle (Meghan’s father) and the guy with a stunning exclusive portfolio of pictures of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle together in Montecito.”

Larsen described himself as the “only person in the world” who “knows the truth about what happened between Meghan Markle and her father” ahead of her marriage to Prince Harry in May 2018. “I am the only person who has an open communication pathway between Meghan’s camp and the rest of the Markle family,” he wrote. “There is nobody on the planet that knows more info that [sic] me and I’m the only person that’s qualified to put on such a tour.”

The listing promised that passengers would get “an in-depth tour” of “where Meghan grew up” and the beachside California town “where Harry and Meghan and an army of other A-listers call home”.

The tour aims to take tourists to Harry and Meghan’s favourite Montecito hangouts, the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club where the royals shared a kiss last year, Meghan’s old homes and schools in Los Angeles, and a road close to the Sussexes’ Montecito estate. There are also plans, according to the Mirror, to expand the trip to Rosarito, Mexico - where fans can meet Thomas Markle.

As fans caught wind of the Royal Celebrity Tour, many people took to social media to share their disapproval of the bus tour. Christopher Bouzy, a tech entrepreneur who appeared in Netflix’s Harry and Meghan docuseries, expressed his concerns that the tour could open the couple up to “harassment” from tourists. His tech firm, Bot Sentinel, led research into online trolls targeting the Sussexes.

“The harassment of Harry and Meghan is escalating, and now these deranged people are taking their harassment offline while trying to profit off their harassment. This is sick,” he wrote on his social networking site, Spoutible.

“This is sick,” one user replied, while another said: “Craziness indeed.”

In response to the backlash, the official account for Tripening posted on X - formally known as Twitter - that they removed the Royal Celebrity Tour listing from its website. “Thanks for the heads up! We removed that tour from sale,” Tripening said.

Meanwhile, Larsen launched a YouTube channel with Meghan’s father, called “Remarkable Friendship”, in March 2022. In one episode, the photographer reportedly suggested that Thomas should buy the house next door to Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland, which was on sale at the time.

Speaking to Newsweek about the Royal Celebrity Tour, Larsen clarified that he had “no intentions” of going past Harry and Meghan’s house, just where the actor grew up in Los Angeles. “I want to have the tour be available where she grew up. We’re going to go to Montecito but just places they go to, restaurants they go to,” he told the outlet. “It’s a custom tour so if people want to go see other sights that’s what we’re going to do but we will not go past Doria’s house and we will not go past Harry and Meghan’s.”

He added that the online backlash to the tour will not stop it from going ahead, saying: “This is not going to be the end of the tour.”

After stepping down as senior members of the royal family in 2020, Prince Harry and Meghan briefly relocated to Canada with their son, Archie, before finding a permanent residence in Montecito, California. At the time, Harry said he hoped their decision would lead to a “quieter life” as they continue to raise their four-year-old son and their two-year-old daughter, Lilibet, in the states.

The backlash to the Royal Celebrity Tour comes amid Harry’s ongoing legal battle against a number of UK newspapers for an alleged invasion of privacy. During the couple’s bombshell sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021, Meghan also spoke of a desire for privacy. “I think everyone has a basic right to privacy. Basic. We’re not talking about anything that anybody else wouldn’t expect,” she said.

However, the Sussexes’ thoughts about privacy were infamously parodied in a recent episode of South Park. A spokesperson for the royal couple previously refuted claims that Harry and Meghan stepped back from the royal family because they wanted privacy, pointing out that the duke and duchess never said a desire for privacy was a factor in their decision.

“Their statement announcing their decision to step back mentions nothing of privacy and reiterates their desire to continue their roles and public duties,” Ashley Hansen, the couple’s global press secretary, told the New York Times. “They are choosing to share their story, on their terms, and yet the tabloid media has created an entirely untrue narrative that permeates press coverage and public opinion. The facts are right in front of them.”

The Independent has contacted Larsen and the Sussexes for comment.