Spare a thought for the Archewell PA who has the unenviable task of managing the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s email inbox. No sooner have you dealt with one letter of resignation than the next must come in. Since their marriage in 2018 at least 14 members of staff have departed. This week, the revolving door at Camp Sussex is swinging again. The latest leavers? Their head of audio, Rebecca Sananès, who was in charge of Meghan’s podcast, Archetypes with Meghan, is leaving after just over a year at the company. Her announcement comes less than 24 hours after the exit of Archewell Foundation president, Mandana Dayani. Both their departures also comes days before the couple’s Netflix documentary airs.
Ms Dayani, an Iranian-born activist, has apparently stepped down after 18 months by mutual agreement, with no replacement planned. “Ms Dayani is fully supportive of the Duke and Duchess in their new leadership roles,” a statement said, “and they remain friends.”
She is not the first to enter the Sussex sphere only to leave PDQ. In March 2021 Archewell lost Catherine St-Laurent after 11 months. She was a founding executive director who also worked as chief of staff to the Duke and Duchess. The Canadian mother-of-two, was said to be “the bright hope to run their organisation”.
“I think there was a sense that she was having to fulfil a great many functions for the couple - not all of which were necessarily in her job spec,” an insider told the Telegraph. Not that she seems to have cut all ties - St-Laurent’s LinkedIn states: “In April 2021 I transitioned to Senior Advisor.”
After that came the departure of global press secretary Toya Holness, who was appointed in March 2021 and from whom they are said to have parted company this May.
The announcement of Ms Dayani’s departure this week was explained as part of Harry and Meghan’s plan to level up and take “full lead” of their company.
A source, with knowledge of Archewell, said the comings and goings can be attributed to the fact that “in a lot of ways it is a start up. I don’t think the company or the principles are any different from any other companies. Whether it’s assistant level or manager level, after a year or so people want to move on.
“[...] Is it fair to say some of them might not have been the right fit? Sure. Is it fair to say that some got other opportunities and just left? Yes.”
The decision to go it alone seems bold given they are on the cusp of what will surely be a tumultuous time. Their explosive six-part Netflix documentary released this Thursday tells their “side of the story”, and Harry’s memoir, Spare, is set to be highly controversial.
Could the decision to relieve a senior staff member be a question of income? Despite the Sussexes’ multi-million deals with Spotify and Netflix, all may not be quite as rosy as it seems.
Speculation has been rife about conversations over delaying the show after the late Queen’s death, with suggestions the streaming service needs to drum up high viewer figures to justify its multimillion-dollar investment. Netflix is in a somewhat different place than it was when the deal with the Sussexes was first signed, suffering a big drop in subscribers. Another project – an animation called Pearl, led by the Duchess – was cancelled earlier this year amid cutbacks. When it came to their docuseries, the path was less than smooth. The couple dropped the first director that was hired. Garrett Bradley (director of a critically acclaimed series about the tennis star Naomi Osaka) was initially brought in to helm the Sussexes’ show. Sources told Page Six there had been a disagreement about the tone of the series. “Garrett wanted Harry and Meghan to film at home and they were not comfortable doing that,” said one. “There were a few sticky moments between them, and Garrett left the project. Harry and Meghan’s own production company captured as much footage as they could before Liz Garbus was hired.”
Brand Sussex were known to have suffered staff losses while they were still working royals. In September 2018, former Kensington Palace deputy communications secretary Katrina McKeever quietly left the press office. In the book Finding Freedom writers Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand said Ms McKeever “left on a good note with the Sussexes”. Two months later, the Duchess’s PA, Melissa Toubati, left after just six months, said to have handed in her notice after the Duchess had left her “in tears” with her demands.
By January 2019 a female protection officer had left the Sussexes’ employ after six months. A Scotland Yard source said at the time she was leaving “for personal reasons” which had “absolutely nothing to do with the Duke or the Duchess”.
In March 2019, it was announced Amy Pickerill, the Duchess’s deputy private secretary would be leaving. Sources insisted the decision had been an amicable one. In his book, Courtiers, Valentine Low suggested that when the Duchess discovered Pickerill had handed in her notice, she was “so angry” she refused to let her travel in the same car to an engagement that morning.
Then came the bullying allegations. Jason Knauf, former communications secretary to the Cambridges and the Sussexes, was found to have submitted a formal complaint in October 2018 to Prince William’s private secretary, Simon Case, about the bullying he said various members of the household had been subject to. “He wrote: “I am very concerned that the duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year… we have had report after report from people who have witnessed unacceptable behaviour.”
Allegations of bullying have been vehemently denied by the couple, who said they were the victims of a “calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation”.
Knauf left to work solely for the Cambridges in 2019, as did communications secretary Christian Jones. In his letter, Knauf suggested the pressure might, in the end, prove too much for certain members of staff, even senior aides like Samantha “the Panther” Cohen. Cohen had worked for the late Queen in various roles for 17 years before moving to work for the Sussexes in 2018, tasked with helping the Duchess navigate her first months as a royal. She served as the couple’s private secretary before resigning in October 2019.
For the authors of Finding Freedom, any clashes could be attributed to the differences in communication style between Americans and Brits. “Americans can be much more direct, and that often doesn’t sit well in the much more refined institution of the monarchy.”
It was around that time that two nannies left their service. One they were “forced to let go”, so said their biographers, “for being unprofessional”.
By the end of that year, Megxit was on the horizon. The original head of the Sussexes’ foundation, Natalie Campbell, left her role in January 2020 after just five months. She left to be chief executive of water company Belu.
Sara Latham, former director of communications, was among a group of 15 employees to have lost her job as a result of Megxit. Latham previously worked for Presidents Clinton and Obama and was hired when the great divorce between the Sussex and Cambridge households happened. By the time the couple left Britain for Canada, the relationship between them is said to have become more and more tense. In his book, Low writes: “At the back of [colleagues’] minds was the feeling that anyone leaving the Sussex team would be best advised to think of a good excuse. Meghan did not like it if she thought it was about her.” Perhaps Megxit came as something of a relief, then.
With their docuseries hitting our screens this week and the prince's memoir released to the world on January 10, what comes next for the couple seems unclear. For those left at Archewell HQ, it's about to be a very, very busy winter.