The statement was alarming, unmistakably evocative of the car chase that killed Princess Diana 26 years ago: Prince Harry and his wife Meghan had been “involved in a near catastrophic car chase at the hands of a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi,” according to an unnamed spokesperson for the couple.
That story, of a chaotic and dangerous pursuit through Midtown Manhattan on Tuesday night, ricocheted all over the world on Wednesday morning, making headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. CNN, which like SKY News and outlets all over the world provided minute-by-minute updates, reported that a member of the couple’s security team said the episode “could have been fatal.”
But as more details emerged on Wednesday from the accounts of the police and a taxi driver who was briefly involved, the picture became more complicated.
It illustrated any number of issues surrounding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex: their incandescent fame and the news media’s endless appetite for stories about them; their frosty relationship with the Crown and their fight for a royal security detail; and their determination to avoid the paparazzi’s lenses, surely informed by the tragic death of Diana, Harry’s mother, as she rode in a car speeding away from them in Paris in 1997.
The episode began Tuesday evening at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in Midtown, where Harry, Meghan and her mother, Doria Ragland were attending the Women of Vision awards, where Meghan was among the honorees.
Around 9:50 p.m., the family left the theater to return to the Upper East Side, where they were staying, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the matter.
Concerned that paparazzi who had gathered outside the theater would follow them, they left in a private security vehicle with a police escort, the official said. They were driven around for about an hour, traveling up the F.D.R. Drive at one point, but they could not shake the paparazzi.
The police then escorted them to the 19th police precinct on the Upper East Side, the official said.
Around 11 p.m., a little over an hour after they had left the ballroom, one of their security staff hailed a cab outside the police precinct, according to the taxi’s driver, Sukhcharn Singh.
After traveling for about a block, they got stuck behind a garbage truck, Mr. Singh said.
“All of a sudden the paparazzi came out of nowhere and just started snapping pictures,” he said, adding, that he heard one of the women from the back say “‘Oh, my God.’”
“They were nervous,” Mr. Singh said. “His wife looked scared and Harry was nervous. And the other lady was very quiet.”
The truck moved out of their way less than five minutes later, but as Mr. Singh drove, he said, he saw paparazzi following them in at least two cars. When the couple’s security guard noticed they were being followed, he instructed Mr. Singh to drive back to the precinct.
Around 11:30, Mr. Singh returned them to the precinct and they climbed back into the same black S.U.V. they had been traveling in before, he said.
They remained at the precinct while the police blocked traffic in the area, after which they left with a police escort and no paparazzi in tow, the official said.
Mr. Singh said he would not describe what happened as a “chase,” though he was not involved in the much longer drive earlier in the evening. Though the family had clearly been frightened, Mr. Singh said, he was not. “I wasn’t afraid,” he said. “They didn’t grow up in New York.”
A spokesman for the New York Police Department confirmed that officers had assisted the couple’s security team on Tuesday evening, but also did not refer to the episode as a “chase.”
“There were numerous photographers that made their transport challenging,” the spokesman, Julian Phillips, said in a statement. “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrived at their destination and there were no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests.”
A spokesperson for the couple did not respond to questions about the initial statement.
Speaking at an unrelated news conference on Wednesday morning, Mayor Eric Adams condemned what happened as “a bit reckless and irresponsible,” while noting that he had not been fully briefed on the incident.
“It’s clear that the press, the paparazzi, they want to get the right shot,” Mr. Adams said. “But public safety must always be at the forefront.”
But he cast doubt on the duration of the chase described in the statement. “I would find it hard to believe that there was a two-hour high speed chase,” he said, adding that even a 10-minute pursuit would be “extremely dangerous in New York City.”
Mr. Adams also invoked the death of Harry’s mother, saying, “I don’t think there’s many of us who don’t recall how his mom died.”
Buckingham Palace said it had no comment on the incident, as did Kensington Palace, which is the household of Harry’s brother, Prince William.
Prince Harry has long been bitterly at odds with the press, blaming the paparazzi for his mother’s death and saying that the ongoing harassment of his wife by the tabloids reminded him of his mother’s experience.
He and Meghan have taken legal action against several British newspapers, saying the papers hacked his cellphone and made other intrusions into their privacy.
Harry is also suing Britain’s Home Office over his security arrangements in his home country. He and Meghan lost police protection after they withdrew from royal duties and left Britain in 2020. Harry said that poses an unacceptable risk to him and his family when they visit.
He has offered to pay for police protection himself but has been turned down by the Metropolitan Police. Lawyers for the Home Office argue that wealthy people should not be allowed to “buy” police protection.
Harry is estranged from his father, King Charles III, and his brother, meeting neither of them during his brief visit to London for his father’s coronation on May 6. Meghan did not attend the ceremony, which coincided with the fourth birthday of the couple’s son, Archie.
Charles and William, royal watchers say, are deeply aggrieved by the claims in Harry’s recent memoir and a documentary about the couple, where Harry portrayed his father as emotionally distant and more worried about his public image than his son’s happiness, and William as jealous and bullying.
But many of Harry’s grievances are aimed at the press. He claims the tabloids have struck unsavory deals with members of the royal family, promising favorable coverage in return for disparaging details about other family members.
Following their departure from Britain and their move to California, the couple has sought to burnish their image with the help of the media in Harry’s adopted home. Americans have at times shown sympathy to the couple, perhaps because they can claim Meghan, who grew up in Los Angeles, as their own.
The couple chose Oprah Winfrey to conduct their first major interview since moving to California, a prime-time special on CBS that drew more than 17 million viewers. They signed a roughly $100 million deal to produce programming for California-based Netflix, which broadcast the documentary, “Harry & Meghan,” that went to the top of streaming charts. And the memoir, “Spare,” released by Penguin Random House, became a best seller.
But the couple’s eager courtship of and collaboration with the American media has also fueled a cottage industry of photographers who seek to capture their every public appearance, driven by demand from gossip sites like TMZ and Page Six. The popularity of the Netflix documentary and Harry’s memoir has only raised Americans’ appetite for these images and for other insights into the life of the royals living in their midst.
And British royalty has long proved a surefire draw for American media companies seeking views, readers, and clicks. To cite just one example, Harry and Meghan’s 2018 wedding at Windsor Castle was viewed by 29 million Americans, according to Nielsen — a bigger audience than the 18 million Britons who tuned in. More Americans watched Harry and Meghan’s wedding than William and Catherine’s nuptials in 2011.
Christine Hauser and Remy Tumin contributed reporting. Kirsten Noyes contributed research.