The Duke and Duchess of Sussex faced criticism last night for using a mental health campaign on their official Instagram account to promote an exclusive £900-a-night retreat run by one of Meghan’s close friends.
The couple told their 7.6million followers that they wanted to ‘shine a light’ on those doing ‘amazing work for mental health’ – but among the many admirable causes is a lucrative business run by fashion industry executive turned fitness guru Taryn Toomey, who attended Meghan’s New York baby shower.
One Royal expert warned last night that endorsing a friend’s commercial venture so publicly put the couple on ‘dangerous ground’.
Author and broadcaster Penny Junor, who has written several royal biographies, said it was simply ‘wrong’ adding: ‘The Royal Family must be cleaner than clean.’
Visitors to the Sussexes’ Instagram page are encouraged to follow 48-year-old Mrs Toomey, whose profile includes a link to her website. Once there, they are only four clicks away from booking a £3,600 four-night retreat that she hosts at one of the finest hotels in the Caribbean.
Between meditation and exercise classes at The Cotton House, set in 13 acres of tropical gardens on the private island of Mustique, guests ‘can take a dip in the pool, lay out on the beach, surf the pristine waters, go on a guided hike… or simply fall asleep in one of the many beachside hammocks’.
Another retreat is based on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, the celebrity playground off the coast of Massachusetts.
The website also sells jewellery including £1,200 ‘peach moonstones’ and skin care products such as a £270 ‘anti-ageing’ serum – as well as offering the chance to book Mrs Toomey’s workouts, called The Class.
Described as ‘a music-driven, mat-based cathartic movement experience’ the lessons are held in New York, Los Angeles, the upmarket enclave of The Hamptons, Miami and Vancouver and have proved popular with A-listers such as Jennifer Aniston and supermodels Christy Turlington and Gisele Bundchen.
Mrs Toomey’s business has given her a gilded lifestyle and, until recently, she and her financier husband lived in a magnificent £5 million Manhattan apartment, which they sold in 2017.
In an interview last month she said: ‘Even now that The Class is a success, I’m always thinking about how to create more cash flow so I can live a life that I love.’
Last night, a spokesman for Mrs Toomey’s company, based in the US tax haven state of Delaware, declined to explain how her business improves mental wellbeing.
‘As Taryn lives and breathes – what happens on the mat stays on the mat,’ she said.
But she added that it was a ‘great honour to be highlighted and supported by the Duke and Duchess’.
Natasha Devon, the Government’s former tsar for children’s mental health, said: ‘Although exercise and meditation have been shown to have a positive impact on mental health, promoting such an expensive luxury service does seem like a strange choice.
‘I have huge respect for what the Duke and Duchess are doing around mental health, but given their reach it’s slightly tone-deaf in terms of understanding the mental health difficulties that British people are facing.’
She added that services in the UK, especially for children – are ‘desperately inadequate’. Meanwhile Ms Junor added: ‘The Royal Family has to be incredibly careful of promoting their friends – to do so is wrong, they shouldn’t be doing it.
‘They are in an unusual position and have a real responsibility because they are hugely influential so it is very important that they don’t favour friends.
‘I would say that to endorse commercial organisations is a mistake anyway. I think they should stick to charities.
‘Endorsing charities and highlighting the work they do brings huge amounts of revenue and profile. All of this is great. But their power has to be used carefully and responsibly.’
A spokeswoman for the Duke and Duchess pointed out that Harry frequently spoke about the importance of mental fitness and said that the couple were using their Instagram account to ‘shine a light on several Instagram accounts that promote mental well-being, mental fitness, body positivity, self-care and the importance of human connection.’ Among the other organisations favoured by the Duke and Duchess on Instagram are Pandas, a charity supporting families coping with pre- and post-natal mental illnesses, and Anxiety UK, which supports those living with anxiety disorders.
Some critics said Mrs Toomey’s focus on wealthy clients stands in sharp contrast to many of the other organisations favoured by the couple, as well as the small, often struggling, UK mental health charities that they did not endorse.
Staff at Mrs Toomey’s company admitted that interest in the workouts and retreats was boosted by the Royal endorsement.
Its Instagram page received thousands of new followers after the Sussexes’ post – and a further 8,000 following the birth of baby Archie last week.
‘It has been amazing, a lot of engagement online… we’ve been able to reach a lot of people who we have not met in person yet, which is great,’ said one employee, adding: ‘The Class is not available in countries outside the US and Canada, so retreatments remain our only route to global engagement.’
The controversy over the Instagram endorsement follows a row over the inclusion of American TV network CBS – whose morning show is presented by the Duchess’s confidante Gayle King – in Archie’s first photocall last week. Royal aides insist CBS was chosen at random from a pool of broadcasters who applied, with all footage to be shared across networks.
It is not known exactly how and when the Duchess and Mrs Toomey became friends, but she was among the select group invited to celebrate her pregnancy at her elaborate, star-studded baby shower in Manhattan in February that cost a reputed £350,000 and sparked a furious debate about its ‘Marie Antoinette-style’ decadence.
Mrs Toomey cites one unlikely reason for the runaway success of her business: the election of Donald Trump.
In 2017, she claimed that her liberal-leaning clients used The Class to vent their frustration over his presidency. ‘One of the reasons why it has become what it is, is because of the timing,’ she said. ‘Right after the election, people were coming in there, and they were screaming and crying.’ She says on her website that: ‘The Class invites students to witness their resistance to discomfort… you will learn tools to empower your life.’
Mrs Toomey also credits her success to following a particular piece of business advice: to ‘hire slow, fire fast’.
She said: ‘We have a really supportive company environment, but it works for some people and it doesn’t for others. That’s fine. It’s vital to know when something is not working and act with precision to execute and be as unflappable as possible because your team is watching you’.
She was endorsed by the Duke and Duchess after they surprised their Instagram fans by ‘unfollowing’ all accounts including Clarence House, Kensington Palace and Invictus Games.
Instead, they followed 16 new accounts ahead of UK Mental Health week, which kicks off tomorrow. They posted: ‘To pay tribute to all of the incredible work people across the globe are doing in this space, we are hoping to shine a light on several Instagram accounts that promote mental well-being, mental fitness, body positivity, self-care, and the importance of human connection – to not just hear each other, but to listen.
‘There are countless organisations doing amazing work for mental health – please consider the accounts we’ve highlighted as a small snapshot of this global support network.
‘We invite you to explore the extraordinary stories of strength, and the commitment to kindness as seen in the above accounts.’
Last night a spokesman for the Sussexes declined to comment on Meghan’s friendship with Mrs Toomey.
She added: ‘As the post states, the Duke and Duchess wanted to pay tribute to all of the incredible work people across the globe are doing in this space.
‘The Duke of Sussex has on many occasions spoken publicly, on Instagram and most recently at Thursday’s Invictus 2020 launch in The Hague, about his belief that mental fitness is key.’
By Charlotte Wace and Nick Craven for the Mail on Sunday
The cloak of secrecy shrouding the birth of the Royal baby on the orders of Meghan and Harry is completely unprecedented.
Nearly a week after Archie’s clandestine arrival, Buckingham Palace last night still refused to confirm that it took place at London’s Portland Hospital, or to release the name of a single member of the medical team.
One senior source even claimed that the doctors and midwives themselves had requested anonymity, which would be an inexplicable turn of events and in complete contrast to other Royal births.
‘It was the medical team’s request to remain private,’ said the source, while acknowledging it was also the ‘personal decision’ of the Duke and Duchess to keep those details from the public.
The consultants and their hospital would normally be named on the traditional proclamation posted on an easel outside Buckingham Palace.
In 2016, all 23 staff involved in the deliveries of Prince George and Princess Charlotte were publicly invited to a Royal garden party as a gesture of thanks.
But despite the ‘cover-up’, some candidates likely to have been chosen by Meghan to oversee her pregnancy and labour were emerging last night.
The Mail on Sunday revealed last month that Meghan had insisted on a team led by a female consultant, rather than the ‘men in suits’ – a reference to Royal obstetricians Guy Thorpe-Beeston and Alan Farthing.
One favourite, Miss Jeannie Yoon, 56, is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist based at the private Lister Hospital in Chelsea, who also delivers babies at the Portland. She began her specialist training in the NHS in 1986 and became a consultant in 2001, operating in entirely private practice since 2007. She is a Fellow of The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
When approached by The Mail on Sunday on Friday at her home in North London, a smiling Miss Yoon said: ‘I’m not meant to make any comment at all, sorry. I’m not allowed to say anything at all.’
Another possibility was consultant Claire Mellon, 56, who has strong links with US fertility clinics and trained under Sir Marcus Setchell, the former Surgeon-Gynaecologist to the Royal Household.
The daughter of a diplomat, she was born in Copenhagen and is a trustee for charity Wellbeing Of Women, which raises funds for research into women’s health. She was unavailable for comment at her West London home yesterday.
Two other candidates suggested by medical sources were Dr Karen Joash, awarded the Obstetrics & Gynaecology Consultant of the Year 2019, and Muna Noori, a consultant obstetrician and specialist in maternal and fetal medicine.
Neither was available for comment yesterday.