Celebrity

Royal expert duped into commenting on Harry and Meghan interview before it aired threatens to sue

A royal expert who was labelled a ‘toxic racist liar’ and let go by CNN after she was duped into commenting on by Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview before it aired is threatening to sue the pranksters.

Victoria Arbiter, 48, was ‘mercilessly mocked’ online by supporters of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, namely the so-called ‘Sussex Squad’, when she and three other royal commentators were conned into giving their thoughts two days before the explosives interviews had been broadcast.

Days after the hoax was uploaded to YouTube under the title ‘We Proved Royal Experts Lie About Harry and Meghan’, CNN canceled an offer of a new contract and she has since lost ‘literally lost all of my work’.

Ms Arbiter also claims to have been left with ‘acute anxiety and depression’ following the prank, as well as losing tens of thousands of pounds in lost earnings, The Telegraph reports.

The single mother believes she is a victim of fraudulent misrepresentation and is now considering legal action against the London-based pranksters as part of efforts to restore her reputation.

She told the newspaper: ‘I just want to clear my name and for them to apologise and be accountable for what they did.

‘They set out to have a laugh and make some money and in the process destroyed my life as I knew it. If it wasn’t for my family and friends I don’t know what the eventual outcome would have been.’

Harry and Meghan pictured during their explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey in March last year

Harry and Meghan pictured during their explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey in March last year

Royal commentator Victoria Arbiter was 'mercilessly mocked' online by supporters of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when she and three other royal commentators were conned into giving their thoughts on the interview before it aired

Royal commentator Victoria Arbiter was ‘mercilessly mocked’ online by supporters of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when she and three other royal commentators were conned into giving their thoughts on the interview before it aired

Victoria pictured with her father Dickie, who also fell victim to the YouTube prank shortly before the interview last year

Victoria pictured with her father Dickie, who also fell victim to the YouTube prank shortly before the interview last year

She added: ‘I have literally lost all of my work. I was mocked mercilessly. I went to see a doctor who diagnosed me with acute anxiety and depression. I still have insomnia.’

Pranksters Archie Manners, a former Radley College student, and South African-born Josh Pieters tricked the royal experts into giving pre-recorded interviews by using the fake company name Beneath the Fold.

Among those conned was also Ms Arbiter’s father Dickie, former press secretary to the Queen, Richard Fitzwilliams and Majesty magazine editor-in-chief Ingrid Seward.

Mr Arbiter had agreed a fee of £300 with the pranksters and told they needed a pre-record – a concept she said is recognised industry practice.

But the YouTube video was then posted with claims from Mr Manners, 29, and Mr Pieters, 28, that the experts were giving their opinions on footage they had not seen to ‘jump on the buzz of the Harry and Meghan interview’.

In the original video, she told the pair: ‘She [Oprah] did ask the tough questions, she had to ask the tough questions, but at the same time, I think she did ask those questions in a sympathetic light.’

She also told of how Oprah had given the Sussexes an ‘easy ride’ because they are already well known to each other. and described of being ‘incredibly moved, stunned, saddened’ by the rift between Harry and William.

But Ms Arbiter says the video had been heavily edited and she had declined to comment at times as she was unaware of what was in the then unaired interview.

Other comments she gave to the pranksters were said to be based on snippets and teasers that had already been made public prior to its broadcast.

The royal expert said she could ‘hardly breathe’ when she came to the realisation that she had been tricked.

Harry and Meghan pictured together at the day two of the Invictus Games 2020 in April earlier this year

Harry and Meghan pictured together at the day two of the Invictus Games 2020 in April earlier this year

Days after the YouTube video was uploaded, CNN, which paid her an annual retainer, walked away from an offer of a renewed contract. She was also snubbed by other broadcasters as she became a victim to online vitriol.

She said: ‘The onslaught was relentless. I lost the ability to earn an income. We were still in the midst of a pandemic so there wasn’t a survival job to be had.

‘I was too scared to leave my home. I lost a stone in weight and my eyelashes fell out. I still suffer from insomnia and at times the anxiety is so paralysing I’m unable to function.

‘I’ve lost 15 months’ worth of income not to mention future opportunities and I’m on the cusp of losing my home. I’m a single mother with a son to support.

‘I started going to counseling but I had to stop due to the prohibitive cost. My character has been assassinated, I was publicly humiliated and my reputation is in ruins.’

Ms Arbiter, who also recalled having ‘dark thoughts’, has since been removed from the video after complaints from her lawyers, but says the damage was already done.

Mr Manners and Mr Pieters have gained notoriety for their online pranks, having previously duped Katie Hopkins into accepting a bogus award and paying influencers to fake wellness treatments.

Speaking to The Guardian following the video in March last year, the pair said they had undertaken the prank to see if people would say ‘things that weren’t necessarily true to purely jump on the buzz’.

Mr Manners added: ‘To me, it’s like asking a football commentator to give me 90 minutes of voice noting on [a match they have not seen]. It’s such a ludicrous premise.’

The pair also said the edit of the video was ‘incredibly fair’.

Dickie Arbiter previously said the video was ‘deliberately misleading and a scam, while Mr Fitzwilliams said there had been an agreement that the comments would be used based on what was broadcast in the interview to avoid anything inappropriate.

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