Who are Brené Brown and Tristan Harris? The influencers Harry and Meghan 'absolutely adore'

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·5-min read
Brene Brown and Tristan Harris can count Harry and Meghan as fans. (Getty images)
Brene Brown and Tristan Harris can count Harry and Meghan as fans. (Getty images)

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are forging a new path in California as they work out what life outside senior royal duties looks like.

One role they retain from their royal days is as president and vice president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, which works with young people in Commonwealth nations.

In a recent call, the royal couple spoke to young people who are working in digital or social media and are looking to use digital to make changes for good.

They were delighted to hear one person reference Brené Brown and Tristan Harris, who Harry called “two people we absolutely love”.

Read more: Meghan Markle tells women: 'If you aren't voting, you're complicit'

The couple joined from their new family home in California. (QCT)
The couple was delighted to hear Brene Brown and Tristan Harris referenced. (QCT)

So who are Brené Brown and Tristan Harris and does their work give us an indication about what Harry and Meghan might do outside their senior royal life?

Tristan Harris

Harris, about 35, has been dubbed “the closest Silicon Valley has to a conscience” for his work on “humane technology”.

Harris used to work for Google as a “design ethicist” but he left after becoming disillusioned with tech companies.

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 29: Tristan Harris participates in a panel discussion during the annual Milken Institute Global Conference at The Beverly Hilton Hotel  on April 29, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)
Tristan Harris at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in April 2019. (Getty Images)

Now he runs the Centre for Humane Technology, an organisation which aims to realign technology with humanity’s best interests.

Naming him in their 40 under 40 in 2018, Fortune said his gospel was “Put down your phone. Go outside. Do something else.”

He told The Times earlier this year that addiction to smart phones was fundamentally rewiring the human brain and “tearing apart our social fabric”.

In a podcast in 2017, he discussed some of his time at Google, asking: “You just get flooded with emails and flooded with calendar invites and you’re using technology a lot, all the time, and I was just feeling like, man, is any of this making life better?”

Harris’s aim is to reshape technology so that answering one notification doesn’t lead to a series of functions which means a day is used up on various apps, and to create more offline, real world conversations.

Read more: Prince Harry praises the Queen's Commonwealth – weeks after saying it had to 'acknowledge its past'

Brené Brown

Author, professor and podcast host Brené Brown specialises in courage, shame and vulnerability.

Her TED talk, the Power of Vulnerability, is one of the most viewed talks ever on the site.

TODAY -- Pictured: Brene Brown appears on NBC News' "Today" show -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
Brené Brown on NBC News' Today show. (NBC Newswire)

Brown launched a podcast during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which she encouraged people to speak regularly with friends, having one word check-ins to share how they are feeling at each moment.

Brown, 54, is a member of the Episcopal Church and references her Christian faith through her writing.

Her quotes and her faith are likely to resonate with the Duchess of Sussex, whose personal prayer life and faith was revealed in Finding Freedom, the biography about Harry and Meghan.

On her website, Brown writes: “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”

In 2015, Brown did an interview with The Guardian, for which she cancelled the planned photoshoot, saying “it’s not me”.

She added: “I actually don’t like the cult of personality celebrity stuff around my work at all. It should be about the work, right? I’m not that interesting. The work is really interesting – the work is the research.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Harry and Meghan have become her fans, as she also counts Oprah as a fan, someone the couple have become close to. Brown’s other celebrity fans include Reese Witherspoon, Melinda Gates, Amy Adams and Laverne Cox.

Read more: ‘Every time you click they learn more about you’: Prince Harry issues social media warning

How might they influence Harry and Meghan?

It’s clear the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are watching, reading and listening to these two influential experts.

And the impact of that is evident in some of the work they have been doing.

In an article for Fast Company two weeks ago, Harry wrote: “Every time you click they learn more about you. Our information, private data, and unknown habits are traded on for advertising space and dollars. The price we’re all paying is much higher than it appears.”

Meghan spoke about trolling during the QCT conversation, saying: “When you look at what these platforms are capable of with that reach and what that propels in terms of trolling…

“You can either train people to be cruel or you can train people to be kind.

“It’s really that simple.”

Meghan has appeared to dress for zoom calls in an understated way that takes the attention away from her clothes, helping her to direct the conversation to the cause or charity she’s championing - not far from Brown’s philosophy.

Harry and Meghan are still forming the basis of their post-senior royal life work, and what they will do through Archewell.

The couple are thought to be lending their voices now to issues they will be focusing on in the future, so it may not be a surprise if Harris and Brown continue to influence these Californian royals.