Tor­tured Prince

Like Ham­let, the Duke of Sus­sex is the epit­ome of the ‘‘tor­tured prince’’. But as long as he re­mains an ac­tive royal, he can never dodge the me­dia spot­light, writes An­drew An­thony.

Otago Daily Times - - FRONT PAGE -

TO be or not to be an ac­tive royal, that is the ques­tion raised re­cently on be­half of Prince Harry, Duke of Sus­sex. It was aired by a con­cerned me­dia af­ter Harry used the me­dia — his friend Tom Bradby’s ITV doc­u­men­tary

Harry & Meghan: An African

Jour­ney — to dis­cuss his bit­ter feel­ings about the me­dia.

That cir­cu­lar pro­gres­sion forms the perime­ter of the hole in which the 35­year­old prince finds him­self trapped. He feels sur­rounded by the same in­tru­sive lenses he blames for his mother’s death and, like Diana, Princess of Wales, he has tried to break free from them with an emo­tional ap­pear­ance on prime­time tele­vi­sion.

Are his com­plaints le­git­i­mate or a case study in the kind of spoilt priv­i­lege that is nor­mally filed un­der the phrase ‘‘first­world prob­lems’’? Cer­tainly the du­bi­ous op­tics of dis­cussing his own strug­gles against the dis­tress­ing back­drop of African de­pri­va­tion did not go un­no­ticed by his crit­ics.

Nev­er­the­less, what seems beyond doubt is that Harry is a gen­uinely trou­bled soul, a 21st­cen­tury tor­tured prince.

For many years he was known as the fun­lov­ing brother, a walk­ing­talk­ing­drink­ing threat to stately pro­to­col. If you were look­ing for one of the Queen’s grand­chil­dren to be pho­tographed play­ing naked bil­liards with a wo­man in Las Ve­gas or wear­ing a swastika arm­band at a fancy­dress party, then Harry was your man.

He was Prince Hal, the ri­otous royal without a role, a way­ward but es­sen­tially like­able young bloke who seemed to re­act to his weighty birthright with an ir­re­press­ible in­stinct for re­bel­lion. But more re­cently, his an­guished ru­mi­na­tions have sug­gested another Shake­spearean hero — Ham­let, the tor­mented prince who wants to avenge the death of a par­ent.

To hear him speak in Bradby’s film, and in­deed to watch his body lan­guage, was to see a man who, at least by his own lights, was tak­ing up arms against a sea of trou­bles.

‘‘Part of this job,’’ he told Bradby, ‘‘and part of any job, like every­body, is putting on a brave face and turn­ing a cheek to a lot of the stuff, but again, for me and again for my wife, of course there is a lot of stuff that hurts, es­pe­cially when the majority of it is un­true. But all we need to do is fo­cus on be­ing real, and fo­cus on be­ing the peo­ple that we are, and study­ing up for what we be­lieve in.’’

It may not have been a soar­ing so­lil­o­quy with an in­nate un­der­stand­ing of po­etic me­tre, and you sense Harry has spent more time read­ing selfhelp books than the Bard, but it was clearly heart­felt and it ex­pressed per­haps the only good ad­vice given by Polo­nius, the chief coun­sel­lor in Ham­let: to thine own self be true.

But who is Harry? One of the things that the man who is sixth

in line to the throne has al­ways found dif­fi­cult to ac­cept is that mil­lions of strangers, peo­ple he’s never met, feel as if they know who he is, and are there­fore in a po­si­tion to pass judge­ment on him.

When he was 21 and a cadet at Sand­hurst, he gave an in­ter­view in which he said:

‘‘I’m never go­ing to . . . con­vince the gen­eral pub­lic of who I am or what I want them to think I am, be­cause my image is al­ways be­ing por­trayed as some­thing else. I don’t want to change. I am who I am. I’m not go­ing to change be­cause I’m be­ing crit­i­cised in the press.’’

Though he is older and wiser, the con­vic­tion that he is rou­tinely and de­lib­er­ately mis­rep­re­sented re­mains un­changed. This sense of be­ing made a car­i­ca­ture is an is­sue, he has said, that also ag­grieved his fa­ther — in Prince Charles’ case as a hap­less and in­ef­fec­tual busy­body. It’s not hard to imag­ine that Charles’ ob­vi­ous re­sent­ment of the me­dia has helped in­form his youngest son’s sus­pi­cions.

The prob­lem is that the me­dia are vi­tal to the monar­chy’s sur­vival, like a par­a­site on which the host comes to de­pend. If their vis­its, births and wed­dings ceased to be the sub­ject of me­dia at­ten­tion, they would sink into ir­rel­e­vance. Roy­alty — the idea of a su­pe­rior blood­line — is a dy­ing anachro­nism, but celebrity is alive and flour­ish­ing.

The Queen will very likely prove to be the last monarch to re­tain a re­gal dis­tance from the out­side world. She is the em­bod­i­ment of Wal­ter Bage­hot’s fa­mous maxim about not let­ting in ‘‘day­light upon magic’’. But that era has passed, even if the Queen lives on.

Harry’s par­ents both ap­peared on tele­vi­sion in sep­a­rate dis­cus­sions of their adul­tery. His un­cle, a friend of a con­victed pae­dophile, has been ac­cused of sleep­ing with a traf­ficked teenager, ac­cu­sa­tions that have been strongly de­nied. The royal cur­tains have been ir­re­versibly opened.

Diana was said to have been a ‘‘mod­ernising’’ in­flu­ence on the starchy ways of the Wind­sors. The ‘‘peo­ple’s princess’’ brought a pop­ulist touch to the du­ti­ful busi­ness of photo op­por­tu­ni­ties. She was a democratis­ing force, even if her ap­proach was not al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated by the royal house­hold.

Harry told Bradby that he wouldn’t be ‘‘bul­lied into play­ing the game that killed my mum’’. It’s an un­der­stand­able sen­ti­ment. His mother died in a car crash un­der pur­suit from pa­parazzi when he was just 12. But it’s hard to think what other game is avail­able to a royal who wants to main­tain a high profile.

Harry’s wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sus­sex, has ex­pe­ri­ence of the Hol­ly­wood kind of celebrity, a sys­tem con­trolled by fe­ro­cious pub­li­cists pro­duc­ing stage­m­an­aged in­ter­views. Ac­cord­ing to a CNN re­port, based on ‘‘a source close to the Sus­sexes’’, she seems to have be­lieved she could play a role in re­form­ing an an­ti­quated in­sti­tu­tion to har­ness the ‘‘value’’ of a cou­ple that has ‘‘sin­gle­hand­edly mod­ernised the monar­chy’’.

That kind of con­trolled ap­proach to im­age­main­te­nance may work with

Van­ity Fair, but it’s not go­ing to play in a tabloid world in which off­the­record brief­ings and forth­right opin­ions are the lifeblood of royal cov­er­age. In that con­text, it’s im­pos­si­ble to sup­press sto­ries about ten­sions be­tween Harry and his brother, or ac­cu­sa­tions of hypocrisy for cam­paign­ing on cli­mate change while fly­ing in pri­vate jets.

Yet Harry and his wife do have a large amount of pub­lic good­will, re­gard­less of their bat­tle with the press that led Harry ear­lier last month to sue the Daily Mir­ror and the Sun, and his wife to sue the Mail on

Sun­day. As a mixed­race cou­ple, they rep­re­sent a re­fresh­ing break with the prej­u­dices of the past.

More­over Harry, like his mother, has a win­ning per­sonal touch with or­di­nary peo­ple. An ex­ec­u­tive at the Chil­dren’s So­ci­ety says that he re­cently did some work with the char­ity in which he charmed ev­ery­one he dealt with.

Dy­lan Jones, the ed­i­tor of GQ, says he has met the prince sev­eral times and al­ways found him ‘‘ap­proach­able, funny, en­gag­ing and whip­smart’’. He re­calls a photo ses­sion in which David Bai­ley was on con­fronta­tional form, but

Harry man­aged to win the ban­ter con­test.

‘‘He doesn’t suf­fer fools gladly,’’ says Jones, ‘‘but then why should he? He’s al­ways come across as a leader.’’

Per­haps his great­est strength, at this par­tic­u­lar junc­ture in his­tory, is his vul­ner­a­bil­ity. By com­ing for­ward a cou­ple of years ago to dis­cuss his men­tal health prob­lems, he chimed with a younger gen­er­a­tion ea­ger to nor­malise the is­sue of men­tal ill­ness. He spoke of how he shut down his emo­tions for 20 years af­ter his mother died, and how he con­sulted a ther­a­pist.

As some­one who not only lost his mother at a ten­der age but also, ac­cord­ing to his own tes­ta­ment, killed en­emy fighters in Afghanista­n, he has a lot of haunt­ing ex­pe­ri­ences to re­solve. It doesn’t help, of course, to be do­ing it un­der at­tack from a hos­tile me­dia. Harry strongly im­plied to Bradby that his dark days had re­turned.

If that is the case, he has two op­tions. The first is to de­velop a zen­like in­dif­fer­ence to the spec­u­la­tion and crit­i­cism that his life as a lead­ing royal gen­er­ates. To suf­fer, in other words, the slings and ar­rows of out­ra­geous for­tune. The other is to help re­vive ‘‘the Firm’’ by cut­ting back on its num­bers. He could take the large for­tune he has, with­draw from pub­lic life, and de­vote him­self to the good causes of his choice.

That way he and his wife can live rather than, as she puts it, ‘‘ex­ist’’. To be or to thrive: that is the royal ques­tion the celebrity prince must face.

❛ All we need to do is fo­cus on be­ing real, and fo­cus on be­ing the peo­ple that we are

Prince Harry

PHOTO: REUTERS

Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sus­sex, on their visit to Africa last month.

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