Life and times
The royal biographer on chatting with Prince Harry, her wedding wardrobe and mastering the curtsy
Angela Levin, biographer of Prince Harry
GETTING A SENIOR ROYAL to agree to be interviewed is not easy. It took me five requests to get the go-ahead for a private ‘conversation’ with Prince Harry at Kensington Palace. (He doesn’t ‘do interviews’, I was told.) My heart sank when I was told it would last just 20 minutes – that’s only enough time to make the smallest of small talk, a practised way to relax interviewees.
I listened closely to the questions he asked people he met while on royal duty, many of whom had suffered physically, mentally or both. Instead of being politely superficial, he went straight to the core. I decided to take a gamble and do the same.
My heart thumped as I sat in the palace sitting room. Nervously, I said I’d watched him connect profoundly and quickly with those who had been damaged by life, and wondered whether he used the opportunity to help process his own issues. Did he find it therapeutic? There was a long pause. ‘You’re right, of course,’ he eventually replied.
The gamble must have paid off; we carried on chatting for 80 minutes.
BEFORE I MET Prince Harry, I asked his team whether I should curtsy and was told it was up to me. I decided I would, as that way I couldn’t go wrong, and I practised daily for two weeks. It was harder than I thought. Some people get tongue-tied when talking in public, I get my legs in a twist, something I proved at my son’s sports day during the ‘Mum Run’, when I fell over my feet seconds after the starter whistle was blown.
When I first practised my curtsy it was an achievement not to fall over, but in time I mastered the position. On the day, I was ushered into the sitting room, where Prince Harry was waiting. He got up, walked towards me and held out his hand to shake mine. Just at that moment I placed my left leg behind my right and bobbed down low, leaving his hand adrift somewhere over my head. I was grateful he pretended he hadn’t noticed.
Shortly afterwards, during a session with my personal trainer, he told me to do an exercise that involved a curtsy-like move, while holding a weight. It was great for my glutes and, hey presto, I did it correctly first time round. TWO THINGS STRUCK ME while following Prince Harry as part of the royal press pack. First, you need to be fit and forget about eating or drinking. In a year, I managed to grab a cup of tea and a biscuit just once (at a Help for Heroes event). Harry moves fast and packs in as much as possible. Often I had to run to keep up, my handbag under one arm and a notebook, recording device and mobile to take photographs in my hand.
The second thing is that he always wears the same clothes to public events. Unless it is formal or sports-orientated, you’ll see him in blue suede desert boots, an ice-blue shirt and a sky-blue jacket. No doubt it saves time planning. Since their engagement, Meghan Markle’s style has also changed: she has ditched skinny jeans for sleeveless dresses.
I’ve been watching more closely than usual because I’ve been booked by CNN to cover the wedding for nine days, and friends and colleagues were asking what I planned to wear. Having lived in tracksuit trousers and T-shirts for months while writing my book, I was stuck. I approached every in-store personal stylist I could find. ‘You need clothes for Harry’s wedding?’ each one asked. ‘P-l-e-a-s-e let me help you. I LOVE him.’ Result. A new stylish wardrobe of bright, unfussy clothes that is the nearest I’ll get to being a princess. I may never wear them again but they will hang proudly in my wardrobe. Harry: Conversations with the Prince, by Angela Levin (John Blake, £18.99), is out now
I bobbed down low, leaving Prince Harry’s outstretched hand adrift over my head