A tale of two tours: the princes walking their own paths
Their recent trips have highlighted William and Harry’s differing approaches to public emotion and Diana’s legacy, says Patrick Jephson
Two princes, two continents, two very different touring styles… and countless opinions on whether Team Cambridge or Team Sussex covered themselves (and us) in the greater glory. Perhaps honours are even – which would be nice. Even then, there’s no concealing the growing gap in how William and Harry interpret their duty to represent the Queen on such high-level diplomatic missions.
Inevitably, there has been an unseen extra member of both squads. Diana, Princess of Wales has been brought into play not just by the media (for whom sentimental parallels and great pictures are always difficult to resist), but by the princes themselves, most directly in tomorrow’s ITV special (9pm) with Tom Bradby, who accompanied Harry and Meghan on their Africa tour.
Diana’s sons and their wives have literally and figuratively followed in her footsteps; even William’s encounter with bad flying weather in Pakistan was foreshadowed by his mother’s experience in 1991, when her Queen’s Flight aircraft was grounded by a violent thunderstorm.
Meteorology aside, perhaps the most revealing similarities and differences lie in how each prince has echoed their mother in revealing his feelings. These tours are hard work, intended to achieve tangible benefits for British interests. But the invisible rewards can be priceless, too – winning hearts and minds is a key objective, and that requires successful deployment of those most unstable royal weapons: public displays of emotion.
It would be a stony heart that doesn’t go out to Prince Harry this week as he is seen, watery-eyed, telling Bradby that everything he does reminds him of his mother, or struggling, close to tears, to complete his speech at the Wellchild Awards. I attended many such events with Princess Diana, and losing control of your own emotions can be a serious occupational hazard, made no easier by office stress, new dad anxiety and the sleep deprivation that goes with both.
This is the same new father who recently shared with us the difficulty he sometimes feels getting out of bed because of the burden he carries worrying about the world’s problems.
Predictably, such gloom earned a raspberry from commentators who suggested that a fit and wealthy young man, with – according, bizarrely, to Hillary Clinton – a “gutsy” woman for a wife and a bouncing new baby might lighten up a bit. It might be seen as a luxury, especially since his bed is in a house that taxpayers have just spent several million pounds to refurbish.
Better a prince who thinks too much than too little, you might argue. And many welcome our enlightened times in which a prince (a prince!) can reveal such vulnerability. What some condemn as a sign of weakness or self-indulgence, others see as proof of enlightened inner strength and sensitivity.
But, as we’ve recently seen, when royal thought is stoked by raw emotion, the results can veer unpredictably from endearing to mockable and finally to downright worrying. How else to describe the spasm of anger that soured the sweet success of Harry’s Africa tour and now condemns him and his family to long-term legal conflict with half of Fleet Street? Hard-fought litigation could quickly put global warming in the shade as a cause of bad Frogmore mornings.
Public tears are a rarity in Windsor world. Many will remember the Queen discreetly dabbing her eye as the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned (and who can blame her?). Some may even recall the day Princess Diana visibly welled up when being addressed in fond and sympathetic words during an official engagement in Merseyside on the eve of her separation from Prince Charles. These examples show both women in a good light: the first, acknowledging the passing of a faithful servant – the second, an instinctive response to kindness at a time of great personal unhappiness.
Prince Harry’s Wellchild display of emotion falls into a different category. Critics have suggested it was an overwrought attempt to steal air time, while supporters contend it was a welcome display of common humanity. Either way, it made as many headlines as what should have been William’s star turn in a jewel-toned sherwani the same day.
Assuming, as we should, that the emotion was genuine and surprised the Prince as much as the rest of us, it resembles another occasion on which his mother wept. Significantly, though, that was in private. We were on tour in Africa; the last visit of the day – to a rural Aids hospice for young children – was over. The officials and media had left, leaving Diana and a small entourage to watch the toddlers being tucked in for the night.
Diana, characteristically, wanted to help. I’ll never forget the image of her kneeling by each bed, accompanied only by a nun with a lantern, comforting each little occupant. As she straightened after the last bed, I saw tears shining on her cheeks. By the time she rejoined us, they had been wiped away by the professional princess already back on parade.
There were no tears in Pakistan this week when Prince William agreed with a young well-wisher that he, too, was “a big fan” of his mother. But who could doubt the infinity of sadness concealed by such brief, good-natured and modest words. It seems William has adopted that most British of attitudes: that emotion makes a good servant but a poor master.
He and his brother are destined by birth for a weird public existence in which strangers can pick over their most private emotions. How they cope has been on worldwide display these past few weeks and it’s fair to say their methods are different – perhaps different enough to prevent them and their wives ever living up to Meghan’s early description of the foursome’s work as “unity at its best”.
When Princess Diana made her own first visit to Pakistan in 1991, she was introduced to the work of the revered Pakistani poet Sir Muhammad Iqbal. Much of it struck a chord with her. She painstakingly copied a verse and gave it to me after the tour, and another might have been especially written for princes navigating a life like no other: “Destiny is the prison and chain of the ignorant.”
Our system has put William, the future king, in that prison. To his infinite credit, he is turning it in to a place in which to do his duty, while still being a committed father and family man. As he said in Lahore, when told how he and Kate had “radiated joy” wherever they had been: “We are very happy people.” It shows.
Harry’s prison has an open door, and no gaoler but of his own making. His undoubted gifts of empathy, compassion and charm flourish in sunlight and wide horizons. They are a far better – and happier – riposte to an unfair world than anything his lawyers can muster.
There were no tears in Pakistan, when Prince William agreed he was ‘a big fan’ of his mother
A son’s tribute: Prince Harry, right, walks through the minefield in Angola, where his mother famously trod in 1997, above
Family resemblance: in the Chitral district of Pakistan, Prince William wears a Chitrali hat like the one his mother wore there in 1991