America is finally tiring of Prince Harry

The prince has become as unloved a figure in the United States as he is in Britain

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Prince Harry (Getty)
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It must be a strange time to be Prince Harry. A year and a half ago, he was the most famous man in the world, thanks to the headline-grabbing publication of his autobiography Spare. Whether you thought it was brave, incisive and fascinating, or overwritten tawdry nonsense, it was hard not to have an opinion on both the book and its subject; Harry’s every movement and utterance was eagerly scrutinized. But an awful lot has happened since, not least the illnesses of his father and sister-in-law. Even his wife’s increasingly desperate-sounding America Riviera Orchard brand has overshadowed his own…

It must be a strange time to be Prince Harry. A year and a half ago, he was the most famous man in the world, thanks to the headline-grabbing publication of his autobiography Spare. Whether you thought it was brave, incisive and fascinating, or overwritten tawdry nonsense, it was hard not to have an opinion on both the book and its subject; Harry’s every movement and utterance was eagerly scrutinized. But an awful lot has happened since, not least the illnesses of his father and sister-in-law. Even his wife’s increasingly desperate-sounding America Riviera Orchard brand has overshadowed his own efforts to put himself in the spotlight.

So when he was offered the Pat Tillman Award for service by ESPN, it seemed like both a pat on the back and an easy opportunity to return to public consciousness without a great deal of effort. The award was named after an NFL player and war hero who died in Afghanistan in 2004, and will be awarded at the ESPYs. It should have been a win all round. Harry makes a speech and takes away a trophy, the event has some royal stardust, and the memory of Tillman is honored. In sporting parlance, it sounded like a slam dunk.

There is widespread skepticism that Prince Harry is deserving of an accolade like this

Alas, Harry has become as unloved a figure in the United States as he is in Britain, and when the news broke of the award, there was outcry. Despite Harry’s genuine and sincere involvement in sport, exemplified by his masterminding of the Invictus Games, there is widespread skepticism that he is deserving of an accolade like this. One petition, which at the time of writing has nearly 68,000 signatures, suggests that “Pat Tillman exemplified duty, honor and sacrifice. He gave up his successful NFL career to serve his country after the 9/11 attacks, and tragically lost his life during his service. Awarding this honor to someone who does not reflect the award’s intent diminishes its value and disrespects Tillman’s memory.”

By itself, this would be easy to ignore — public petitions are often excitable in intent and attract all kinds of ill-wishers. But then, in a more damaging move, Tillman’s mother Mary came forward and told the Mail on Sunday that: “I am shocked as to why they would select such a controversial and divisive individual to receive the award. There are recipients that are far more fitting.”

At the moment, there is no word as to whether the “controversial and divisive” Prince Harry will turn down the award and therefore avoid an unpleasant public scene. Or whether he will, at the very least, accept it via the time-honored means of video message, rather than appearing in person. Whatever happens now, this debacle is yet another nail in his reputational coffin. It will, no doubt, given his track record, be humiliating for a man with such notably thin skin.

What next for Harry? More Invictus, more Netflix, an attempted reconciliation with some of his family? (It is more likely that hell will freeze over than he and William make nice once again.) All of these things are possibilities, just as his presence on a promotional tour for America Riviera Orchard, gamely grinning as he eats jam out of a jar, cannot be discounted. However, he still has one ace up his sleeve. Unusually, the paperback of Spare has not yet been published. It has been rumored that he and his ghostwriter have been waiting to include new and sensational material to galvanize sales to those who live for the scandal and outrage.

Given that the British royal family has hardly found itself lacking on this front of late, Harry’s on-the-record thoughts about such matters — and, of course, laborious explanations of how it all relates to him — promise to be as attention-seeking as everything else he has come out with lately. But only the most delusional would bet against it returning him to the spotlight, and that means more to the clown prince than any number of well-intentioned but embarrassing awards.

This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.