Watching Prince Harry being interviewed by ITV’s Tom Bradby, one thing was clear: the man is in deadly earnest. He is a true believer. And that, I think, makes him very dangerous to the monarchy indeed.
He came across well: modest, steely, scrupulously honest by his own lights, unshakably coherent in his view of the world and in his view of his place in it. He combined the moral authority of a victim of trauma with the unruffled calm of the fanatic. It was an extraordinarily, dangerously seductive performance. Moral clarity, a simple story, an injury nobly borne, a righteous crusade against a corrupt institution — these are the things that public opinion finds it very easy to get behind. Reticence, emotional stiltedness, institutional complexity, human frailty: not so much.
The book extracts, incidentally, artfully burnished that seduction. They speak very well of his ghostwriter. Crisp little writerly details studded the vignettes that punctuated their conversation. For example, when after his mother’s death he and his brother smiled and greeted mourners outside Kensington Palace, he recalls shaking “wet hands”; the freely flowing tears of people who’d never met Diana contrasted with the forced reserve of those who had been closer to her than anyone in the world. And looking at the photographs of the twisted car at the crash site, seeing “paps, and reflected paps, and refracted paps” on the surfaces of the wrecked vehicle, none of them coming to his mother’s aid: “They were just shooting, shooting, shooting.”
His basic thesis, to which he returned again and again with absolute tunnel vision, was that the “tabloid press” are heartless villains (some truth in that), that the British royal family has climbed wholly into bed with them (some truth in that, too, but perhaps not so simple a one as he supposes) and that an institution he claims to believe in and a family he claims to love have been captured and corrupted by the same villains who killed his mother.
On Diana’s death he dismissed the finding that the chauffeur Henri Paul’s being drunk might have been decisive: “one or two drinks” wouldn’t have made a difference. It was the paps who killed her: “those who were predominantly responsible all got away with it.”
When the subject of his teenage dalliance with cocaine was raised, Bradby pressed him: surely it was a matter of public interest if the third in line to the throne was taking class A drugs. Harry barely heard the question, or if he heard it, didn’t understand it. What was really in the public interest, he insisted, was the relationship between the royal family and the tabloid press. That his brother and sister-in-law hadn’t liked his wife? “Reading the press… you end up living in the tabloid bubble rather than reality.” There seemed to be no question in Harry’s worldview to which “it’s the fault of the tabloid press” was not the answer. His brother and his father were not to be blamed, exactly: they were hopeless dupes.
Tom Bradby courteously and deftly nudged and probed, trying to get under the carapace, trying to make him see how others might view what he has done with this book and with the hours of Netflix special that preceded it. How, Bradby wondered, does he square his lifelong rage at violations of his privacy with writing a book in which he violates the privacy of his closest family members without consultation or warning? Not a flicker of self-doubt passed across his face.
The nub of it, from Harry’s point of view, was: they started it. All that leaking and briefing: “how complicit they were… encouraging it to happen.” “It never needed to be this way,” he said. “It never needed to get to this point.” Later: “We never needed to be here.” Or as many a man with bloody knuckles has said to his wife: “Look what you made me do!”
Feeding the tabloid beast he so despises with intimate family gossip, as he sees it, was a “necessary,” an “essential” public duty: what he called “serving my country from abroad.” “That is not what happened: this is what happened,” he said, adding in the following breath with just the same earnest conviction: “There are two sides to every story.” That is: Harry’s side and the side that isn’t true. What he was doing, rather than taking lucrative and public revenge in a family feud, was, as Dame Edna Everage might have put it, coming from a place of love. He didn’t wallop William back after the thing with a dog-bowl because “I was in a more comfortable place with my own anger.”
Now, he insisted, he was “very happy… very at peace… in a good headspace now.” He remains open to reconciliation: “I’ve always been open to helping them understand their part in it… The door is always open. The ball is in their court.” As he said at another point: “All we’ve ever asked for is some accountability.” Having painted his stepmother in the book as a schemer “playing the long game” to snag the crown, he denied having done any such thing: “No institution is immune to taking responsibility and accountability.”
Wouldn’t William say, Bradby wondered, “How could you do this to me?” “He’ll probably say all sorts of things,” responded the prince. What he was doing, with regret but out of a sense of duty, was “serving his country from abroad” by exposing the vicious relationship between his family and the tabloid press. Wasn’t his view of the press’s role in all his troubles a little black-and-white, a little simplistic? No, he said. Absolutely not. And he returned to his condemnation of “leaking” and “planting” without pausing to explain in what way his account of things was in any way more nuanced than that.
It was impossible to watch that interview and doubt his sincere belief in what he’s doing. And uncomfortably for his family and for the institution of monarchy, it’s hard not to suspect that there’s a good deal of truth in what he says. But what makes his situation so piercing is the complete lack of self-doubt. He is a decent man in possession of a bulletproof worldview. Wilde’s dictum that the truth is rarely pure and never simple is not one that ever seems to have troubled his mind. God help King Charles the monarch; and God help Charles Mountbatten-Windsor, a father who seems irreparably to have lost a son.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.