BY STEWART SLATER
There are some things it is better not to know about. High on the list is the condition of princely penises, properly a matter of import only to their owners and possibly but not certainly (given the long history of unsuccessful royal marriages) their spouses. But if Prince Harry has chosen to bare his sausage as well as his soul in his memoir, all that tells us is that one man’s radical honesty can easily be everyone else’s over-sharing.
For it is clear, even at this early stage, that reaction to the Royal writings has not been uniformly favourable. After a few hours in which journalists brushed off their GCSE Spanish and combed through En la Sombra looking for the juicy bits, similar to a teenage girl flicking through her mother’s Jilly Cooper, the narrative settled, not on the revelations themselves, but on the fact they had been revealed and what this might tell us about the wordsmith.
Previous ages might have chosen “bounder” or “cad”, but our time, at once more therapeutic and less nuanced, preferred terms such as “damaged” or “Judas”. Senior military voices muttered gravely about security, while those at the hippier end of the spectrum shook their heads and wondered what the blessed Diana was thinking. What was lacking however, was any consideration of whether the revelations were true – not in the “my truth” sense, but in the “accurately reflecting what actually happened” one.
Consider the allegation that Prince William pushed his brother over, resulting in a broken dog bowl and a scratched back. Those old enough to read this are also old enough to remember the massed ranks of Fleet Street hacks bending every nerve and sinew to discover whether a Prime Minister had eaten a slice of cake. Yet those very same journalists seem curiously uninterested in discovering whether the heir to the throne committed what would, according to the well-known internet law firm Google & Google, count as ABH. There is, no doubt, some reason why a politician committing an offence punished by a £50 fine is more newsworthy than a Royal allegedly committing one carrying a maximum penalty of 5 years at his father’s pleasure, but it is not immediately obvious.
In truth though, it was always going to be thus. And Harry must have known that. For he has long been believed to be aggrieved at being marked out as the family’s fall-guy. Throughout his life, he has served as his brother’s human shield, there to soak up the blame for their joint escapades. Whether William and Kate encouraged Harry to wear the infamous Nazi uniform or whether, as in Robert Lacey’s Battle of the Brothers, older brother accompanied younger brother to buy it, the heir to the throne came out of the story with no blame but not entirely guilt-free.
Equally, again according to Lacey, it was William who set up “Club H”, the bar at Highgrove which set Harry on the path to his “drugs shame”. But, once more, when Harry made the front pages of the tabloids, William channelled Macavity. Some are currently attacking Harry for his temerity in suggesting that his father not remarry, ignoring the fact that he is clear that both brothers made the approach. As so often though, the heir, similar to a certain beardy Marxist now thankfully receding into national amnesia, is “present but not involved”.
Seen in this context, the media’s decision to play the man and not the ball by its rapid downgrading of “pushgate” and the other revelations to an, at best, “He said/He said” story seems less a reasoned response, more a habitual reaction where energies that might have been devoted to investigating William are transferred to kicking Harry.
For the Royals, of course, this works. Believing, rightly or wrongly, that their claim to power needs to be buttressed by moral authority, William needs to be whiter than white, particularly since his father’s escutcheon is not unblotted. The darker his brother seems, the brighter the Prince of Wales appears by contrast. What greater contrast could there be than between the feckless, drug-addled wastrel, selling his own brother for 30 (million) pieces of silver and the dutiful heir maintaining a dignified silence (keeping his head down until the whole thing blows over)?
For the media too, the arrangement makes sense. For Royal correspondents are client journalists, their employment dependent on their access to the family and as Upton Sinclair remarked, “It is hard to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding it.” But inside the heart of every hack lurks an inner Woodward or Bernstein, itching to break out. What better way of squaring the circle than by speaking truth to the power of the fifth-in-line?
But as so often, however, there is a danger of overcompensation. If the Taliban were so stupid that, as is being alleged, it took a ghost-written book to persuade them that a member of the world’s most high-profile family who had served in a war against them might be an interesting target, one would surely hope that, having been given 20 years and £20bn, the military voices now so loudly harrumphing would have been able to defeat them.
Equally, a cynic, confronted with the raft of accusations by armchair-psychologists of “damage” and even late-onset PTSD, might remember Foucault’s observation that diagnoses of madness have often been used by the powerful to separate from society those they deem undesirable. Everyone thought Cassandra was mad, but she was right.
But if the arrangement works for the Windsors and the media, does it work for the rest of us? Would it not be quite useful to know the truth about those who de iure if not de facto rule over us? Are we not mature enough to see those born to privilege in the round, flawed figures just like their ancestors and, indeed ourselves? Or do we need to live in a carefully curated Disneyland with a cast of beautiful, pure-hearted princesses and evil witches, told whom to cheer for like the crowd at a wrestling match?
This is not to out myself as a member of “Team Harry”. Dumping his family in it is not, perhaps, behaviour of the highest order. His penchant for therapy-speak would, in the language of the young, give anyone “the ick”. In a global context, his problems surely amount to much less than a hill of beans. But equally, no matter how privileged one might be, it cannot be enjoyable to feel that one’s role in life is to be traduced to distract attention from other, more important relatives. And surely, if the media reaction to his memoir suggests anything, it is that on this, even if on this alone, he has a point.
Stewart Slater works in Finance. He invites you to join him at his website.