Dear newspaper columnists, you’re not Prince Harry’s real dad...
... and it's really weird to give 'advice' to a 36-year-old man you've never met.
|Mic Wright||May 17||9|
Prince Harry is a 36-year-old married man with one child and one on the way. But in the eyes of the British commentariat, the most cursed collection of nannies this side of a dark Disney film, he’s a child to be chastised and scolded. And that tendency has exploded after Harry dared to talk about parenting on the Armchair Expert podcast.
In The Sunday Times yesterday, Matthew Syed became the latest self-appointed royal step-parent with a piece headlined Parents are always to blame, Prince Harry. Your children will discover that too and bearing the unsettling sub-deck The royal believes counselling is healing him, but sometimes therapy can do more harm than good.
At the end of Mental Health Week was discouraging people — especially men — from considering therapy really the look Syed was going for?
After a long introduction on the subject of history and personal histories, particularly ‘blaming the parents’ as a supposed side-effect of more people choosing to get therapy, Syed gets round to the Royals:
Professor Nassir Ghaemi of Tufts University [says]: “The majority of psychotherapists follow a line of investigation rooted in a century of Freudian influence. What was your childhood like? What was your relationship with your parents? The parents will be found to be absent, or overinvolved; cold, or smothering; too permissive, or helicopter pilots . . . They’re easy targets.”
This is the context in which we should view the appearance by Prince Harry on the podcast Armchair Expert. Harry started having counselling on the advice of Meghan, who could apparently see his pain. “She could tell that I was hurting,” he said.
Over the course of 60 minutes, Harry reinterpreted his “journey”, implicating his parents for his suffering and much else besides. He talked of “genetic pain”, of “cycles of suffering”, of “unresolved anger” and said: “Once I started doing therapy it was like the bubble was burst.”
Now, I would normally feel uneasy writing about someone’s private life, but in this case, I feel little compunction. This is partly because Harry has forged a career from monetising the intimate details of his life, but even more so because his interview sits at the nub of a wider story.
This is a bit of a Magic Eye picture passage, you have to squint to see what’s going on behind the patina of pseudo-politeness. It’s all in the slight tilt of the phrasing choices — “… Meghan, who could apparently see his pain.” “Harry has forged a career from monetising the intimate details of his life…”
There’s a sneer wrapped around that “apparently” as if a man who was born into one of the world’s premier dysfunctional families, saw his parents’ divorce played out in tabloid front pages and duelling TV interviews, and had to walk alongside his mother’s coffin in the fierce glare of the international media aged 12 is somehow putting on the pain. As if one palace = one less pain.
It’s also rich — so rich it could be found perched atop an expensive dessert trolley — for Syed to mutter about Harry “monetising the intimate details of his life” in the pages of a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch. The British press has been making money on Prince Harry from the day he was born. Silence would not buy him an escape from that.
Syed goes on to attack the podcast interview, knowing that many of his readers will not have listened to it and that he can do so without including quotes from it:
… listen to Harry’s interview, in which he talks — apparently without irony — of not wishing to “blame” his parents while impugning them; of the trauma of being on public view while promoting his television series; of the awfulness of royal life while exploiting that connection. Only someone in West Coast therapy could display this level of narcissism.
As I wrote in a previous edition of this newsletter, Prince Harry has not blown the lid on some big secret. His own father spoke to his official biographer about the pain of his childhood and his disappointment with his own parents — Brenda and Phil, remember? But the game here is to kid on that Harry broke a taboo rather than simply talking about something that everybody already knew:
If the Royal Family were simply an ‘ordinary’ family, social services would have been involved a very long time ago based on the behaviour of Uncle Andy alone.
The notion that Harry is “exploiting” his royal connection is an obsession for the British newspapers, but it only seems to matter when it’s a member of the family who they are attacking. Fergie — currently in the good books — ‘exploits’ her connections to sell books and a vast range of other products. Assorted minor royals do the same thing.
Does Syed believe that if Harry dropped his titles and ensured no one ever called him Prince again that the connections would evaporate? There is no possible circumstance in which simply trying to be ‘normal’ would result in him becoming Harry, the person formerly known as Prince. The newspapers themselves would never allow it. The long lenses would still track his movements. The columnist nannies would still compare him to William.
Syed, while rolling his eyes at therapy and personal revelations, is just doing the broadsheet version of tabloid gossipmongering. He may wrap his ‘insights’ up in quotes from psychologists and have access to a more extensive thesaurus than his compatriots on The Sun, but it boils down to the same story:
How dare this boy slag off our dear ol’ Queen?
Only if you listen to the podcast, Harry doesn’t attack the Queen and there is no bitterness in his words. All of the ‘impugning’ is spin applied to selective quotes by newspaper hacks and then commented on by other hacks like Syed.
He continues the column, (un)scrupulously avoiding direct quotes from the podcast, saying:
Harry isn’t talking to his father, has fallen out with his brother and has publicly criticised his 95-year-old grandmother, still grieving for her husband. This isn’t enlightenment; it’s madness.
Another revealing part of the podcast was when Harry talked of how he and Meghan are going to break the cycle with their own children. This is another classic aspect of modern counselling: “enlightened” mums and dads convinced that their own kids are going to grow up “whole” and eternally grateful. The tragedy, of course, is that Harry and Meghan will probably find themselves on the receiving end of the same payback, their kids blaming them in turn — for isn’t this the more conspicuous “cycle” in western culture?
… Harry may have inadvertently performed a public service in exposing the risks of commercialised treatment. For the narratives that expensive practitioners tell patients to help them feel good about themselves are often the most divorced from reality. This, at least, might offer a crumb of comfort to Prince Charles and the Queen, reportedly smarting from the latest assault by someone they will never stop loving.
To say that Harry has “publicly criticised his 95-year-old grandmother” is a straightforward lie. But Syed — like many columnists — has put himself in the position of moral expert and acts as though he has some greater insight into goings-on in the monarchy than the rest of us. He doesn’t.
What he has is a newspaper column to fill and a topic that provides endless opportunity for finger-wagging and ‘I told you so’ performance.
And on the topic of finger-wagging and bad nanny vibes, we come to Sarah Vine in The Mail on Sunday, with her second column of the week on Prince Harry — No, it's not all Meghan's fault – we're seeing the real Harry.
Here’s how Vine opens the piece:
When all this Prince Harry madness first began, there was little doubt in some people's minds who was to blame – Meghan Markle, with her fancy American ways, well-turned ankles and fashionable Californian psychobabble.
They were convinced that she had in some way brought about a fundamental change in the Prince's character, substituting 'our' Harry – the happy-go-lucky party Prince – for an earnest, preachy eco-bore.
Where once he seemed so relaxed that he was practically horizontal, all of a sudden he became tight-lipped and tense.
You can easily imagine how Vine would write this if The Daily Mail line was one in support of Harry. His previous “happy-go-lucky party Prince” image would be seen not as a positive — which it never was when tabloids reported on it at the time — and instead as a failing which he had transcended.
There would not be snide references to Meghan Markle’s ankles or her manner of speaking. Instead, like Kate, she would be framed as a stabilising influence, the person who turned Harry from an impetuous kid into a sober and serious adult.
The truth, of course, is that he’s a grown man with agency and in him being more serious about the world after serving in Afghanistan, getting married, and having a child is understandable — it’s called growing up. It’s not the result of magic on Meghan’s part, though obviously being in a grown-up relationship influences the way you approach things.
Just as Syed and many other columnists have done, Vine puts on the concerned aunt act, pretending she has special insights into the mind of a man she doesn’t know and who probably wouldn’t wish to spend time in her company. She writes:
It now transpires that for a long time [Harry] has hated being a Royal. He has intimated as much on many occasions, in particular when he was a serving member of the Armed Forces.
But last week he finally came out and said it, comparing being a Royal to 'a mix between The Truman Show and living in a zoo', and telling the American podcast host Dax Shepard: 'I was in my early 20s and I was thinking, 'I don't want this job, I don't want to be here. I don't want to be doing this.'
Not only that, it seems he has always harboured deep resentment for his father and that whole 'Firm' side of the family for the unfair way he felt his mother was treated.
That final paragraph once again plays the trick of ignoring the context and pretending that his own father, Prince Charles, didn’t do exactly the same thing — just when he was 10 years older than Harry is now.
We also get another example of the disingenuous paraphrase — asserting that the podcast interview includes statements that simply don’t exist:
Again, we've seen glimpses of that before, but last week he finally spelled it out in detail, accusing not only Prince Charles but even his poor grieving grandma herself, of being emotionally inadequate.
Then, of course, we get the comparison to the saintly William whose profile in the British press is rather different to stories in international outlets which suggest he enjoys [redacted] with [redacted]:
As for [Harry’s] brother, it's surely no coincidence that as William has gradually settled into his role as a working Royal, clearly relishing every moment of it, the relationship between the siblings has soured.
This being a Mail title and, more specifically, a Sarah Vine column there have to be more dog whistles than a bad day in Battersea:
The more you think about it, the clearer it seems – however much Meghan may have seen Harry as a way in, he saw her as a way out, an opportunity to escape from a role that he clearly considered toxic ('Look what it did to my mum') and torturous ('It's the job right? Grin and bear it.').
Vine — one half of a political marriage whose conniving on behalf of her husband came out when she clumsily emailed the wrong person — depicts Harry and Meghan’s marriage as one of studied convenience — increased celebrity for her and an escape route for him. It’s a tabloid narrative that’s not borne out by the facts or what you can see and hear in their appearances.
The next paragraph is pure tabloid conspiracism:
Whether consciously or unconsciously, he married someone who he knew would never take to public life in Britain – indeed who was deeply unsuited to it – and who, ultimately, would provide him with the perfect excuse to leave.
Like the worst kind of relatives — one of those pretend aunts and uncles who were friends with your parents before you were born — Vine insists on telling Harry what he really means:
Harry has always claimed he stepped down as a working Royal and moved to America to protect his own family. That he had no choice, that it was the only sane option. But if you ask me it's got nothing to do with that.
He did it to pursue his dream. His own dream of freedom – which is fast becoming the Royal Family's ultimate nightmare.
Imagine that! A 36-year-old man trying to build a life of his own choosing for him and his family. It’s almost as if the whole royal thing is the weird bit…