This Side of the Pond

Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman


January 19, 2023

Oh Harry, whatever are we all to do with you? And I do mean “we”, because the wayward second son of King Charles III is as much your problem these days as he is ours.

If you’ve somehow managed to miss the latest installment of several years’ worth of family drama, Prince Harry (he’s still a prince, right? Even I can’t keep up) has vomited a lifetime of resentment towards his family and the paparazzi into the pages of his newly released memoir.

It will come as little surprise to you that I consider myself a royalist. Not because I believe that my homeland should be governed by a hereditary monarchy, but because I appreciate the pomp, the circumstance and the Royal Family as symbols of Britain’s heritage, culture and extremely long history.

I believe the royals can and do bring good to this world, highlighting people and issues that would not see much light of day without them. Their patronage has boosted the fortunes of literally hundreds of charities over the years.

Meanwhile, one of the first stops on any London tourist’s itinerary is usually Buckingham Palace, whether it’s for the chance to peek at the monarch or to see if you can get a smile out of the King’s Guard in their fuzzy hats.

The royals are part of British life, as instantly familiar as they are unknowable. The problem with Harry’s memoir is not that it reveals how little rosiness there was in his garden; rather, it’s the complete destruction of that all-important mystique.

Few of us have ever really questioned the Palace’s policy of never responding to tabloid stories or revealing too much about their private lives. I believe this is because we don’t want to know these things about them.

I don’t need to think about the fact that members of the Royal Family need to sleep, or have bodily functions, or sometimes bicker with their siblings. The role they perform in public is to be above and apart from all these basic human needs, and they can only maintain this illusion if they don’t talk about the normal things that go on behind closed doors.

A sprinkling here and there doesn’t do harm. I didn’t mind finding out that the King does handstands as part of his physio-recommended exercise routine, or that Prince Philip enjoyed being in charge of the barbecue, or that Harry himself loves the show “Friends”.

But I feel no desire to hear about the family dynamics of a group of people whose function in my life and my culture is to be aloof. When Prince William and Princess Kate visited the Royal Liverpool University Hospital last week to bring attention to the hard work of National Health Service staff in the critical care ward, I wanted to watch those people’s excited faces as they were honored by the attention.

I didn’t want to be wondering whether William had held out an olive branch to his brother yet, or why Kate isn’t keen on other people using her lip gloss. Considering that Harry is adamant he has a right to some privacy, you’d have thought he’d extend this same courtesy to everyone else living inside his gilded cage.

Fed up of the tabloids controlling the narrative, Harry wanted the world to hear his side of the story. I get it, but he’s been telling it now for three years. There’ve been interviews, Netflix documentaries and now we come to the finale: a tell-all book.

When Harry decided to relocate his family to California, I felt sympathetic towards him. I wrote the following in this column just after the news was announced:

“When you’ve grown up with the royals as a fact of life, it’s easy to forget they are human beings and deserve happiness and autonomy as much as anyone else. It’s easy to forget that a life of duty without freedom is not as charmed as it seems from the outside.

“So, with all this in mind, am I angry Harry and Meghan have decided to leave us? No, not really, not any more. I’m just sad they feel the need to go.”

I felt less sympathetic when the couple began throwing out vague accusations towards the rest of the family. Even less compassionate when Harry began airing dirty laundry in every direction.

For a couple that claimed they left the UK because they were tired of all the public scrutiny, they seem very keen to court as much of our attention as possible. This makes it difficult to believe that peace, quiet and privacy is their real goal.

Whether he admits it to himself or not, I think Harry is seeking our validation. This is something he will never get, because it would require 100% of the public to agree on something.

I still don’t blame Harry for being unhappy – being a royal is not for everyone. However, Harry seems to believe that being born into the family meant he lacked the freedom most of us enjoy to choose the lives we want to lead.

He doesn’t seem to realize that, for most of us, this mainly means the freedom to figure out how to pay our bills, or that every single one of us is a product of – and constrained by – the circumstances of our birth. I was never going to be a French revolutionary, for instance, because I was born in the wrong place at the wrong time with quite the wrong skillsets.

Bearing in mind the unresolved trauma of his mother’s death, I can understand the seething resentment that seems to permeate everything Harry now does, and I can respect the desire to set the record straight. On the other hand, enough is enough.

During the fuss surrounding the book’s launch, we heard from a veteran of the Royal Marines who won the prince’s respect for his positive outlook after losing an arm and a leg in Afghanistan.

“Love you, Harry, but you need to shut up,” said Ben McLean, wondering why nobody around the prince seems to have said this to him.

I’m inclined to agree. I still maintain the affection I’ve held for Prince Harry since the day he was born, and likely always will, but I think it’s time to move on.

Will I be reading the book myself? Perhaps, though I won’t be going out of my way to seek it out – and even if it was placed directly into my hands, I’d have to think about it.

At the end of the day, there are some things in life that I simply don’t need to know. Though Harry has clearly consented to have the minutiae of his life made public – it’s his memoir, after all – the same is not true of anyone else who features in the book.

And considering it’s a memoir all about people invading his privacy, the irony is just that little bit too rich for my tastes.


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