Flying the burning nest
As Prince Harry's memoir details life in the gilded cage, can the family image of monarchy past show itself to be anything but the abusive image it’s always been?
“It’s the end of the world as we know it” once sung Michael Stipe. Yes, I’m starting there, why not? What with current headlines of ambulance strikes, nursing strikes and the rise of misogynist influencers, you’d be remiss for not giving 2023 a distrusting glare ahead.
If chaos continues to be the new world order after recent turbulent years, then why fight it? So, rather than be duped into false hope again, I am instead choosing to beat the system, or ‘the matrix’, as every card carrying woman-hater is now calling it. Should the inevitable path to freedom lead to chaos, then chaos I choose to embrace. Yes, we’re still only in January but consider my very own ‘chaos mindset’ (patent pending) a belated new year mental health tip for you.
So, give two-fingers up to the January diet, if you haven’t already, and a position yourself for a purposeful dive head-first into the nearest Quality Street tin of unwanted leftovers. Embrace the chaos, embrace the unwanted and embrace the fact you’d said that you’d rather die than enjoy a toffee penny. It’s time to eat your words (and the penny).
We must pause the coping methods for our own societal woes however, to break and give reflection to another crumbling society, far distant to that of our own. Deep in central London a fire is raging at the big house down The Mall that is singlehandedly engulfing a long and storied aristocratic family. It has little to no impact on our lives, but we must watch. We can’t help to watch. In fact, at this point, one could argue we’re being forced to watch. There is simply no escape.
From fending off the relentless stream of tabloid stories targeting his wife Meghan Markle over the past six years, to brokering the Sandringham Agreement that paved way for the couples’ departure from the UK. Prince Harry’s personal journey from the shackles of the monarchy and freedom from the press often feels, at times, like it should be narrated by Morgan Freeman. Less a Shawshank prison break, crawling through 500 yards of a sewage pipe to freedom, and more countless discussions in opulent estates, hunting trips, Oprah interviews and across a Netflix series filmed within a sprawling L.A. home.
Prince Harry’s new memoir, Spare, is the latest in his newly struck partnerships designed to put a stamp on his voice post leaving his life as a serving member of the Royal Family. Part of a four-book deal, Spare, has exceeded all expectations to become the fastest selling non-fiction book of all time. Detailing Harry’s scorching account of life inside the gilded cage, Spare delivers a gripping read that takes you from the boy prince’s traumatic moments of not being able to cry over the death of his mother (or being allowed to by the family), to a fistfights with his brother as an adult, the Afghan War killing Taliban fighters and extensive details about his frostbitten ‘todger’. The latter sure to leave the reader not wanting for more.
However for those who do want more, Harry claims he had enough material for "two books", and did not include some things in his memoir because his father and brother would never forgive him. Some will find that statement shocking given what has been shared in this book. It’s a sentiment Harry speaking in the Telegraph this weekend recognises, “ …you could argue that some of the stuff I’ve put in there, well, they will never forgive me anyway”, and he shares that, “the way I see it is, I’m willing to forgive you [the family] for everything you’ve done”. Redemption, it seems, is never far from Harry’s mind.
Can there be a way back? Is the story over? Will it ever be? For as many watching on who are crying out “No more!” there are a jillion readers who, either love or hate it, are reading news stories about it all in their droves. With Spare selling 1,430,000 copies on its first day on sale in the US, Canada and the UK combined, the appetite is there.
Revelatory allegations in Spare that Harry’s father, now King Charles, allowed his staff to brief the press against his children are as damaging as it gets for the monarchy in this book. When William confronted their father, he didn't deny it, Harry writes. "Granny has her person, why can't I have mine?" Charles responded, referencing a member of the queen's team "said to be skilled at planting stories." Charles’ alleged abusive actions against his children are laid bare and the response to his children is, if anything, startlingly remorseless, even petulant.
Charles is alleged in the book to have been jealous of the limelight Meghan was taking from him. Harry writes further still about an all too familiar belief that his father “has experienced that before and had no interest in letting it happen to him again.”
This is arguably where the book hits its stride the most, by revealing the systemic and coercive abuse routinely being carried out within the monarchy. Many have suspected communication teams briefed the press but few considered those briefings would be against one another, against senior royals and family members. We have simply never had a serious whistleblower, until now.
Family and press collusion against Meghan, depicting her as rude, trouble and behaving like a primadonna, show that this memoir is not solely about Harry’s fight to protect his own wife and children from the press, nor is it to have his own word and account published. It is instead a sad tale of family jealously and the insidious acts of psychological abuse that they sink to and carry out against one another. The constant push to better their own personal public images at the cost of their own relationships towards each other. It is here that this book becomes as powerful a case made against the monarchy as one ever recorded.
The Royal Family’s survival is wholly dependent on public opinion to which the press and media wield huge amounts of power over in how favourably, or unfavourably, they decide to portray the family. The other person in that abusive relationship is, unequivocally, the press and the reader. Many times the baying tabloid media threaten to derail the show with negative stories against key figures of the monarchy should they not receive the historically agreed access to the family they crave. The system of the Royal Rota, established more than 40 years ago, exemplifies this relationship. Devised as a way of giving UK print and broadcast media exclusive inside access to the official engagements of members of the Royal Family, Harry writes in Spare that “it stank to high heaven. It discouraged fair competition, engendered cronyism, encouraged a small mob of hacks to feel entitled.”
Breaking this agreement often requires red meat to be thrown to quell the tabloids hunger and fend them off, whether in the form of sit-down interviews or family poses in front of press banks on holidays. Leaks from ‘palace sources’, that Harry now confirms to have long been the voice of private secretaries and their communications teams briefing against each other, are routinely used to generate stories.
Spare is as much, and more poignantly, Harry’s warning to future generations who are born and raised within the Royal Family, an institution that undoubtedly and actively coerces their children into the gilded cage of public life and personal privilege. These children will be told, like Harry, to accept the pound of flesh the media ask of them throughout the entirety of lives and to take their beatings in the tabloids as every other family member has before them. Almost as if it were a school playground to learn from. Except it’s not. Every beating, every story, whether fabricated or true, will remain online in perpetuity. A living tomb of an account of their every step and misstep, from child, to teenager, to adult, all for a duty they were coerced into performing.
The impact of press abuse is experienced by many individuals, both public and private, and goes widely under-reported, mainly due to mainstream news outlets having an active hand in that abuse. News media are staunchly against regulation. Such is the coercion of the press pack, together they ensure the status quo remains, more often than not in established systems with the Royal Rota. Ipso, the independent press standards organisation, was set up in the wake of the Leveson Enquiry to regulate newspapers and magazines set against the Editors' Code of Practice, enforceable by Editors’ Code Committee, a glorified board of ex-tabloid editors. Ipso is charged with handling issues such as accuracy, invasion of privacy, intrusion into grief or shock and harassment. Arguably however, they are a toothless regulator, in that they rarely update the Editor’s Code or enforce it. The problematic nature of the regulator is only laid bare further when acknowledging the board of ex-tabloid editors have all had a hand to play in the tabloid relationships with the Royal Family.
Amidst the fallout of Jeremy Clarkson’s violent misogynistic column against Meghan published in The Sun last month that received more than 20,000 complaints, Ipso’s chairman was scheduled to have a private dinner at Rupert Murdoch’s Mayfair flat. The regulator said last week ‘Ipso continues to assess complaints’, almost a month on from the offending column one can only wonder what, if anything, will come to pass from their review. If regulation is to be found, it is arguably not to be had with our current press regulator.
Comparisons of the Royal Family’s current dramatic turns have been made with other celebrity reality show families, like The Kardashians. Such is the surrealism that this is a real life living family we’re watching, the modern day freak show is still very much in affect and reels many of us in to watch from around the world, unquestionably helping keep the show on the air.
Harry laments as much in Spare that at times his life is as “unending Truman Show” and that “I’d been forced into this surreal state”. There will be many who scoff and have little sympathy for a man born into privilege and power finding sorrow within his cage of having “never carried money, never owned a car, never carried a house key, never once ordered anything online”. A cacophony of tiny violin’s will most certainly be playing somewhere to these words when contrast to the sorry state of current times we’re living in. Amidst unending war in Ukraine, a crippling cost of living crisis and national strikes from those struggling to feed their families and using food banks, who can blame those violins from playing?
Against these times, some will struggle sympathise, however, there is arguably no perfect time to speak out against a continually abusive press who are the only ones allowed a voice and who use it to carry out active psychological harm against his wife even after their exit two-years ago. When reading Harry’s harrowing account of listening to Meghan openly express suicidal thoughts to him due to the constant impact of racist and misogynistic press reporting, it is hard to see where else Harry’s journey could have taken him to other than to speak out to the full affect of his voice. What’s more, he’s seen the power gained from using his voice to speak out having witnessed his mother, Diana, use hers in her BBC Panorama interview.
Diana is never far from Harry’s deep underlying thoughts in the Spare, especially when it comes to what the press have the potential to do. His unending fear to protect his family from a repeat of Diana’s death, whom he puts the blame squarely on the press, is suffocating throughout.
Charles offers little by way of any real meaningful sentiment to help Harry, his most oft-quoted refrain in the Spare to Harry about the press is “Don't read it, darling boy”. The repeated silencing and denial of press collusion from both Charles and William towards Harry, as detailed at it’s worst during the Sandringham Agreement, displays the clear and coordinated gaslighting Harry experienced. Rebuffed and told the targeted press abuse against his wife all part of the game can only been seen as controlling and silencing, furthering the mental harm against his wife, Meghan.
The public did not sanction or green light the familial harms that have come to pass, stemmed from the decision made by Prince Philip to let the cameras into Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation all those years ago. However, that decision, and the press relationship it has evolved into has, according to Harry’s account, undoubtedly lead to fostering an abusive culture within the monarchy and a family at the heart of it. A family who are determined to tear themselves apart for public popularity. Though the monarchy’s existence plays little part in our daily lives, if only to act in a constitutional role and to publicly support their patronages, they are however, important public figures. As public figures representing the UK their role gives them stature at home and on the world stage to strengthen our diplomatic and economic relations. They hold a higher office than that of the people so long as the people allow them that privilege.
What to do with the monarchy will arguably be question that will rumble on through the years, however increasingly more than ever, it is the family themselves who are posing the question to the public about their own behaviour. Prince Andrew’s behaviour being one of them, that is acknowledged in the book by Harry as a "shameful scandal". Senior royals deciding to remove Harry and Meghan’s security protection when his uncle Andrew kept his, despite being accused of sexually assaulting a young girl, undeniably shows a family intent to punish Harry and protect a senior royal of serious criminal accusations. Arguably this fact alone should make uncomfortable reading. Further still, many will see Andrew’s payment of £12 million to his accuser, Virginia Giuffre, in an out-of-court financial settlement disturbing and at odd’s with the Camilla’s domestic abuse patronages.
Harry’s turn in Spare as whistleblower and escapee from the Royal Family may well be seen as a historical document in time that has greater importance than that of the sad tale of a broken family we see today. Many will ask why does a man who seeks privacy from the media now court it?
In Harry’s own words he shared this weekend, he says:
“We talk about his reasons for doing this. “This is not about trying to collapse the monarchy, this is about trying to save them from themselves. And I know that I will get crucified by numerous people for saying that.”
When asked is it worth it? Harry responds:
“I feel like this is my life’s mission, to right the wrongs of the very thing that drove us out. Because it took my mum, it took Caroline Flack, who was my girlfriend, and it nearly took my wife. And if that isn’t a good enough reason to use the pain and turn it into purpose, I don’t know what it is.”
Harry’s account in Spare and recent comments this weekend are set against the backdrop of a survivor taking back control of his own story, in his own words. A man who has been silenced for 38-years of his lived life and prevented from correcting the record, that is until now. Harry’s status and privilege should rightly hold scrutiny for how he shares his voice beyond his trauma. Recounting the abuse he has endured however, neither status or privilege have place. Amongst victims and survivors there should only ever be parity in our voices, no matter your class, sex, sexuality or profession in the world.
Harry shared yesterday that he is “someone who likes to fix things”. “If I see wrongdoing and a pattern of behaviour that is harming people, I will do everything I can to try and change it.” He worries about the other “spares” in the family and that the press will find new target for their abuse, “As I know full well, within my family, if it’s not us, it’s going to be someone else”. Harry’s concern is expressed to that of William’s children, saying “I still feel a responsibility knowing that out of those three children, at least one will end up like me, the spare. And that hurts. that worries me.”
Harry’s decision to publish Spare will most likely be poured over for years to come. The rights and the wrongs of his choice to share in detail private family discussions and the innermost goings-on within the family will similarly be detailed in further books and documentaries, by countless ‘experts’ and royal biographers. Harry and Meghan’s dash for freedom has undoubtedly created chaos in the monarchy, but much in the difficult societal times we are in today, embracing that chaos is key to finding freedom and peace within it.
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