Daniela Elser: Prince Harry’s attacks on the royal family put him on dangerous ground
I’ve got a working theory here: Somewhere in the Windsor DNA there is a faulty gene that severely restricts the carrier’s self-awareness.
How else to explain Prince Andrew who, the morning after his gobsmackingly horrifying BBC interview about his ties to convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein went to air, reportedly told his mother the Queen it had been “a great success”?
Or how else to make sense of Prince Harry’s round after round of royal flagellation over the past few months?
On Friday, the 36-year-old member of the royal family took part in a town hall style follow-up special to his recent Apple series, The Me You Can’t See. Only months ago, the notion of the sixth in line to the throne starring in a one and half-hour TV special would have made immediate, sensational news.
And instead? The presiding sentiment can be simply put down to this: Yawn.
Or to put it another way, the prince doth protest too much.
Ever since Harry and wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, opened up to Oprah in March, their denunciations of the royal family have started cropping up with a certain predictability that is now verging on the monotonous.
Most notably, there was his turn on Dax Shepherd’s Armchair Expert podcast when he proclaimed he wanted to “break the cycle” of the “pain and suffering” and that royal life was “a mix between The Truman Show and living in a zoo.”
Next up, he accused the royal family of “total neglect” and “bullying him into silence” via his Apple series, and that his father Prince Charles had made him “suffer” as a child.
If there was a turning point here, some sort of line in the sand before which all of this damage could be reeled back in or at least contained, we are long past it. Instead, in 2021, Prince Harry’s public identity is built on a narrative of persistent anguish, a man who has suffered the cruel slings and arrows of fate and managed to live to tell the tale to Oprah’s camera crew.
This is tricky territory.
What is not up for dispute for a second is that Harry has survived, barely it would seem, deep trauma, the child of warring parents who lost his mum at the young age of 12 and who was then forced to walk behind her coffin while tens of thousands of strangers keened metres away.
He then did not receive any counselling or psychological help, with he and brother William left to endure the pain in silence. Those scars Harry carried into adulthood when, by his own admission, he turned to alcohol and drugs to try and deal with these deep hurts.
His decision to frankly discuss his own painful experiences and his quest to destigmatise mental health is to his eternal credit.
However this is the point where we get to the ‘but’ …
But, there needs to be some sort of distinction drawn between him opening up about his suffering to genuinely help others and him seeming to vituperatively take aim at the royal family with regular, grim-faced abandon.
Why for the love of god Harry? Just who is this all helping aside from Oprah and Apple’s bottom line?
The ramifications of his scathing vocalism are twofold.
Firstly, there’s the family front.
It defies belief that a reconciliation between Harry and his father Prince Charles and brother William could legitimately be on the cards when the younger prince seems to have no compunction about criticising his supposed nearest and not apparently dearest.
Adding even more weight to my faulty Windsor gene theory, consider that Harry also had the harebrained audacity to argue that all of his recent indictments of the royal house will actually pave the way to some sort of family rapprochement.
“I like to think that we were able to speak truth in the most compassionate way possible, therefore leaving an opening for reconciliation and healing,” Harry said speaking during one episode of The Me You Can’t See.
The lack of logic and self-awareness here belies belief.
How could the Queen and Charles not see it was Harry and Meghan being “compassionate” when they accused the royal family of callously ignoring the duchess’ mental anguish and one unnamed member of the house of abject racism?
And, we all know, there is no better way to start the “healing” process than chucking your family under the bus while the world watches on, in goggle-eyed, open-mouthed stupefaction.
Underpinning all of this is the very same delusion that felled Diana, Princess of Wales’ royal career.
What tragically unites Harry with his mother is that they both seem to have felt/feel a burning need to tell the world about their misery while simultaneously labouring under the absolute misconception that the airing said grievances would improve their situations for the better.
What neither the prince or the princess seems to have grasped is that airing their grievances and gripes to such an acute degree was only ever going to make the situation with the royal family much, much worse.
It seems impossible to see how Harry’s regular media eruptions could have had any impact on his already frayed relationship with his family other than to make the situation much, much worse.
And then secondly, we need to talk about the consequences of this anti-palace crusade in terms of his post-royal brand. (I’ve never met a hyphen I didn’t like.)
Public sympathy, Harry may well find, is a finite resource, a fact made even more acute by the events of the past 15-month. No matter what he has gone through, public willingness to watch him excoriate his own family in a public forum seems to be dwindling, at least in some quarters.
All of which leaves him on increasingly dicey ground.
If this fatigue of sorts, this declining interest to breathlessly tune in to what Harry has to say continues it could present a serious issue for the Sussexes’ future commercial endeavours. Netflix and Spotify are not just ponying up vast sums of cash for the couple’s compassionate storytelling nous but for the fact that they will, supposedly, generate huge amounts of publicity and potentially subscribers.
What happens if a certain audience apathy kicks in? Ennui anyone?
Oscar Wilde famously mused, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
Harry might be about to learn, all too painfully, just how apt the saying is, especially when contract renegotiation time comes around.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
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