RICHARD KAY: For the Queen’s sake, when WILL Harry start to think before he acts? : International de
Were these the first cracks in the highly polished exterior, an unmistakably emotional outburst ripping up the carefully choreographed royal script and, for the first time, appearing to directly question the agreement struck with his grandmother the Queen?
Privately, friends insisted he was doing no more than clarifying his position when he forthrightly spoke out about his future at a dinner in a fashionable restaurant.
But others around Prince Harry fear it was a sign of something more fragile, something that has echoes of his late mother Princess Diana.
With the ink barely dry on the deal that allows him to escape the straitjacket of being a working royal, Harry’s sudden decision to use a private event to pass a very public judgement on it was not just discourteous to the Royal Family, but also dramatically undermined the harmonious accord it had been presented as hours earlier.
No wonder there was consternation at the Palace yesterday.
Above all Harry’s speech demonstrated how raw and how unpredictable the drama over his and Meghan’s split from the royals really is.
Harry’s intervention has been likened to that of a merger between two companies when, after it has been successfully concluded, the chief executive of one of the firms suddenly announces ‘this isn’t what I wanted’, blindsiding directors, shareholders and workers.
His remarks – included in a speech he delivered on Sunday evening at a glossy event at Chelsea’s Ivy Garden in aid of the charity Sentebale, which he founded to honour his mother’s legacy supporting those affected by Aids and HIV in the African kingdom of Lesotho – addressed the crisis over his future head on.
Coming just 24 hours after he had apparently signed off on the agreement struck between him, the Queen and his father Prince Charles, Harry’s anguish couldn’t be clearer: he was telling the world that this was not what he wanted.
He had, he said, hoped to continue to serve the Queen and Commonwealth and, crucially, retain his military associations.
‘Unfortunately that wasn’t possible,’ he declared.
For all his optimism about leaps into the future, it was a speech tinged with regret. ‘It brings me great sadness that it has come to this,’ he said at one point.
Something, surely, with which the Queen would heartily agree.
Her Majesty may be less pleased, however, that her grandson decided to speak out at all. In her own measured and generous statement the previous evening, the Queen deliberately spoke warmly of Meghan, describing her pride at how quickly the 38-year old duchess has become ‘one of the family’.
And in promising that Harry, Meghan and their son Archie would always be ‘much-loved’ members of the Royal Family, she was mapping out a future in which they would not be exiled. These words were intended to be conciliatory, a peace-making gesture.
Did Harry wilfully misinterpret this kindness or was he simply hell-bent on showing that his exclusion from those aspects of his royal life which mean the most to him was not his doing?
As someone who has followed the fortunes of Prince Harry for this newspaper since his first day at nursery school, I would like to think that it is the latter.
Less charitable voices within the Queen’s household are not so sure. One figure suggested that at the very least Harry had demonstrated an act of incivility to both his father and his grandmother.
This was hardly the first time Harry has so brusquely intervened as the crisis unfolded in ways not to his liking.
It is almost two weeks ago that he sensationally announced that he and Meghan were quitting their frontline royal roles – without forewarning the Queen, Prince Charles or Prince William. Indeed, the first the Queen learned of it was from an evening television news bulletin.
The reaction of the Queen – and Charles – since has been informed by their desire to avoid repeating the mistakes that occurred with Harry’s mother over her split from the Prince of Wales.
Almost exactly 24 years ago the long-term discussions about Diana’s future also erupted into the public consciousness with the princess accusing the Palace of playing ‘ping-pong’ with her.
It concerned her status as a divorced woman outside the Royal Family and also pivoted on a title, in her case the style Her Royal Highness. Like Harry, she viewed the handling of her issue quite differently from the Palace.
Royal officials claimed she had offered to surrender the HRH title without duress. Diana angrily disagreed insisting it had been a ‘pre-condition to any divorce negotiation’.
The Palace hit back with a chastening statement oozing with disdain, which spelt out that it did not ‘say something specific on a point like this unless we are absolutely sure of our facts’.
Shattered by the ferocity of the negotiations, Diana did not fight the title issue and in the end it helped secure her £17.5million divorce settlement, a sum that Charles’s then financial adviser said had ‘taken him to the cleaners’, forcing him to sell his entire investment portfolio. But Diana bitterly regretted losing the HRH style and pointedly quit as patron of 100 charities as a result.
She felt passionately that organisations like Help the Aged and British Red Cross Youth deserved a royal patron and that the loss in her standing as result of her title being forfeited would be to diminish them.
Her only consolation was the promise from the then 14-year old Prince William that he would restore it when he became King.
There are other parallels with the Sussex crisis, too. Diana was constantly linked with commercial deals, from a fragrance named after her by a French perfume house to being the face of a high street fashion brand.
They offered her mega-bucks but she turned them all down – just as she did Kevin Costner who wanted her to star with him in a remake of The Bodyguard. She could have made millions but didn’t.
Significantly, she also resisted the constant blandishments of money-rich US TV networks. In her case she was pursued by the veteran Barbara Walters.
Did all this turbulence in his mother’s life resonate with Prince Harry at the Ivy on Sunday evening?
Certainly, he made no fewer than four references to his mother during his brief speech, including one poignant reference to her death. ‘When I lost my mum 23 years ago, you took me under your wing,’ he said.
And to be fair there was humility in his words too as he spoke of his ‘utmost respect for my grandmother, my commander in chief’.
He also acknowledged how grateful he was to the Queen and ‘the rest of my family’ for the support they have shown Meghan.
But that gratitude is somewhat tested by remarks made as he attempted to put his side of the story.
‘What I want to make clear is we’re not walking away,’ he said. ‘Our hope was to continue serving the Queen, the Commonwealth and my military associations, but without public funding. Unfortunately that wasn’t possible.’
As an ex-soldier, with distinguished service in Afghanistan, quite apart from his work with veterans and the Invictus Games he founded for wounded, injured and disabled veterans, losing those Army links clearly hurts.
Elsewhere in the speech, if it wasn’t his mother’s influence it was his wife’s, who he was proud to say ‘upholds the same values as I do’.
He insisted the decision to ‘step back’ was not one he had made lightly. And using an Americanism he added: ‘I know I haven’t always gotten it right, but as far as this goes, there really was no other option.’
Really? Some might say that after less than two years as a working royal couple, Harry and Meghan had barely got started.
After all he stresses his commitment to duty and service. You can almost hear the anguish in his voice when he says at one point: ‘We were here to serve.’
So why aren’t they? And what went wrong in his mind that stopped them doing just that?
When royal couples in the past have struggled matrimonially or with the burden of their role, the Queen has always been a sympathetic ear.
But she also has the ‘five-year test’. Don’t do anything hasty, let’s see how things work out over five years, is her measured response. In recent years both the Duchess of Cambridge and the Countess of Wessex have been challenged by searching public criticism and they have emerged as two of the most reliable and popular members of the Royal Family.
And what about Camilla, Harry’s stepmother? No royal figure has taken more knocks in public life but she has been quietly transformed as Duchess of Cornwall performing a vital role as Prince Charles’s consort.
Even Charles and Diana delayed their separation at her request to try to make the marriage work.
The more one looks at the whole sorry situation it does seem the Sussexes decision to walk away is one made in haste. But then everything about them has happened at speed.
From that first meeting – a blind date in a London restaurant – to Harry almost immediately whisking Meghan away to camp out in the Botswana bush to her settling in to cosy Nottingham Cottage, his London home at Kensington Palace, everything has been at pace. Everything conducted like a holiday romance – him in Canada, both going to Africa, she visiting England – but with drama at every turn. And in the flash of an eye they were engaged, married and undertaking big overseas tours.
Was it any wonder that after that breathless trip to Africa – its brilliance overshadowed by the spectacularly misjudged decision to complain about their life in the spotlight in a television interview – they needed a break.
Seven weeks of introspection later they appeared to make their announcement without any real thought about its impact and now find themselves fire-fighting public anger and disappointment at their treatment of the 93-year-old Queen.
Perhaps this was really why Harry spoke as he did.
The Harry I know will be desperately torn over the repercussions of his decision to walk away. One thing he could do which would assuage public criticism concerns his promise to repay the £2.4million of taxpayers’ money spent on Frogmore Cottage.
Rather than have it transferred into an anonymous fund where it will be used to the repair costs of royal properties, a friend of the prince has suggested he earmark it for a specific project such as a school or a hospice.
Diana would certainly have approved. When she learned of the money being used to build the Millennium Dome in 1997, she pleaded with ministers to spend the estimated £750million on a new regional hospital instead. Her wishes, alas, were ignored.