The Half-Madness of Prince Harry

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From The Wall Street Journal:

Prince Harry’s book is odd. There’s even something half-mad about it.

He opens with a dramatic meeting at Frogmore, his former mansion on the grounds of Windsor. It is just after the death of Prince Philip, Harry’s paternal grandfather. For months Harry has been estranged from his father, Charles, and his brother, William—a “full-scale public rupture.” Harry has flown in from America and requested a meeting. The day is overcast, chilly. Charles and William arrive late looking “grim, almost menacing,” and “tightly aligned.” “They’d come ready for a fight.” Harry is tongue-tied, vulnerable, leaves heartbroken. “I wanted peace. I wanted it more than anything.”

You feel such sympathy. What could have driven them so far apart? Why are Charles and William so cold? Then you realize, wait—Philip died just a month after the Oprah interview in which Harry rather coolly portrayed his family as remote and hapless puppets and implied they were racist.

Harry forgets, in the opening, to tell us that part. But you can see how it might have left Charles and William a little indignant.

This is the book’s great flaw, that Harry doesn’t always play it straight, that he thinks “my truth” is as good as the truth. There are other flaws, and they grate. There’s a heightened-ness to his language—he never leaves a place; he flees it “in fear for our sanity and physical safety.” He often finds his wife “sobbing uncontrollably” on the floor and the stairs, mostly over what he fails to realize are trivial things. He is grandiose: “My mother was a princess, named after a goddess.” “How would I be remembered by history? For the headlines? Or for who I actually was?” Lord, he was an attractive man fifth in line for a largely ceremonial European throne; it would hardly remember him at all. (Unless he wrote a scalding book and destabilized the monarchy!) He repeatedly points out that he’s a Windsor and of royal blood. His title means a lot to him. He is exhibitionistic: “My penis was oscillating between extremely sensitive and borderline traumatized.” (Frostbite.)

There are gaps in his knowledge-base that wouldn’t be irritating if he weren’t intent on establishing that he’s giving you the high-class rarefied inside dope. “Never complain, never explain” has been an expression of the old American upper class since forever, and I’m sure the British one too. It isn’t special to the Windsors. “An heir and a spare” is old Fleet Street tabloidese. It doesn’t mean, as he suggested on book tour, he was bred for body parts.

Famous families often have internal communication problems. The children of those families learn much of what they know from the many books written about the clan. They internalize and repeat observations and stories that aren’t quite right but are now given their insider imprimatur.

Harry’s anecdotes tend to undermine the institution of the monarchy. When he was a teenager Britain’s biggest tabloid told the palace it had evidence he was doing drugs. In fact, as Harry tells us candidly, he did do drugs when he was young. The palace, no doubt knowing this, opted to “play ball” with the newspaper and not deny all aspects of the story. This made Harry feel thrown under the bus.

His father, he believes, used him as a “sacrifice,” to appease a powerful editor and bolster his own sagging reputation. “No more the unfaithful husband, Pa would now be presented to the world as the harried single dad coping with a drug-addled child.” He reports Charles and his wife, Camilla, were jealous of William and Kate’s “drawing attention away from them.” His stories of jealousy sound like projection. But they also make the book feel less like “Clown Turns on Circus” than something more deadly, especially just before Charles’s coronation this May.

Harry accuses the tabloids of violating his privacy, and no doubt they often did. What is almost unbelievable is that he is so unmoored and destabilized by this inevitable aspect of fame, especially royal fame. He implies he left Britain primarily because of the newspapers and their criticism of his wife.

But the odd, half-mad thing about this book is that in it he violates his own privacy, and that of others, more than Fleet Street ever could.

He is careful throughout to say he is telling his story in order to help others, those who’ve struggled with mental illness or been traumatized by war. It is hard to know another person’s motives; it can be hard to know your own. But I don’t think this book is about others. I think it’s about his own very human desire for revenge, to hurt those who’ve hurt him. And to become secure in a certain amount of wealth. And to show his family and Fleet Street that their favorite ginger-haired flake could make his own way, set up his own palace, break free, fly his own standard, become the duke of Netflix. This book is classic Fredo: “I can handle things. I’m smart. Not like everybody says, like dumb, I’m smart and I want respect!”

It is all so contradictory. He says he wants reconciliation but writes things that alienate, he says he reveres the monarchy and isn’t trying to bring it down but he has gone beyond removing bricks from the facade and seems to be going at the bearing walls.

I close with a thought on privacy. Prince Harry violates his own. He tells us too much about himself and others.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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The author of the OP is Peggy Noonan, long-time WSJ columnist, Pulitzer prize winner, author of nine books on American politics, history and culture. Noonan was a special assistant and speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan. She has also been a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, and has taught in the history department at Yale University. Prior to entering the Reagan White House, Noonan was a producer and writer at CBS News in New York and an adjunct of Journalism at New York University.

PG has enjoyed Ms. Noonan’s commentary for a long time.