In an interview with American magazine Newsweek, Prince Harry has said some pretty startling things.
He admitted that no one in the royal family wants to be king or queen. He acknowledged he was part of the process of modernising the British monarchy and repeatedly mentioned that he had often wished not to be in the position he is. He also remarked on having to walk behind his mother’s coffin, saying, “No child should be asked to do that under any circumstance. I don’t think it would happen today.”
His candid words are becoming more frequent. Last year, Prince Harry released a rare official royal statement, condemning the racist and sexist abuse his girlfriend, Meghan Markle had received. Earlier this year, he spoke openly to journalist Bryony Gordon about the mental health problems he’d suffered in the wake of losing his mother.
He is, in some ways, contradicting himself: what is the magic of monarchy if no one wants to be king or queen? How can it be a force for good if the effects of the privilege drive men to years of self-destruction?
Coupled with this unprecedented honesty, has been his increasingly likeable profile. His work with veterans not only appears genuine and committed, but Harry himself comes across really well: he’s funny, he gets on with people. An appearance on a charity episode of DIY SOS saw the prince joke with builders and ex-serviceman with complete and utter ease, while his brother looked like a fish out of water. Once perceived as the embarrassment of the royals – the embodiment of blind privilege, so beyond self-awareness that he dressed up as a Nazi at a fancy dress party – he’s now, quite literally, the jewel in the crown. His honesty, his easy nature with us mere plebs, his friendship with the Obamas (surely the litmus test for any human being, bar that strange Richard Branson blip), has seen the 32-year-old emerge as a truly modern royal. Not “modern” in the managed-stunts sense that we see with his brother – the modern dad carrying baby Charlotte’s car seat out of the hospital or the “relaxed” photoshoots with men’s magazines – but modern in the truest sense: open, forward-looking and embracing change.
And that’s why these latest comments are so significant. Harry, the Prince that people actually like, is throwing doubt on the sanctity of the royal family. The royals have always been an impenetrable British institution – their gated, gilded lives keeping the world out in every sense. They have been stony silent, performing their duties, robotically smiling and handshaking and showing support in times of national crisis. But they aren’t humans – they aren’t like us. Even when we momentarily think they are, when Kate Middleton rocks up in a Topshop dress talking about the difficulties of motherhood, it’s just another carefully constructed chapter in Mission Modernisation. (Her large staff and her Alexander McQueen dresses are good evidence to the contrary.) And now, one of their own, is piercing through the royal wall.
Let’s be clear, Harry hasn’t exactly turned into my Republican mother, demanding taxpayers' money be spent elsewhere, but the inference, as I read it, is that things have got to change –much like he had to. He admits the monarchy is “a force for good” and that there is “magic” to the institution that needs to be preserved – argubaly not only for national spirit but for the national economy, too. (Although many suggest that the vast cost, the millions it takes to maintain the family and their property, cancels this out.) And while Harry is very respectful to his grandmother, saying he could “never fill her boots” I think he is also asking if we still need those boots (or small, pastel-coloured kitten heels) filled at all.
He is, in some ways, contradicting himself: what is the magic of monarchy if no one wants to be king or queen? How can it be a force for good if the effects of the privilege drive men to years of self-destruction? And in his contradiction, he seems to be asking, how can a monarchy truly exist in a modern age and what purpose does it serve? Propping up the economy? (Maybe.) Raising money for charity? (Definitely.) But an emblem of utter privilege, a system once believed to be in direct line to God? Is there space for that in 2017 and beyond? No doubt, the Queen’s appearance at Grenfell Tower recently was appreciated by the residents (much like Harry at Borough Market on the day it opened after the recent terror attacks) but is that enough to justify the wealth of these individuals and the price to keep them?
I feel inherently uncomfortable giving a royal a massive high-five, partly because of the bollocking I’ll get from my mother, but partly because I’m not sure what I’m high-fiving them for: “Hey, you’re behaving like a human being, go you, super-privileged person!” I’d rather give those who get through the maze of daily difficulties, without taxpayers money or big palaces near parks in Zone One, some credit.
And as our society feels more divided than ever and after the month of horror we’ve all just witnessed, the royals look even stranger, even more irrelevant. The victims of Grenfell have nowhere to live; meanwhile one family has castle and palaces. Doesn't that make you feel uncomfortable?
And maybe, just maybe, it makes Harry feel uncomfortable too.