How does it end, this pyrotechnical explosion of grief, anger and bruised entitlement? By the second week of January, “Harry the Interview” was already a 2023 TV milestone, starring an unassuming-looking chap who proudly holds the title of Duke of Sussex, while plainly reviling the family institution which makes him the King’s son and brother to the king hereafter.
Is he the angry, mixed-up man, led astray by an ambitious wife, as his critics insist? This encounter made clear that Harry is more the driving force of the rifts with the family than Meghan ever could have been. The ferocity of his umbrage burned bright over 90 minutes. The couple had left the UK “fearing for our lives” and unhappily at odds with practically everyone in the royal family, especially his condescending big brother William.
Yet Harry is also plainly the adult emotional heir to a panicking child who learned of his mother’s tragic death at Balmoral and that trauma resonates throughout his story. Sometimes it feels like the natural and loving inability to let someone beloved go, when they are lost in traumatic and public circumstances.
And just as often, it feels like a memory being leveraged in sundry arguments about who is right or wrong, a good or bad relative or how pursuing a grudge match against British tabloids is redesignated as a “public service”.
The interview left a conundrum in our minds. Is he still the ex-officio Duke of Sussex, available, as he suggested, to “help” his father with Commonwealth duties? (now there is a phone call that might go straight to voicemail). Or do the couple see themselves as defiant pioneers, roaming the great plains of California’s media and philanthropy opportunities unimpeded by do’s and don’ts of stodgy Blighty?
Dollops of naivete were served. If “global philanthropy” is your aim, notching up the deaths of Taliban soldiers as “chess pieces taken off the board” in a crass passage in his memoir along with roistering tales of your early sex life is not the fastest way to the top table at Davos.
We segued hard into the harsher end of the blame game, which is where the blade cut into royal flesh, Charles was “not quite ready for parenthood”, especially of the single-dad variety and, with all due respect to Harry’s work in therapy, wielding platitudes like “silence allows the abuser to abuse” as weapons is a pass-agg way of spraying around accusations while claiming self-knowledge.
Camilla waged “a campaign aimed at marriage and eventually the crown” and one small omission in Tom Bradby’s otherwise excellent probing was that Harry should have been asked why on earth he and William felt they had the right to debar their father from marriage to someone he plainly loved and who one day would be his consort as King, so was unlikely to remain as the First Bit on the Side.
To Harry’s mind, all this is the public curtain-raiser to resolving matters “in private”. At the same time, Meghan and he clearly will accept nothing less than a statement from the Palace saying that the royal “firm” was wrong about everything — and duly grateful to the Duke and Duchess of Montecito for pointing this out on global TV. The first order of business is not rapprochement, which is years off, if it ever happens at all. It is the purely practical matter of whether Harry can attend his father’s coronation which will be the next episode of this jaw-dropping story. Between the lines, he was careful to avoid direct attacks on the King, which suggests there is still a latent desire to do so.
We ended with the declaration that to take on the UK’s hostile media is “my life’s work”, a phrasing which hints at a persistent idée fixe and which means the duke and duchess placing expensive bets on legal cases where the threshold to proof of wrongdoing by named newspaper titles will be high and public opinion divided on what should and should not be published about those in positions of privilege.
All told, the rebel bro dearly wanted to hear that he was right after all, but that is not how families or monarchies work. Like all stories with no happy ending, it remains riveting.