Oh my, we have another live one. American magazine Newsweek has been given access to Prince Harry over the course of the “best part of the past year” and yesterday published a lengthy profile on him, covering topics from the death of his mother, his “transformation” and the future of the monarchy. Harry has had a bit of a turnaround over the last few years, most dramatically in the last 12 to 18 months. The three things that jump to my mind as particularly pivotal are the press release Kensington Palace issued on his behalf regarding his relationship with American actress Meghan Markle, his incredibly candid interview with The Telegraph podcast released in April and the nature of his charity work, which I believe can be viewed as picking up the mantle of the late Princess of Wales.
This year started off in an uncertain place for the Royal Family. Or, more specifically, it wasn’t clear what exactly they were all doing. The KP press release was a complete 180 from the frigid and terse statements usually released when commenting (or rather, not commenting) on the personal lives of members of the family. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had spent the second half of 2015 and 2016 receiving their first wave of serious criticism about their lack of accessibility and relatively low engagement numbers. Meanwhile, the Queen had just celebrated her 90th birthday and there seemed to be a complete disconnect between the older and younger generations.
I feel like this interview actually provides fairly good insight into what the thought process has been and it shifts some of the conversation around the future of the RF, particularly with William and Kate. I’m referencing this quote, in particular:
“We are involved in modernizing the British monarchy. We are not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people…. Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time.”
This doesn’t specify exactly who the “who” is and the question I have from reading it is whether he’s referring to himself, William and Kate, or if he means the broader RF, including the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. I’m inclined, based on the focus of the article, to believe it’s primarily the former and if so, I think that’s rather key. That particular trio has separated themselves out a bit as the future of the family, treating it less like a line of succession and more the way one might address a family-run business.
Taken together with the next bit and we have a line of sight into how they’re approaching their work:
The amount of charity work he, William and Kate will do—which has been a huge part of the queen’s public persona—will be more focused. Until last year, the queen was patron of more than 600 charities, and the royal family supported 3,000. By the time William becomes king, those numbers will have plummeted, but a source close to Harry insists this is not due to laziness. (Royal officials prefer to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely about the family.) “They want instead to concentrate on specific charities that they research thoroughly first and then get involved in on a regular basis. The one thing they don’t want is to be seen as a group of celebrities.”
Harry seconds that. “We use our time wisely,” he says. “We don’t want to turn up, shake hands but not get involved.”
What you have here, then, is a streamlined monarchy in the vein that Charles reportedly wants during his reign. The members who remains actively working royals will not attempt to shoulder the same burden of charity work currently carried out by a far larger group of people, but rather a focus on quality over quantity. Essentially, the younger three are dipping their toe into the water and engaging on issues about which they are passionate. It casts a different light on the so-called “low” engagement numbers for which they, particularly William and Kate, have been criticized, however a certain amount of that is also based on their ages. These three aren’t in their 20s any longer – they’re in their early to mid-30s, at which point perhaps it’s fair to say it’s time to get on with it. And these past few months have shown just that, particularly with their work in mental health.
I would posit, however, that their numbers may never match those of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh today – that’s not the end game. Instead, it will be a deeper investment into less, particularly for the members of the family, like Harry, who aren’t in line to be king.
The candor with which he expressed a lack of interest on the part of the family to actually hold the position of monarch is interesting. It’s not necessarily surprising, but I’m not sure how that’s going to play out in the news cycle, particularly for William. He’s never been seen as one chomping at the bit for the position and his language on the subject has always had an air of doing his duty; nevertheless, it’s another thing to have it be said so plainly that he doesn’t (or rather, all of them don’t) particularly want the job.
That sentiment has been hinted at for Charles as well – that there is a certain freedom in being heir that he will lose once he ascends the throne. And that’s certainly true, but if that’s the case then perhaps right now they all have it made. A monarch who is doing the heavy lifting of governance – to the extent a constitutional monarch “rules” in the literal sense of the word – and the profile to allow each family member to follow their passion causes.
There are a few dynamics hinted at here which are rather curious and that’s the actual relationships within the family. The article states:
When asked about his family, Harry talks readily about the queen—“She is so remarkable”—and his late mother—“She had the most wonderful sense of humor and always wanted to make things fun for us, as well as protect us.” He says less about William and Kate, and almost nothing about his father or his stepmother. The world now knows how unhappy that relationship made his mother, and her sons.
Those are a few very loaded throwaway lines, the last insinuation being that he is not particularly close with his father and that’s due to his marriage to Camilla. That may very well be true, but there isn’t actually any evidence to support that and I would caution against jumping to that conclusion here. Diana is deceased and his mother – Harry praising her and speaking to her memory is perfectly within his rights. The Queen isn’t a particularly controversial figure. Everyone likes the Queen; even republicans respect the Queen. William, Kate, Charles and Camilla, on the other hand, have a bit more media meat to them – any statement Harry makes will be a headline, particularly about the first two. My point being, he may well be more guarded in his comments about them for reasons that don’t scream “soap opera.”
Then again, the article includes a little bit of William and Kate shade:
Harry and William have very different personalities. “Emotionally, they are very unalike,” a royal insider says. “Harry wears his heart on his sleeve. William is introverted and reclusive. They are bonded together by the unique position they are in and the experience of losing their mother very young. But they don’t live in each other’s pockets, and while William was at university, they didn’t see much of each other at all.” Another member of Harry’s inner circle further delineates the differences between the two princes: “William was more successful academically, but when it comes to dealing with people, Harry knocks the spots off both him and Kate, especially with children. Harry is passionate about them and is a natural, which neither William nor Kate are.” Having their own has no doubt helped.
There’s two issues being conflated here – Harry’s bedside manner and how close he and his brother are. The former, I think, is a given to anyone who has watched the three of them out on their engagements. William and Kate are good and they are enormously popular, but they do lack the natural flair of Harry. As for how the brothers get on, I would add that I’m not sure how out of the ordinary anything about this is. The brothers are clearly close and care about one another, however they are also two grown men with separate lives and one of them has a young family. They have different temperaments and different strengths. That’s okay. They’re not the Olsen twins.
There was also a rather interesting statement made in reference to Diana that I will include, which is this:
Her funeral was nearly 20 years ago, but Harry’s recollection of that tragic day can still overwhelm him. “My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me while millions more did on television,” he tells Newsweek . His face hardens. “I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don’t think it would happen today.”
Notably, I’m pretty sure that Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, has made similar statements since the funeral – that the boys should never have been made to walk. I don’t want to delve into Diana’s death and funeral for the purposes of this post, but the last line is particularly important: “I don’t think it would happen today.” It speaks to William for the time being since Harry doesn’t yet have children, but I think it underlines his attitude towards raising his children in the public eye and how ferociously he guards their privacy. Many mistakes were made in how William and Harry were raised, some of those are obvious and some of those are likely a bit subtler – the extent to which, for example, they were photographed as children. And it’s for that reason that I refuse to criticize William and Kate in how they raise George and Charlotte – William is the only person on the planet fully equipped to know what they face.
The takeaway from this article is likely to be the throwaway line that no one wants to be king or queen, but the point of it is something else entirely. For the first time the future of the RF has been candidly laid out – smaller and more focused and accessible. The extent to which that is “better” is unclear, but it is certainly more modern and, I think, appropriate for the 21st century. From the article:
Does the prince ever worry that too much “ordinary” might make the royal family too accessible and take away its mystery? “It’s a tricky balancing act,” he says. “We don’t want to dilute the magic….The British public and the whole world need institutions like it.”
So, I think I’ll let Harry have the last word on the issue for now.
The remaining question is only “why?” Why this profile and why now? It comes on the heels of William on the cover of GQ recently which means the two of them have collectively taken part in more interviews in the last six months then they have in years. Quite a bit of that, I suspect, is in honor of the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death, whether that’s official or unofficial. They have both said they are more comfortable discussing her and so here they are, highlighting her legacy and the impact she had on the Royal Family. The rest of it, I would imagine, simply comes down to the timing of the Heads Together push, William and Kate moving to London and a new phase for the three as working royals.
And as for Meghan Markle, Harry obviously didn’t speak about her. What was included was a quote from a friend cautioning that no engagement would be announced before the end of the year, scratching those reports it would be announced on August 4th. Then again, that’s exactly what you would say if you wanted the pressure off…
Anyway, there’s quite a bit more in the profile which I haven’t covered here, but you can read the full article here.