Predictably, the major takeaway from Newsweek’s profile on Prince Harry was his statement that no one in the Royal Family had much desire to be king or queen. Specifically, he said:
“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.”
Read one way and that means no one wants to be the monarch, but, le sigh, duty calls and one will just get on with it. And apparently this is how a great many people read it based on the moral outrage that’s poured out over the interview in the last few days.
Except…that’s sort of missing the point.
The full graf actually reads:
“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.”
The conversation was about the future of the BRF, its role and how it’s shaping itself (as detailed in the post I wrote about it). No one member particularly desiring to take on the position of monarch is vastly different from having no interest in serving the public or trying to abscond responsibility. On the contrary, he’s saying they see their positions as those which help them advocate for the “greater good” – it’s not self-interested. This isn’t about the palaces, the money or the attention – it’s monarchy for the people.
Now, you can think that’s bullshit and you can disagree with the concept of royalty, but at least criticize them on a playing field that actually exists.
Frankly, if Harry had sat there and said his father and brother were dying to be king that would be even weirder. Consider, too, that this is not a position any of them have “worked” for – they are not running to be elected monarch. They were born into it – hence the entire concept. The benefit of that, if you choose to see it, is that men and women who aren’t necessarily power-hungry or attention seekers are given considerable leverage and position to affect change. Yes, there’s quite a bit of historical baggage that goes along with the role, but AGAIN, the future of the institution is literally. what. he. was. talking. about.
(This is, of course, accepting the theory that Charles and William don’t want to be king. And while that may be more believable of William, I’d hazard a guess Charles’s attitude is a bit more nuanced.)
If you asked me to choose between a man who saw the role as a necessary duty that would allow him to serve and a man chomping at the bit for the death of his relations and seeing only the glory of the crown, I would choose the former. The role of monarch isn’t fun – it’s isolating and all-encompassing and it doesn’t end until you die. That’s the reality of it and it stands to reason actual members of the BRF might know that better than anyone.
Suffice to say I think the criticism is stupid and the clutching of the pearls that has accompanied it is just plain annoying.
Moving on. The author of the article, Angela Levin, wrote a piece for the Mail on Sunday where she offered more insight into Harry and their conversations. The biggest news coming out of it was that Harry told her quite plainly that there were points when he wanted to leave the Royal Family. This hasn’t been roundly knocked to the same extent, but it does paint quite the picture if you’re not looking too closely at the brushstrokes.
Again, this really isn’t surprising. Harry has been talking around this point for years and both he and William are literally always going on about how they want to be normal, they are normal, they will continue to be normal. It’s not a reach to imagine there have been moments when they’ve wanted to give it up – it’s actually not a reach to imagine at various points they’ve both seriously considered it.
I don’t find this shocking. I don’t find this to be a real game-changer either. Harry has been pretty candid about his evolution over the years and where he’s at now. His priorities speak through his actions, which have been pretty solid for a while. And if there’s someone out there who hasn’t altered their life view somewhere between 23 and 33, best of luck to them.
The more interesting fallout from this interview is entirely separate and two-fold. One is what all of this says about Harry’s relationship with Charles, which is usually presumed to be fine and, in fact, closer than that of William and Charles. However, Harry’s statements criticizing the decision to let him walk in mother’s funeral procession – not to mention the author’s aside that he barely talked about him – has called that into question.
Tom Sykes’s article in the Daily Beast provides some insight:
The writer Penny Junor, the well-briefed author of a series of biographies about the royals who has recently completed a forthcoming biography of Camilla Parker Bowles, defended Charles to the Daily Beast.
“The fact is that Charles didn’t make Harry walk behind his mother’s coffin,” Junor said. My understanding has always been–and this comes directly from someone who was with the family at the time, and who spoke to both princes about it–that it was the boys’ choice to do it. They were not pushed into it. In fact, provision was made right up to the last-minute for a car to take them to the Abbey if they changed their minds.
“I suspect it may well be the case that Harry, aged 32, in therapy, is looking back and thinking ‘Who would ever have allowed a child to do that?’ Which is fair enough. I don’t imagine for a second he could have understood the enormity of what he had agreed to do and maybe he should have been protected.
“But he wanted to do it. At the end of the day if your 12-year-old son says, ‘I really want to do this, Daddy, I want to be with you and my brother,’ what do you do? Some people don’t let their children attend the funerals of deceased parents, and that can lead to great resentment also. So it was a horrible situation and there was probably no right answer.”
For what it’s worth, the only tale I’ve heard of the day-of game plan was that William was the one who had to be talked into walking by none other than his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, who promised to walk with him. There were certainly some PR politics at play given the rather tense dynamic between Charles and Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, and the presence of the boys further grounded Charles’s role in the whole affair. Even so, I’m not inclined to lay the blame entirely at Charles’s feet for that. Hindsight is 20/20 – they were children, but not young children. What is right and what is too much is debatable, even looking back at it today. It may have been a parental fail, but it was also a judgment call in the middle of a truly horrible situation. I’m inclined to go with Junor on this one – there was probably no right answer.
The other point worth noting is whether the reaction to this interview indicates the RF shouldn’t be giving these interviews at all. Perhaps the criticism is evidence that the “old way” was better. I’m going to say “no” on that as well, though I will agree there’s room for debate. Part of the reaction, after all, stems from how few times such interviews have occurred. Information in a vacuum can feel weighty; de-pressurizing the impact with more regular exposure – as William, Kate and Harry have been doing of late – is the best way to change the limits of the game.
And God knows, as Harry has laid out for us, those three are forward looking.