An appealing narrative has developed around Prince Harry over the past several years: while he may be prone to recurring outbursts of youthful idiocy, Harry is a Prince more in touch with the real world than his brother, a regular guy who knows what it is to dab and to mic-drop, who understands the immense privilege and good fortune into which he has been born, and who knows that as a royal, self-pity is unbecoming.
The letter was drowning in self-pity, with a bizarre ‘poor little me’ tone (“He has tried to develop a thick skin about the level of media interest”) that will win Harry little sympathy either in the press or in the general public’s estimation.
But, most bizarrely of all, the letter also attacked a section of the general public, taking direct aim at, “the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments,” concerning his relationship.
This line clearly means that Harry is getting upset after reading the comments section of online newspaper articles written about him.
It also means that Harry is searching for his name or Markle’s name on Twitter, and then reading the toxic messages aimed at him.
This is never a good idea.
But complaining about it is an even worse one.
Harry’s actions invite comparison with the advisers of King Canute, who flattered him that his mere word could stop the tide coming in.
It is sometimes forgotten that in that case, it was the king who demanded the throne be taken down to the beach to prove the advisers wrong.
If only Harry had taken a similar line with his advisers on this issue.
The fingerprints of the head of the Kensington Palace PR team, Canadian Jason Knauf, are all over the letter sent yesterday.
Knauf, 30, is widely believed to have been behind a letter appealing for privacy for Prince George that came with a similar plaintive tone, that, warning that if the “dangerous and distressing” tactics of paparazzi photographers pursuing the royal children were not curtailed, Prince George and Princess Charlotte would be at risk of growing up, “exclusively behind palace gates and in walled gardens.”
I know—poor them, right?
Harry has clearly allowed Knauf to direct this latest assault on the press, and it seems to have been strategically muddled from the get-go.
Even if you agree it was the right thing to do, releasing this letter on the actual day of the US election was an absurd move. This appeal, if it was truly intended to reach users of social media, needed to be discussed and chewed on by Twitter and Facebook users for several days, but it was inevitably swept from the news agenda and social feeds as soon as polls in the US closed, even before the unexpected Trump victory, which has comprehensively buried all other news, including the angry wailings of a cross Prince.
Some insiders say that the Palace press operation has been all at sea ever since the departure of old timer Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton two years ago, when Knauf took over. The operation was weakened by the departure of another steady hand this summer, Nick Loughran, a former police spokesman, who left for KP for PR firm Freuds after he split up with his former girlfriend, Kate Middleton’s aide Rebecca Deacon, and started going out with Harry’s assistant, Clara Madden, which created a certain amount of awkwardness at Kensington Palace according to sources.
But was the letter the right thing to do anyway? Even if you ignore the unfortunate timing which all-but ensured it had zero long-term impact, it’s hard to make that case. Tabloids, generally, don’t seem to be swayed by emotional appeals to behave, and it is hopelessly naïve to expect they will. The queen advises all royals to never complain about upsetting press coverage and simply ignore it.
The British press pack—who, incidentally, feel they treat the Royals with kid gloves and never get any thanks for it--were quick to publicly bite back at Harry for releasing the letter.
Robert Jobson of the Evening Standard wrote a piece accusing Harry of “pouring fuel on the flames of global media interest... His forthcoming tour of the Caribbean—where he is representing the Queen—will now become a media circus. The press in tow won’t be interested in what he does, they will just want to know when the ‘wedding’ is.”
Such criticism has been mirrored in countless other outlets.
So, why do it?
One intriguing possibility is that Harry released the letter simply to show Markle that he took the harassment she is experiencing seriously.
She is reported to have taken a week off work as she struggles to cope with her sudden celebrity and the unwelcome attention attendant on being Harry’s girlfriend.
There’s no denying that Harry is very upset about the treatment Markle has been receiving, and rather than seriously hoping to stop it happening, this letter may simply be a gesture to show her that.