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I’ll never forget the first time I met someone who knew Prince Harry. It was 2004, freshly installed in Dublin, where I’d come for college. Aside from the many other wonders I experienced during this time, it was also my first experience of meeting rich English people. It was, come to think of it, the first time I’d ever met rich Irish people too, but they don’t feature in this story, so I’ll leave that topic for another day.

At a house party, a few of us were evincing the then-not-particularly-controversial opinion that Prince Harry seemed like a bit of an arse. I think it was in the context of him wearing a Nazi uniform to a party, but we, the dozen or so Northern Irish people with whom I palled around, were surprised to find this opinion shared by the poshest guy we had ever met. “Yeah” he agreed, albeit for entirely different reasons; “he slept with my girlfriend”.

Paul (name changed to protect the identity of the hedge fund I presume he now manages) was a very nice guy who’d been in Harry’s class in Eton. Both were the year ahead of us in schooling, but we’d caught up on their year since they all did gap years. (Paul had spent part of his break “base-jumping in Tanzania”, causing some of us to look up each word in that sentence bar “in”). We hadn’t taken gap years, as an absence of funds would have simply resulted in us spending them at home in Derry, Belfast, or South Armagh, where the lack of base-jumping facilities would likely have worn us down after a while.

What strikes me now is that this was the first time I’d imagined a royal as a real person. It was like someone saying they’d studied with Ronald McDonald, played rugby with the Statue of Liberty, or been cuckolded by Sonic The Hedgehog. I’ve thought about this jarring moment, my first awareness that Prince Harry was an actual human being, a lot over the past few months, as the entire United Kingdom has been involved in a complicated process of learning the same thing, and responded by loudly, and angrily, shitting their collective pants.

It’s been a confusing time. My interest in, and fondness for, Henry Charles Albert David Windsor, is a resource that might best described as finite. I’ll do the usual throat-clearing exercises and say that, yes, I find some of his mannerisms a bit cringey, even disingenuous and add, as diplomatically as I can, that my view of his service in the British Army is likely to be more complicated than those who didn’t grow up surrounded by armoured cars. What’s not complicated is my opinion of the inane furore over his memoir from the red-faced, ranks of the English press.

On the publication of Spare, hundreds of commentators stopped just short of calling it treason. Thankfully, others stepped into the breach to call it just that. The commentator AN Wilson compared it to Mein Kampf. Columnist Giles Coren accused him of being “a barely-functioning man with an IQ in the middle 90s, who wouldn’t be able to get a job in the real world”, presumably because Harry is debilitatingly thick in that way of all qualified helicopter pilots, as opposed to Giles and I, who are smart because we are paid by newspapers to write things down. 

Fury has engulfed even the more sober ends of the media landscape, with the BBC calling Spare “the weirdest book ever written by a royal”, rather underselling the eccentricity of Daemonologie, the book King James I wrote about summoning literal demons.

In the manner of a madman chasing a soap opera actor down the street and haranguing them for their character’s behaviour, the British press’ parasocial relationship with the Royal Family would be laughable if it wasn’t so affected. For all these people speak of Harry’s gaucheness and Californian ways, what really animates them is a refusal to accept that the fractious accounts of his relationships with his own family are his to tell in the first place. The inner workings of the Royal Family, like North Sea oil, or the Elgin Marbles, belong to Britain, and Britain alone, and should be protected at all times in the manner of nuclear codes. Failing that, they should be leaked to them so that the press, and they alone, may profit.

My own memoir shared stories, some embarrassing, some ennobling, about my family, and I note that such exercises were never, in my case, cited as a betrayal. Few references to my IQ, or the writings of Hitler, were cited at all. The supremacy, or specialness, of the Royal Family in this regard is a lie told to children now demeaning a disturbing number of adults, who wish to use it to their own ends.

These days, when I look at Prince Harry, I think of a phenomenon I term “the Tom Paradox”; when people wonder how it is that Mr Cruise is so odd, or Mr Hanks so down-to-earth. My response is always to assert that it is Hanks who is the freak.

If I had the money, attention and scrutiny of a world-famous person, I’d be a stark-raving maniac in about two weeks. To withstand it for decades, to exit the psychopath factory and turn out even remotely normal, is not merely admirable, but freakish. Harry was placed on that factory’s conveyor belt at birth, his every breathed moment on this Earth churned into profit by the people now decrying him for having a tongue in his head, so I can forgive him for wanting to talk about how some parts of this experience were suboptimally enjoyable.

Harry is no Tom Hanks. He may not be someone I’d like to go for a pint with. Hell, I don’t even think I’d like him to sleep with my girlfriend. But I prefer him to 99pc of his detractors, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.


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