THE surprise is not that it has happened, but that it has happened at the end of the most successful public outing that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have undertaken since their wedding last May.
The Duke’s extraordinary and unprecedented outburst against the media comes as the couple and their five-month-old son, Archie, complete a tour of Africa. Last week they took tea with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, and the world cooed as Archie high-fived the 88-year-old human rights activist.
And now the world is reeling from Prince Harry’s direct attack on the British tabloid press, accusing its members of waging a campaign against his 38-year-old American-born wife by vilifying her almost daily.
He is understood to have written it personally, without guidance from staff or advisors. As many of us will know to our cost, the best thing to do when you’re angry and hurting is not to press send, but save to drafts and reconsider.
Why couldn’t they have just got on with representing Queen and country abroad and dealt with this messy business on their return home? Harry accuses the press of taking too much interest, and yet whips up a storm in the middle of a high-profile trip.
If the intention was to capitalise on this exposure, then he’s running the risk of it seriously backfiring. Harry accuses the press of double standards - but what’s he doing?
He issued the statement as he announced that his wife was suing The Mail on Sunday over an allegation that it unlawfully published one of her private letters.
Schillings, the law firm representing the Duchess, said that she had filed a High Court claim against the newspaper and its parent company, Associated Newspapers, over the alleged misuse of private information, infringement of copyright and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018.
The claim is over its publication of a letter she sent to her father, Thomas Markle, begging him to stop talking to the press. Markle shared the missive, which he called a ‘dagger to the heart’, with the paper after five of the Duchess’s friends disclosed in People magazine that she had written to him.
This is what we are dealing with; a murky tit-for-tat that presents a gift to a certain kind of journalism, the kind which believes in exposing apparent hypocrisy in lurid detail.
It was never for me. When I worked on a tabloid, The People, in the early 1990s, my editor derided me for not being ruthless enough. I’ve never chased an ambulance or climbed up a tree to spy on anyone, but I’ve still got an opinion. And these days, so has everyone else. Rather than pin the blame specifically on journalists, or mislead them over where baby Archie was born, perhaps HRH should have also considered the internet trolls who, unfettered by any code of conduct, unleash their vile opinions unbridled.
I’m no psychologist either, but I’d say that Prince Harry needs to lay the past to rest. His passionate statement outlined his deep concern that Meghan was ‘falling victim to the same powerful forces’ as those which dogged his late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, and that his ‘deepest fear was history repeating itself’.
Diana died aged 36 in 1997 after her car crashed in Paris while being pursued by paparazzi, leaving Harry, 12 at the time, and his older brother, William, bereft. Strip away the eloquence and here is a cry from the heart of a young man who clearly has never come to terms with the shock.
Whilst his overwhelming desire to protect his wife and child is entirely understandable, he has misjudged his attack spectacularly. His father is, however, an old hand. The Prince of Wales recognises that media access is necessary, but that it can be controlled. Few members of the Royal Family have been as reviled as Charles over the years, yet he accepts that the way to keep intrusion at bay is to give journalists just enough.
I always remember that photograph of Prince Charles and his sons skiing at Klosters in 2000, three years after the death of Diana. They look entirely happy and relaxed together. Who knows what pain and sadness and guilt may have plagued each one of them privately? Yet the father showed a good face to the world and set a positive example to his sons.
I daresay that this stance is harder to achieve and maintain than veering between obsessive privacy and ferocious anger. As a new father himself, Harry would do well to look to his own father for guidance instead of feeding the media machine that he now vilifies.