Has Prince Harry’s confessional tour run its course?
The Prince and Princess of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex surprise members of the public with a joint public appearance to view the tributes to Queen Elizabeth II outside Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.
By SARAH LYALL
In their prolonged campaign to tell their story — and to present themselves as victims of the British royal family, the tabloid press and critics and haters everywhere — Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have in the past two years revealed their secrets to Oprah Winfrey, revealed them again to various sympathetic television interviewers, produced and starred in a six-part Netflix series and, in the case of Harry, appeared on actor Dax Shepard’s podcast, “Armchair Expert.”
Now comes the prince’s multimillion-dollar ghostwritten memoir, “Spare.” Set for release Tuesday, it has been leaking out over the past few days, one eye-popping detail after the next. (The book mistakenly appeared in stores early in Spain, and was snapped up and translated by alert members of the British news media, injecting an element of chaos into the publisher’s rollout.)
Harry and Meghan still have many sympathizers, particularly those who see the couple’s grievances through the lens of the racism Meghan encountered in Britain and who say that she — and Harry, once he married her — never stood a chance in such a stultified, reactionary institution as the monarchy.
But something has changed, judging from the response so far. Even in the United States, which has a soft spot for royals in exile and a generally higher tolerance than Britain does for redemptive stories about overcoming trauma and family dysfunction, there is a sense that there are only so many revelations the public can stomach.
“Look, everyone has a family,” television host Don Lemon declared on “CNN This Morning” last week. “I have arguments in my family. Am I going to put that out there for the whole world to see? I don’t understand why on earth he would want to put that out there. I know he’s selling a book, but to me it’s just …”. (“Gauche,” he added later.)
Was it gauche, for instance, for Harry to accuse Prince William of pushing him to the floor while the two argued about Meghan, ripping Harry’s necklace and shattering a dog’s bowl whose shards then gouged his back? Or to describe how the brothers squabbled in front of their father after Prince Philip’s funeral? (“Please, boys, don’t make my final years a misery,” Charles is quoted as saying.) How about Harry’s account of how, high on mushrooms, he believed a garbage can was talking to him, or the passage about how Meghan offended Kate, the Princess of Wales, by boldly asking if she could borrow her lip gloss?
It’s one thing to be criticized; it’s another to be openly ridiculed.
It can’t be a great sign, for instance, that the Jimmy Kimmel show last week staged a reenactment of the supposed argument in the kitchen that it called “Two Princes.” Set to a voice-over of an actor reading the passage in a plummy English accent, the skit featured two actors who were, bizarrely, each dressed as the musician Prince.
On the other side of the Atlantic, four media personalities on the couch of the British show “This Morning” could barely keep it together last week as they discussed another revelation in the book: Harry’s account of the first time he had sex.
“An older woman took his virginity, and then, when the act of darkness had been completed, he lay on his front, and she smacked his bottom,” said one, writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth, to peals of laughter.
Preorders have already catapulted the book to the top of bestseller lists, and the ubiquitous coverage is unlikely to damage sales, at least in the short term.
“I’m sure they don’t mind all the publicity,” said Jeffrey W. Schneider, a co-founder of public relations firm The Lead PR, speaking of the book’s publisher, Penguin Random House. “It is also true that what is good for a publisher is not necessarily the same as what is good for the person who has published the book.”
Indeed, more worrying for Harry and Meghan is whether the continued public re-litigation of their troubles has grown so repetitive or even tiresome that it has eroded their personal brand and damaged their potential future earnings. Once they have exhausted the topic of themselves, what is left for them to talk about?
“It’s overload,” Schneider said. “There’s been a lot about them, and now there’s a lot more. While people’s fascination has always been pretty high, maybe there is a natural limit to that.”
If he had been advising Harry and Meghan, said Howard Bragman, chair of crisis-management firm La Brea Media, he would have impressed on them that there is only so much mileage you can get out of a finite amount of material.
“You have to realize that you can really only tell your story once,” Bragman said.
There is also the question of timing. Harry’s book is being published shortly after the death of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever you think of the monarchy, Elizabeth’s funeral gave the royal family the chance to showcase qualities like discretion, fortitude, an adherence to duty and tradition, and an aptitude for remaining publicly stoic in the face of private grief.
But Harry embodies the opposite of all that. With his revelations about private family conversations, his accounts of his anguish and unhappiness at the behavior of his father, stepmother and brother, especially in the wake of his mother’s death, and his eagerness to divulge un-regal details about topics like Meghan and Kate’s high-drama altercation over the bridesmaids’ dresses at his and Meghan’s wedding, he presents a stark contrast to William and, especially, to Kate, who in public have said exactly nothing about any of this.
“It feels a little reality-television-y to me,” Bragman said of the Harry-and-Meghan media offensive. The couple, he added, “feel a little Trumpian, in that they seem like they can’t let a grudge go.”
Alas, even one of the queens of reality television, former “Real Housewives of New York City” star Bethenny Frankel, believes that Harry and Meghan have finally said too much.
“Is it too late to change the name of Harry’s book to ‘Dirty Harry Laundry?’” Frankel said in a video on Instagram, filming herself as she lay in bed. She decried the level of detail in the book. “How much more? Are we going with Meghan to get a Pap smear? I mean, what’s next?” (“Okay, but how is this any different than the reality shows that you did?” a commenter named wendyjo79 responded, which seemed like a fair point.)
Many people have defended Meghan and Harry on social media and elsewhere in the past few days. But for every person who sticks up for the couple, there is someone else who says that enough is enough.
“We’ve all just fallen down some wormhole where we will never be free of hearing every single detail of Prince Harry’s life and why he believes no one has ever had a worse life than his,” former “View” co-host Meghan McCain said on Twitter. “This is never going to end. He’s never going to let us live!”