So that went well, Prince Harry-wise. Hours and hours of failing to provide any evidence that he was phone-hacked by the Mirror. All he mostly said was “I don’t know” and “I can’t remember”. Towards the end of his eight hours in the witness box, though, it seemed to get the better of him. I don’t know whether it was anger over the farce of his case, or genuine fear of going back over the years of “abuse, intrusion and hate” (his words). But when his barrister cooed, in a silky, sex-mother voice, “How has that made you feel?”, the prince paused, looked down, went silent, and then his voice broke.
“It’s a lot,” he rasped.
Oh my God, I thought, he’s crying.
It’s true that Prince Harry’s case against Mirror Group Newspapers is bizarre, almost pantomimic. Tune in at any minute and you might be treated to one of the country’s top legal minds screaming, “Do you know who Natalie Pinkham was?” Or the defendant’s silk trying not to sigh as he moved through the many articles Harry claims contained “suspicious” material: “This is about your visit to Spearmint Rhino …”
All he mostly said was “I don’t know” and “I can’t remember.”
You just think: a royal hasn’t been seen in a witness box in 130 years, but when one finally is, is this what we get? Tits and bums and Paul Burrell, his mother’s former butler, being a “two-faced shit”; discussions about whether “one of the girls they asked to dance naked was a tall, statuesque blonde” who bore a resemblance to Harry’s girlfriend Chelsy Davy.
“That’s factually incorrect,” snapped the prince.
I guess every generation gets the royals it deserves, and ours is Love Island’s answer to Henry VIII.
So the whole thing is corpsingly embarrassing and funny and gripping — as my boyfriend shouted, “Harry, just stop being good material.”
But it’s also — how to put this — rather horrible. Because, amid all the mockery, the jeering and the vitriolic anger, here is a damaged, lonely, bewildered person who was, in point of fact, treated like senseless muck by the press.
I defy anyone not to feel sorry for him watching him go desperately through each article, telling the defendant’s barrister that, well, this had to be phone-hacking because how would anyone know which flight he was on? How would they know if he was in this pub, in that restaurant or near that footpath? But he seemed unaware he was surrounded by people every day who were happy to pick up the phone to the tabloids to tell them he was, for example, “cavorting” at Twickenham. Waiters, hotel clerks, flight check-in desks, even Palace staff and friends. Harry insisted his friends hadn’t betrayed him. But I don’t think, even at 38 he has the first clue how human beings work.
Perhaps that’s what happens when you grow up in an environment that is so golden and cocooned you cannot tell when people are lying to you or wish you ill. Because the world has been so amazing to you already, you are always unprepared for it not being. You just don’t have the gear that comes with not growing up with fish fingers under silver cloches. In the absence, therefore, of any kind of sixth sense or street wisdom, all Harry has to guide him are his feelings. So what we see in this trial, yet again, is just: feelings. As a legal argument, it’s bog, but as an emotional spectacle, it’s five-star.
The phone-hacking trial is simply another vast, eye-catching way for Harry to self-medicate. It is essentially a $12.5 million therapy session in which he can, as if with one of his “shrinks”, simply go over the same material again. He can relate his “suspicions” and his feelings of “injustice”; he can blame the tabloids for things that he has done. He can say that because they were claiming he took drugs etc, he thought he might as well “do the crime”. I can’t think of anything that better sums up Harry’s worldview: all and any mistakes are always other people’s fault.
I don’t think, even at 38, he has the first clue how human beings work.
He can say the government is at “rock bottom”; he can say he is here to save journalism, ignoring the laughter. Who cares about sniggers when you feel this wildly powerful? Just look at the confident way he strutted into court. A day late, without any evidence, telling everyone to call him “Prince Harry” (the convention is, in fact, “sir”): it was a master class in spoiled arrogance.
Will he feel better for it? No. Nothing he’s done so far seems to have helped him at all: not the book, not the television series, not even the “fireside chat” in which his counselor told him his family were “animals”. The more he gives himself over to feelings, the more only one thing happens. More vampires flock to him: quacks, PR people, totty and … lawyers. None of them are his friends.
Who told him this case was ever a good idea? He said he ran into his barrister in 2018 in France (where? In Elton John’s yoga shala?). Why would anyone say that it was a good idea to launch a case about things that happened 15 years earlier? I’m amazed it got to court. Why are we paying for a case in which the key witness can’t remember 90 percent of what happened? And what about his family — what do they think? A royal sitting in the box nearly crying: this is a monstrous system failure.
It’s a pity, because in his case against the papers he has a point. There is no doubt Harry was abused by the tabloids. His life was shredded; he became paranoid. We learned that one witness for the defense, a former tabloid royal correspondent, used one firm of private detectives 900 times. That isn’t journalism; that’s dialing numbers. But all of this will get lost in the comedy mess of Harry’s life.
Camilla Long is a columnist and television critic for The Sunday Times