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Oh dear. That was my reaction on reading the extraordinary speech that issued from Prince Harry’s lips yesterday. And then: please, not another royal debacle in the making!
For Prince Harry had become, at any rate until his marriage to Meghan Markle, possibly the most popular member of the Royal Family. People have seen him change from a tortured soul sowing wild oats on an epic scale into a thoughtful, measured, mature young man.
© GettyHe has won universal plaudits for launching the Invictus Games, which has given wounded service personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports. His rousing speech at the 2018 games last October will have brought a tear to many eyes.
The Press has warmed to him, and the public, excepting a few curmudgeonly republicans, has grown to respect him. He has unquestionably carved out a creative and useful role for himself.
Of course, one spectacularly ill-judged speech does not undo all the good he has done, or call into question his many fine qualities. But I confess it has made me worry about the future.
What he said was part New Age gibberish that might have been spouted by any self-obsessed Hollywood starlet, seasoned with dollops of anti-Press vitriol. In the process he managed to insult — I’m sure inadvertently — great swathes of the nation.
I accept that any speech is partly shaped by those one is speaking to — in this instance the WE Movement, which describes itself somewhat vaguely on its website as ‘a movement that brings people together and gives them the tools to change the world’.
© Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Prince Harry, supported by Meghan, told an audience of cheering young people that older generations were judgmental, lacked positivity and were incapable of ‘thinking outside the box’.All the same, whenever a major Royal opens his or her mouth in an outspoken manner, the whole country will naturally assume that it is being addressed.
Probably the most objectionable thing Prince Harry said was to inform his young audience that they are ‘the most engaged generation in history’ who ‘care about values [and] doing the right thing’. In contrast to those who have gone before, they are ‘progressive, open-minded change-makers’.
Unlike those silly fuddy-duddies who fought for their country or those superannuated oldies who worked 50 hours a week to care for their children or pensioners forced to stack supermarket shelves to supplement their meagre incomes.
© Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited He was speaking to 12,000 schoolchildren and students, and he said they needed to have ‘less screen time, and more face-to-face time’
‘You may find yourself frustrated with the older generation when it seems they don’t care,’ Harry warned, before adding, in a belated attempt to damp down the inter-generational conflagration he had ignited, ‘that doesn’t mean they don’t care’.
Perhaps one should not get too exercised about the hippy nonsense in his speech — for example, his contention that ‘every blade of grass, every ray of sun and every rain drop is crucial to our survival’.
However, I expostulated when he tried to persuade his young audience that they were daily ‘inundated with an overexposure’ by mainstream and social media, which are guilty of ‘distorting the truth, and trying to manipulate the power of positive thinking’.
Well, I’m not going to go out of my way to champion social media, though we shouldn’t forget that Meghan Markle was for several years editor of a lifestyle website called The Tig, and a highly successful (and well-remunerated) practitioner on Instagram and Twitter.
But his suggestion that the most noteworthy role of the mainstream media is to tell lies and manipulate impressionable minds — well, this really was dangerous and offensive nonsense. I’m not sure even Jeremy Corbyn believes that.
It’s not the first time Harry has expressed a dislike of the media, particularly of newspapers, which doubtless has its origins in a conviction that his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, was hounded to her death by speeding paparazzi.
That’s strictly true, though the reckless driver of her car on that dreadful night in Paris was severely inebriated. Nor should it be forgotten that Diana was a genius at marketing herself, and expert at bending some journalists to her will.
© Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Pregnant Meghan, who was not scheduled to be part of the event, smiled as her husband led her from her seat
Needless to say, I’m not going to pretend the media are perfect. But to convict them of distortion and manipulation, while not even mentioning the vital role they play in exposing wrong-doing, is absurdly one-sided.
Moreover, does it ever occur to Harry and Meghan that their worldwide fame and superstardom are utterly dependent on the mainstream media, amplified by social media? If newspapers and magazines ever grew tired of them, they would languish in obscurity.
I suspect that, like most rich and powerful people, they absolutely adore favourable coverage, but would far prefer it if there were no negative articles at all.
So the media’s enormous interest in the Invictus Games is encouraged while criticism of Meghan’s recent dash to New York to attend a ‘baby shower’ (estimated cost £330,000) was much less welcome.
More grown-up members of the Royal Family — except for the Queen, who is above such things — recognise that you can’t have the plaudits without the brickbats, though if you are wise you’ll do your best to attract more of the former than the latter.
And I can’t recall any of them, even when they have been on the receiving end of harsh words in the media, publicly suggesting that the whole system is rotten, and that newspapers are in the business of purveying untruths.
The fascinating question is how Harry’s wild and destructive thoughts were ever allowed to see the light of day. Isn’t there a Press secretary with a red pencil who could have sensibly intervened?
I fear that the answer is ‘No’. Obviously there are such people, who are presumably anxious to advise Harry against making a fool of himself. But it seems he is more interested in listening to his own voice — or his wife’s.
One may justifiably speculate that many of Meghan’s politically correct and right-on views found their way into the Prince’s mishmash of a speech. She was even cited by him as ‘often reminding me’ of ‘one of her favourite quotes by Martin Luther King’.
It is certainly very hard to imagine Harry banging on in such an ill-considered way before his marriage. But, in the end, this was his address. He should listen politely to his wife’s views, but he doesn’t have to incorporate them.
Thoughts of the duke… and words of a King
‘You are the most engaged generation in history. You don’t judge someone on how they look, where they’re from, or how they identify. In this room, you see the world for what it is – vibrant, colourful, mixed and full of promise.
‘That is what makes me feel proud to stand in your presence as you tackle the world’s greatest issues. And you guys know as well as I do, we’ve still got so much to do.’
‘Climate change is a humanitarian issue, not a political one. We now have the facts, the science, the technology and the ability to save not just our planet, but ourselves.
‘I know you don’t sit back and wait for solutions, you take action and create them.’
‘Every day you are inundated with an over-exposure of advertising and mainstream media, social media and endless comparisons, distorting the truth and trying to manipulate the power of positive thinking.
‘But you don’t let them sway you. You confidently voice your opinions because you can embrace them proudly.’
QUOTING MARTIN LUTHER KING
‘As my wife often reminds me with one of her favourite quotes by Martin Luther King Jr, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.’
THE OLDER GENERATION
‘You may find yourselves frustrated with the older generation when it seems like they don’t care. Try to remember that not everyone sees the world the way you do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care.
‘You have the incredible opportunity to help reshape mindsets, to empower those around you to think outside the box and to work with you, not against you, to find solutions.
‘You know that if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything. So let that be your true north, let that be your call to action – to inspire those who stand for nothing to stand for something – and to stand with you.’
HIS TO-DO LIST
‘Be braver. Be stronger. Be kind to each other. Be kind to yourselves. Have less screen time and more face-to-face time. Exceed expectations. Eliminate plastics. Conserve water. Protect wildlife and their unique habitat. Keep empathy alive. Ask your friends how they are doing and listen to the answer. Be honest. Take risks. Change your thoughts and change the world. Dare to be the greatest generation of all time.’
He should also take a look at Prince Charles and Prince Philip. Both men in their time have expatiated on all manner of subjects, sometimes controversially so, and almost always out of knowledge and expertise.
There was practically no knowledge or expertise in Harry’s utterings, but an awful lot of empty preaching. ‘Be braver, be stronger, be kind to each other . . . change your thoughts and change the world.’
Maybe aficionados of the WE Movement like to be told what to do with their lives by a royal prince, but I don’t believe the British public does. And members of the Royal Family are usually wise enough not to hector us, though the Queen will offer an occasional word of helpful advice.
Who will help Harry now that he is married to the evidently strong-willed and obviously intelligent and indisputably highly opinionated Meghan Markle?
I don’t know the answer to that question — which is why I am worried. A pleasant, popular Prince who locks horns with the Press, and promulgates views at odds with most British people, could be riding for a fall.