I’m at risk of being callous here; of dismissing the problems of a man whose mother died in public circumstances when he was thirteen, who’s suffered from depression, who’s every movement has been monitored, tracked and publicised by the media, and who’s work for charity, in particular for disabled veterans, has been instrumental. I’m at risk of deriding his struggles and dismissing his intent. I want to make clear that I’m not trying to do that. Abolitionist or not, it’s hard to argue that Prince Harry hasn’t made a case for the monarchy as a force for good. He is, pretty definably, a good man. He just has to think about what he’s saying.
Because when he remarked in a Newsweek interview last week that: ‘we, [the Royal Family] aren’t doing this for ourselves but for the good of the British people’ he didn’t think about what he was saying. He distracted from and devalued an ongoing conversation about the nature of wealth, status and social class in British politics.
For one, there’s an implied agony to that statement that simply doesn’t resonate. It attempts to cast the Royal Family as a collection of noble stoics, battling down their agony in the name of some vague national interest. Not just in the context of Diana’s death, in which it might be understandable, but in a wider, collective sense. It seems disingenuous, nauseating, even, to suggest that being born into one of the wealthiest families in the world, to a life of unchecked privilege, wealth, security, status and luxury, might be somehow for the greater good. To sit, straight-faced, and claim that gorging yourself on public funds and inherent privilege has been ‘pretty rough’, to cast it as some grand, cosmic sacrifice, makes me sick.
The Prince has had his troubles but he, and his family, have not died for our sins. It’s important we don’t let the royals construct this narrative: the sacrifices of being a royal go hand in hand with the privileges. He might not get to choose, but then neither does anyone else. Their existence comes with its burdens, but we can’t ignore that it’s a privileged one.
The rest of the Newsweek interview reads almost like satire; ‘people would be surprised by the normal life William and I live. I do my own shopping.’ He asserts, apparently aware of the innate absurdity. That vague self-awareness might offer some slim saving grace, but it evidently wasn’t quite potent enough to stop him from actually saying anything. That Harry seems nonetheless to have equated going to Waitrose and buttering his toast with living a genuinely ‘normal’ life is probably, just maybe, indicative of his own colossal privilege and of the fundamentally ignorant stance from which he speaks.
The sentiment is grisly enough as it is. The world is too harsh and too cruel and too cold already without the elite telling everyone else they’ve got it rough because they do the weekly shop. But it might be forgivable in any other context. Harry is, after all, far from the only cultural figure and far from the only royal to try and mark himself out as normal. Today, however, in 2017 it can’t be taken lightly. In 2017 it distracts from a national conversation about the cost of austerity in politics. One that has only just emerged to the fore, built off the back of Labour’s unprecedented surge in the 2017 election, and off the back of a manifesto which finally provided a meaningful foil to the social welfare cuts and neo-liberal economics of the last few decades of British politics.
It can’t be taken lightly because it comes in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. It comes only weeks after normal people, actually normal people, lost their lives because a governing caste had ignored their problems for so long. These are conversations about what it means to be middle and working class in Britain. When a council estate block in working class London- a city defined by gentrification and a blossoming housing crisis- sets alight because government has failed to renew inner city housing, the resultant conversation can only be about social class and income politics.
For Prince Harry to claim he leads anything resembling a ‘normal life’, then, is to devalue that conversation. Because the people leading normal lives are tied to the British system of social welfare closely enough that austerity affected them, lives in towers blocks and face mountains of student debt. Harry might have seen the odd homeless person on the street, he might have shaken hands and spoken to a few kids, but that doesn’t make him a ‘normal’ person, that doesn’t bring him any closer to what the real world is like. It’s not only that Prince Harry has claimed, egregiously, to live a normal life, it’s that he’s done so now. When the costs of being normal in Britain are finally coming to the national fore. It’s that he’s done so when the politics of austerity have made themselves felt again. Genuinely, viscerally, tragically felt.
Harry is by no means a bad person. He’s quite clearly personable and generous and kind; his discussion of grief in a family defined by stiff upper lip is noble and his contributions to charity extend far beyond his identity as a royal. But he cannot claim to live a ‘normal life’ and nor can we allow him to suggest that the monarchy is a sacrificial- not a privileged- body. To do so would be to detract from the conversations we, as a society, need to be having.