“They lied to protect my brother but did not tell the truth to protect us” is how Prince Harry summed up his gripe with the Palace in the latest Netflix series of episodes in which he and his wife Meghan tell how they were hounded out of the UK owing to the persecution of Meghan by the British tabloid press.
Harry’s complaint, in a nutshell, is that there is a symbiotic alliance between the institution of the monarchy and the British press, which the Palace was not prepared to risk to protect Harry’s wife for fear of endangering the institution. He said that even the late Queen Elizabeth was not prepared to support him because her primary concern was to protect the monarchy.
After a brief honeymoon during which Harry and Meghan overshadowed his duller brother, William and his wife Catherine, he claimed the mood in the British press towards Meghan changed and she was subjected to scurrilous attacks because she was an American of mixed race.
Harry claims that William broke a pact they had made not to allow their offices to brief or leak stories against one another, let alone plant false ones, which he said is what happened to Meghan, orchestrated by his brother’s office. In Meghan’s words, she was fed to the wolves.
According to the latest Netflix series the two bothers fell out in front of their father now King Charles and the late Queen Elizabeth in which William shouted at him, which literally forced him to pack his bags and leave.
After their parents’ prolonged and very public break-up and subsequent divorce and the death of their mother Diana Princess of Wales in the hands of the paparazzi in a Paris underpass in 1997, you would have thought the two brothers inseparable. But as the poet Philip Larkin vulgarly put it: “they f*** you up your mum and dad. They don’t mean to but they do,” and so it was with William and Harry.
That said, the rift between the two brothers is not all the fault of their parents or the press or the paparazzi or the monarchy. There’s also that old chestnut, sibling rivalry. It has been with us since the beginning of time.
After Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise they had two sons Cain and Abel and although Cain was the first-born, God favoured his younger brother Abel because he was a shepherd and God preferred his sacrifices of lambs to the vegetables offered by Cain who was a farmer. So Cain murdered Abel out of jealousy and on being asked by God where his brother was famously replied: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The point about this and other Old Testament stories is not that they happened but that they are metaphors about what it is to be human. Sibling rivalry happens, and Harry is on a rivalry spree with his brother, egged on by his wife.
In January he will publish a book called Spare. It is a very sad title as it suggests that he has no role other than to wait just in case he is required as a spare. It reminds me of the film based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro called Never Let Me Go in which young clones live their lives for their spare parts, which they donate as and when their vital organs are required until they are depleted and die bereft of vital body parts.
Harry’s predicament is not unique. His great grandfather George VI is the only spare who was called upon as a spare to become king last century when Edward VIII abdicated to marry his American wife – echoes of which still reverberate in royal circles. Other spares include the queen’s sister Princess Margaret who was next in line until Charles was born and his uncle Prince Andrew until William was born.
What Harry means by spare, however, is not just what he was until George was born to William but also as a substitute to deputise for William as a working royal, which he was forced to give up and seek refuge in America.
Being spares did not work for Margaret or Andrew, both of whom brought the royal family into disrepute, and although it worked for George VI in the sense that he became king it was not what he wanted and probably shortened his life.
In the sultan’s court in the days of the Ottoman Empire sibling rivalry led to the practice of fratricide whereby on inheriting the throne the sultan would execute all his brothers to forestall rebellion and prevent rival courts to develop.
As a middle brother I too experienced sibling rivalry. I remember in my youth people would jokingly tease me that whereas my older brother was chess champion and my younger brother doubles-tennis champion I had no trophies to my name. I would reply that I did not mind basking in reflected glory, but that was off the point even though it was true.
But Harry is not just engaging in sibling rivalry, he is a man with a mission with which some people including myself sympathise. As he said he is his mother’s son and it seems he is out to avenge her death as he holds the tabloid press responsible, as he does the hounding of his wife from the UK.
Headed by the obnoxious Piers Morgan, the British media’s claim to attack his wife on the grounds that as a member of the Royal Family she had to take the rough with the smooth in the public interest is bogus, as the tabloid press is only interested in profit.
The Netflix series was done for profit too, but it was also done by a son wishing to avenge his mother and protect his family – and who can blame Harry for wanting to do both?
Alper Ali Riza is a king’s counsel in the UK and a retired part time judge