Prince Harry faces British backlash over tell-all royal memoir

When Prince Harry’s tell-all memoir was leaked early via a Spanish retailer this week, the California-based royal faced a swift backlash back home in Britain.

In a snarky reference to the at times painfully candid book’s title, Sparethe pro-establishment Daily Mail newspaper on Friday carried the front page headline “Oh Spare Us”.

The rightwing Daily Express said the prince had “Sold [His] Soul” while the staunchly royalist Sun newspaper quoted former soldiers saying the prince had “betrayed his army colleagues” by revealing the number of Taliban fighters he claimed to have killed.

The welter of titillating revelations risks tarnishing the British monarchy’s reputation abroad, according to leading historians, royal biographers, public relations experts and pollsters.

A poster advertising the launch of Prince Harry’s memoir ‘Spare’ in London © Leon Neal/Getty Images

But despite the prince embarking on what one royal historian called a “family vituperation”, data show UK public support for leading members of the royal family holding firm in the face of criticism from Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.

The prince’s own personal popularity, however, has been on the slide since he embarked on a series of media appearances and interviews last year.

The prince – who now lives in the US and has given up all official royal duties – has repeatedly aired grievances against senior royals. They include his father King Charles and his brother Prince William, with whom he says in his book that he had a physical altercation.

As well as criticizing his father for not hugging him following the death of his mother Diana, Princess of Wales, the prince made several personal admissions in the book, including using cocaine and losing his virginity to an older woman in a field behind a pub at the age of 17.

Robert Lacey, a royal historian and biographer, said the unstinting nature of the revelations had diminished him far more than the institution of the monarchy.

“What is crucial to the monarchy is the conduct of the King, and to a lesser extent his heir, including their disengagement from this family vituperation,” said Lacey. “The personal revelations. . . reflect very poorly on the source of those revelations — which is how the British public responded to it.”

The book, due to be officially published next week but accidentally put on sale early by a Spanish retailer, has drawn a furious response from the pro-royal establishment.

Prince William, Kate Middleton, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

From left: Prince William, Catherine, Princess of Wales, Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, wave to members of the public following the death of Queen Elizabeth in September © PA

William Shawcross, official biographer of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, said the prince’s memoir was “unlike his generous conduct as a brave army officer and sponsor of the Invictus Games” for wounded veterans.

“Constitutional monarchy is at the core of Britain’s unique success. It is shocking that Harry and his wife seem to want to undermine it so cruelly,” he added.

Data from YouGov, the polling company, showed support for the prince and the duchess in the UK dipping last month after the couple strongly criticized Buckingham Palace in a six-part documentary series for the streaming platform Netflix.

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Beth Kühnel Mann, a research executive at YouGov, said Spare was likely to further reduce the couple’s popularity in the UK. “We saw them both take a hit to their popularity in December, so when looking forward to the impact the memoir might have, we shouldn’t expect it to be positive,” she said.

At the same time, while approval ratings for senior royals including the King and the Prince of Wales slid fractionally after the Netflix series, they remained overwhelmingly positive compared to those of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Negative public opinion of the couple in the UK is reflected in the coverage of the revelations by the country’s press, the vast majority of which is hostile to the prince. He has frequently clashed with the British tabloid media, blaming them for hounding his mother to her death in 1997.

The Princess of Wales with her sons Prince William, left, and Prince Harry

Diana, Princess of Wales, with her sons Prince William, left, and Prince Harry in 1995 © PA

The prince’s description of his 25 kills as like “chess pieces taken off the board” also opened him up to being used for propaganda by the Taliban. One of the group’s senior leaders wrote on Twitter that those who died were “not chess pieces, they were humans”.

However David Yelland, editor of the Sun between 1998 and 2003, said that while the British press and public’s support for the royal family was solid, Spare still presented serious problems for Buckingham Palace, which has refused to comment on any of the allegations.

“The bigger issue is that Harry, in theatrical terms, has broken the ‘fourth wall’ and let light into an institution that has survived for centuries in the dark,” said Yelland. “The risk to the palace is that the monarchy becomes a soap opera. The more light you shine, the less likely it is to survive.”

He added that the royal family could not afford to ignore the fact that the Netflix documentary had been a success in the US and raised questions about race, which played very differently in the US, where the couple were popular.

The royal family watched a flypast marking the centenary of the Royal Air Force in July 2018

The royal family watched a flypast marking the centenary of the Royal Air Force in July 2018 © PA

“If most people in the world side with Harry and Meghan, and people in Britain side with the royals, that doesn’t work in the long term,” he added.

The torrent of personal revelations comes at a difficult moment for Buckingham Palace as courtiers work to establish the reputation of the new king, whose coronation will take place on May 6.

Sir Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at King’s College London and author of Monarchy and the Constitutionsaid the British public had long separated royals’ private lives from their constitutional roles.

History showed that Britons had remained supportive of the monarchy despite previous royal dramas, he said, citing the seamless coronation of George VI in May 1937 despite the abdication of his brother Edward VIII the previous December.

Even Queen Elizabeth’s self-declared “annus horribilis” of 1992, when three of her four children went through messy and very public break-ups, did not shake the public’s faith in the institution, added Bogdanor.

“The remarkable thing is how little impact the annus horribilis had on the standing of the monarch. In the nineties, opinion polls support remained stable between 70 and 75 percent. People saw beyond it.”

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