UK royal family risks mishap unless Prince Harry is kept in the fold

Prince Harry is part of a global phenomenon as his travels and role in the media or book deals surrounding 'The Firm' demonstrate

Rwandan President Paul Kagame meets Prince Harry in Rwanda's capital Kigali. Getty
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If Buckingham Palace officials had much hair — they tend to be follicly challenged — by now it would be lying in great clumps on the floor. Not only at the Palace, but at the British government’s Foreign Office.

The reason for the angst? Prince Harry. This week, he flew to Heathrow, changed flights and went to Johannesburg.

From there, the Prince journeyed to Mozambique, where he stayed three days, and to Rwanda. Up popped a picture on the Twitter account of Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, of the beaming leader alongside the Royal.

For those involved in protecting and enhancing the reputation of Britain’s foremost family, and those immersed in the nuance and craft of international diplomacy, this is nerve-jangling stuff.

Proclaimed the tweet: “President Kagame received Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, who visited Rwanda as part of his work as president of African Parks.

“The government of Rwanda has agreements with African Parks to manage Akagera and Nyungwe national parks.”

Harry later went on to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial, with the organisation sharing several pictures of him on Twitter and declaring he “paid his respects to victims of the genocide against the Tutsi.”

All straightforward and harmless. Except none of us know what else was said, who was present apart from Mr Kagame.

In Britain, Rwanda is at the centre of controversy over the government’s plan to transport illegal immigrants there for processing and resettling. Here was the prince standing side by side with its president.

Before any official visit by members of the royal family or government, there are briefings. They are told what to say, what not to say. The itinerary is pored over microscopically, every detail and every possible connotation, is explored. Afterwards, there are reviews and assessments.

Not with Harry. As someone technically outside the royal enclosure, he is free to do as he pleases. Except that is not how he is viewed overseas. In anywhere but the highest reaches of the British establishment, he is regarded very much still as HRH.

Foreign governments, NGOs, charities, commercial corporations, celebrities, the public at large — none of them pay heed to the official protocol. As far as they are concerned, he is Harry, the second son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and he always will be, and as such, he is to be courted and feted.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, stand on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. AFP

For the palace and their colleagues in the Foreign Office, who like everything to be tightly controlled and managed, this is a chronic headache. They have no say over the causes he supports, they cannot determine his diary, they have no influence over his sources of income. He is beyond their reach, yet he is popularly seen as “a royal”.

To make matters worse, Harry is intent on publishing his memoir. Due shortly, the advance publicity is suggesting it is a no-holds barred, warts-and-all, account of his life.

Even allowing for the likelihood that some of the advance claims are hyped, its ability to provoke embarrassment and hurt, and yes, anger, cannot be underestimated. This, to put it mildly, is a very “un-royal” thing to do.

But, of course, Harry is not one of them. He does not belong any more; he is free to do as he chooses.

Meghan podcast

Meghan Markle, the wife of Prince Harry, launched her long-awaited podcast Tuesday, with tennis megastar Serena Williams as the first guest.

The Duchess of Sussex said the 12-part series, called "Archetypes," -- a play on the name of the couple's oldest child, Archie -- would explore the female experience.

Last year the couple told Oprah Winfrey that life inside "The Firm" had been miserable, and that they had experienced racism.

"I don't ever remember personally feeling the negative connotation behind the word ambitious, until I started dating my now-husband," she told the tennis champion.

Coming so soon on the back of the CBS interview with Oprah Winfrey and publication of Finding Freedom, ostensibly an “unofficial” biography of Harry and his wife, Meghan, but co-authored by her friend Omid Scobie and bearing traces of her imprimatur, this is bound to be yet another hammer blow for the House of Windsor.

Harry’s current position and his behaviour carry strong echoes of his mother; how, when Diana separated from Charles and she became detached from the royal family and its infrastructure, the princess was both her own boss and a loose cannon.

Diana was also, irritatingly for the Palace, universally popular — as Harry, despite some negative press coverage and comment, is proving to be.

There is a sense, too, that Harry very much sees himself as replicating Diana’s role. Recently, he spoke at the UN on Nelson Mandela Day (he is close to Mozambique's former First Lady Graca Machel, who is also the widow of Mandela).

Harry referenced Diana, as he frequently does: “Since I first visited Africa at 13 years old, I have always found hope on the continent. In fact, for most of my life, it has been my lifeline … It is where I have felt closest to my mother and sought solace after she died …”

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex arrive for a visit to "Justice  desk", an NGO in the township of Nyanga in Cape Town, as they begin their tour of the region on September 23, 2019. Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan arrived in South Africa on September 23, launching their first official family visit in the coastal city of Cape Town. The 10-day trip began with an education workshop in Nyanga, a township crippled by gang violence and crime that sits on the outskirts of the city. / AFP / POOL / POOL / Betram MALGAS

While the retinue of courtiers struggle with how to deal with Harry, and while there is a distinct froideur between Harry and his brother, William, at least one member of the family is intent on keeping him within the fold.

Harry and Meghan are due in Britain early next month for the first time since the platinum jubilee to attend several charity events, including the One Young World Summit in Manchester. They will then head to Germany for an Invictus event (the sporting charity for disabled serving and former military personnel is another of Harry's passions), before returning to the UK for a charity awards presentation.

It is thought they will use their trip to see Queen Elizabeth II — although she may be busy because their arrival is in the same week that the monarch will receive the new prime minister. She is said to be keen to see them and has extended an invitation to join her at Balmoral.

It is typically canny of the Queen, possibly going against the advice of some who would see the meeting as further blurring the status of the Duke and Duchess. Are they in or out? If they are somewhere in between, how are they to be treated?

Progress towards a better rapprochement and understanding might be made if the government restored Harry’s taxpayer-funded protection. He is suing the Home Office over its decision to remove his guards, which he says makes it unsafe for him, Meghan and their two children, Archie and Lilibet, to come to Britain.

While, technically, he is no longer entitled, and there would be some criticism if it was returned, those responsible should reconsider.

Not only does the lack of cover give him an excuse to cavil, and further aggravate the wound, but it should be remembered (as if Harry would forget) what happened to Diana when she was without her official security.

As the beaming Mr Kagame illustrates, to many people in the world, Harry remains a royal. The officials should swallow hard, and, difficult as it is, be more positive and inclusive.

Published: August 24, 2022, 7:23 AM
Meghan podcast

Meghan Markle, the wife of Prince Harry, launched her long-awaited podcast Tuesday, with tennis megastar Serena Williams as the first guest.

The Duchess of Sussex said the 12-part series, called "Archetypes," -- a play on the name of the couple's oldest child, Archie -- would explore the female experience.

Last year the couple told Oprah Winfrey that life inside "The Firm" had been miserable, and that they had experienced racism.

"I don't ever remember personally feeling the negative connotation behind the word ambitious, until I started dating my now-husband," she told the tennis champion.

OPINION