Like Hamlet, the Duke of Sussex is the epitome of the tortured ruler. But as long as he remains an active royal, he can never dodge the media spotlight

To be or not to be an active royal, that is the question raised last week on behalf of Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. It was aired by a concerned media after Harry applied the media – his friend Tom Bradby’s ITV documentary Harry& Meghan: An African Journey – to discuss his bitternes feelings about the media.

That circular progression chassis the perimeter of the hole in which the 35 -year-old prince meets himself trapped. He feels surrounded by the same obtrusive lenses he blames for his mother’s death and, like Diana, Princess of Wales, he has tried to break free from them with an emotional figure on primetime television.

Are his grumbles legitimate or a case study in the kind of spoilt privilege that is normally filed under the phrase” first-world troubles “? Certainly the questionable optics of discussing his own conflicts against the distressing backdrop of African deprivation did not go unnoticed by his commentators. Nevertheless, what seems beyond doubt is that Harry is a genuinely troubled soul, a 21 st-century tortured prince.

For many years he was known as the fun-loving brother, a walking-talking-drinking threat to stately protocol. If you were looking for one of the Queen’s grandchildren to be photographed playing naked billiards with a woman in Las Vegas or wearing a swastika armband at a fancy-dress party, then Harry was your man.

He was Prince Hal, the riotous royal without a character, a wayward but virtually likable young bloke who seemed to react to his weighty birthright with an ebullient instinct for insurrection. But more recently, his anguished ruminations suggests that another Shakespearean hero- Hamlet, the tormented prince who wants to avenge the deaths among a parent.

To hear him speak in Bradby’s film, and certainly to watch his body language, was to see a male who, at least by his own light-footeds, was taking up forearms against a ocean of troubles.

” Part of this position ,” he told Bradby,” and part of any profession, like everybody, is putting on a brave face and turning a cheek to a lot of the stuff, but again, for me and again for my wife, of course there is a lot of substance that hurts, specially when the majority of members of it is untrue. But all we need to do is focus on being real, and concentrating on being the person or persons that we are, and studying up for what we believe in .”

It may not have been a soaring soliloquy with an innate known of lyrical metre, and you sense Harry has invested more epoch learning self-help books than the Bard, but it was clearly heartfelt and it expressed perhaps the only good advice given by Polonius, the foreman counsellor in Hamlet: to thine own soul be true.

But who is Harry? One of the points that the man who is sixth in line to the throne has always knew difficult to accept is that millions of strangers, parties he’s never fulfill, feel as if they know who he is and are therefore in a position to pass judgment on him.

When he was 21 and a cadet at Sandhurst, he generated an interview in which he said:” I’m never going to … persuasion the public of who I am or what I want them to think I am, because my portrait is always being represented as something else. I don’t want to change. I am who I am. I’m not going to change because I’m being criticised in the press .”

Though he is older and wiser, the conviction that he is routinely and deliberately falsified remains unchanged. This sense of being made a caricature is an issue, he has said, that too aggrieved his father- in Prince Charles’s case as a hapless and ineffectual meddler. It’s not hard to imagine that Charles’s obvious displeasure of the media has helped inform his youngest son’s suspicions.

The problem is that the media are vital to the monarchy’s survival, like a parasite on which the legion comes to depend. If their visits, deliveries and weddings ceased to be the subject of media attention, they would sink into irrelevance. Royalty- the concept of a superior bloodline- is a dying anachronism, but celebrity is alive and flourishing.

The Queen will very likely prove to be the last monarch to retain a regal distance from the outside. She is the embodiment of Walter Bagehot’s far-famed axiom about not giving in “daylight upon magic”. But that period has passed, even if the Queen lives on. Harry’s parents both appeared on television in separate discussions among their adultery. His uncle, a friend of a imprisoned paedophile, has been accused of sleeping with a trafficked adolescent, accusations that have been strongly disavowed. The royal curtains have been irreversibly opened.

Diana was said to have been a ” modernising ” influence on the starchy ways of the Windsors. The” people’s princess” bring a populist touching to the dutiful business of photo opportunity. She was a democratising force, even if her approach was not always appreciated by the royal household.

Harry told Bradby that he wouldn’t be” bullied into playing the game that killed my mum “. It’s an understandable feeling. His mother died in a gondola crash under quest from paparazzi when he was just 12. But it’s hard to think what other activity is available to a imperial who wants to maintain a high profile.

Harry’s partner, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, has knowledge of the Hollywood kind of celebrity, a method controlled by relentless publicists growing stage-managed interviews. Harmonizing to a CNN report, based on” a source close to the Sussexes”, she seems to have believed she could play a role in reforming an antiquated institution to harness the “value” of a pair that has ” single-handedly modernised the monarchy “.

Harry
Harry and Meghan at the WellChild Awards in London this month. Photograph: Rex/ Shutterstock

That kind of restrained approach to image-maintenance may work with Vanity Fair but it’s not going to play in a tabloid nature in which off-the-record briefings and forthright beliefs are the lifeblood of royal coverage. In that context, it’s impossible to suppress storeys about tensions between Harry and two brothers, or accusations of hypocrisy for campaigning on climate change while flying in private spurts.

Yet Harry and his wife do have a large amount of public goodwill, regardless of their battle with the press that produced Harry earlier this month to sue the Daily Mirror and the Sun , and his wife to sue the Mail on Sunday . As a mixed-race couple, they represent a refreshing break with the prejudices of the past.

Moreover Harry, like his mother, has a winning personal touch with ordinary people. An administration at the Children’s Society says that he recently did some work with the charity in which he charmed everyone he dealt with.

Dylan Jones, the editor of GQ , says he’s met the sovereign several times and always learnt him” approachable, funny, engaging and whip-smart “. He recalls a photo period in which David Bailey was on confrontational flesh, but Harry managed to win the banter contest.

” He doesn’t suffer clowns gladly ,” says Jones,” but then why should he? He’s always come across as a captain .”

Perhaps his greatest strength, at this particular juncture in history, is his vulnerability. By coming forward a couple of years ago to discuss his mental health problems, he sounded with a younger generation eager to normalise the issue of mental illness. He spoke of how he closed down his feelings for 20 years after his mother died, and how he consulted a therapist.

As someone who not only lost his mother at a tender age but also, according to his own testament, killed enemy boxers in Afghanistan, he has a lot of recurring experiences to resolve. It doesn’t help, of course, to be doing it under criticize from a unfriendly media. Harry strongly implied to Bradby that his darknes daytimes had returned.

If that is the case, he has two alternatives. The first is the development of a zen-like indifference to the speculation and criticism that his life as a leading royal generates. To suffer, in other words, the slings and arrows of outrageous rich. The other to assist them revive” the Firm” by cutting back on its counts. He could take the large fortune he has, withdraw from public life, and devote himself to the good causes of his choice.

That way he and his wife can live rather than, as she places it, “exist”. To be or to thrive: that is the royal question the celebrity monarch must face.

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