When all 3.1kg of Prince Henry Charles Albert David came into the world on September 15, 1984, he was immediately defined by what he was not: not the man destined to rule and not the person who would ever sit on the throne.
Despite all the wealth and privilege that comes with being born into the Queen’s family, there is a certain poignancy to the sheer lack of control Harry has had over so many aspects of his life for more than three decades.
However, the latest bad news to befall the unintentionally-drama-prone royal cannot be blamed on dynastic fate or forces beyond his control; rather reports that Harry is set to have his
honorary military roles taken from him rests on his shoulders.
The UK’s Daily Express has reported the Queen “is expected to strip him of key military patronages.” In the wake of that story breaking, the UK Telegraph, meanwhile, reported that Harry “is determined to keep his honorary military titles and wants to spend more time in the UK”.
A definitive answer as to whether Harry will be able to hang onto his three prestigious roles – as Captain General of the Royal Marines, Honorary Air Commandant of RAF Honington and Commodore-in-Chief, Small Ships and Diving, Royal Naval Command – will not come until March.
However, if he is forced to relinquish these positions once and for all, there will be a certain tragic inevitability to the whole sorry mess and it could be argued he brought this all on to himself.
For a decade, Harry proudly served in the military including two tours on the frontline in Afghanistan. Since leaving full time service in 2015, his staunch support for the armed services and veterans has been unwavering, launching the hugely successful Invictus Games.
Then came the events of the last two years, a period characterised by turmoil and PR crises galore as the Harry’n‘Meghan double act became a can’t-look-away soap opera.
Things came to a historic head when the couple announced on January 8 last year that they were done with being senior working members of the royal family, a move that is reported to have “blindsided” Buckingham Palace.
Under the terms of the exit deal that was finally hashed out between the Sussexes and the palace, the couple was forced to give up their Sussex Royal moniker and their ability to use their HRHs. Harry also agreed to step down from his military roles, however officials involved in the talks told the Times that “the Queen agreed to keep the positions open during the review period so that he could return, if it was deemed appropriate”.
Here’s the thing: There is nothing in the royal ‘rule book’ that means just because Harry was off to the US to make his own way in the world, he had to give up his beloved military appointments.
There is precedent for non-working members of the Queen’s family to also hold honorary military roles. For example, Prince Michael of Kent, who is a businessman, has seven of them.
So, if the Queen does ultimately decide to rescind her grandson’s prized military roles, it won’t be because she has to but because she feels like his actions over the last year necessitate it.
What I can’t get past is that surely it didn’t have to be this way.
Rather, the impression that reports out of the UK have cast is that Harry’s outspokenness at certain points over the last year has backed the Queen into something of a corner.
For example, the statement they made in February last year which seemed to have a certain shirty tone to it in which they complained that “the preference of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex was to continue to represent and support Her Majesty The Queen albeit in a more limited capacity” along with pointing out that “there is precedent for other titled members of the Royal Family to seek employment outside of the institution”.
Then there was the publication in early August of Finding Freedom, a biography of the couple. Lawyers for Meghan later admitted she had allowed a friend to speak to the book’s authors about her relationship with her father.
The bestseller, which cast the Sussexes as victims of an unsympathetic palace machine, spectacularly dredged up The Great Wales Boys Feud, ensuring family divisions and angst were slapped on full, dramatic display.
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In September, came their most controversial move yet: Weighing in on the race for the White House. Speaking as part of a TIME event, Harry called on American voters “reject hate speech, misinformation and online negativity,” comments which were widely interpreted as him taking a stance against Donald Trump despite members of the Queen’s family traditionally remaining politically neutral.
A royal aide told the T imes that “the (royal) family are all wringing their hands, thinking: where is this going and does this abide by the deal to uphold the values of the Queen? The feeling is it’s a violation of the agreement.”
At the time, the aide flagged that Harry’s intervention into the US election would make it “harder” for the royal to keep his military appointments.
“The door was left open,” the aide said. “There were some things that Harry hoped he could opt back into. He dearly wants to hang on to the Royal Marines and the military appointments. That will be harder now.”
Looking back, Harry has not exactly gone out of his way to stay on the Queen’s good side.
While there is a certain impressiveness to their vehemence and commitment to making their voices heard, I can’t help but wonder if they would ultimately be able to achieve much more had they applied a modicum of strategy and patience to their new lives.
Surely the savvier thing to do would have been to have opted for a more softly, softly approach while the wounds from Megxit were still so fresh and so raw.
What both Harry and Meghan seem to suffer from is an inability to take the long view and play the waiting game. Instead, their three-plus years of official coupledom have been characterised by a certain hell-for-leather, all-guns-blazing approach.
Finding Freedom quotes a “source close to the couple” as saying they can be “impatient and impulsive”.
“They run hot in a way,” the source told the book’s authors. “The reactions in individual moments are definitely not the same, a month, a few weeks, down the line.”
“You can say what you want about Meghan, but she works incredibly hard,” a source who has worked with the Sussexes told Vanity Fair last year. “The problem is she and Harry have a tendency to hatch big projects over dinner and expect them to be actioned within days.
“Meghan had brilliant ideas, but she was always in a hurry and aides had to sit down and explain that foundations and big projects take thought, time and commitment, they cannot be rushed.”
Had they bided their time and approached their new California chapter with just a jot more restraint, letting the palace acclimatise to their new roles and passionate vocalism, surely it would have been less of a culture shock for the hidebound courtiers left behind.
If they need any proof that this longer term approach works then they need look no further than Harry’s father, Prince Charles. This week he launched a treasury report which argues that the value of nature should be factored into national wealth. (Riveting, I know.)
For more than 40 years the Prince has been banging on about environmental issues and in the last year has launched a series of increasingly ambitious green initiatives. Imagine if way back when he started, or even ten years ago, he had wheeled out his most radical ideas and demands for big money to play a role in addressing climate change.
He would have been sent to the tower by the press and business interests all wielding pitchforks and Republic UK membership forms.
Like so many things in life, it comes down to timing. It is not that Harry and Meghan should necessarily not have done or said what they have but that they foolishly did and said it all straight out of the gate.
Monarchy doesn’t move at the same pace as real life and things are not considered in terms of weeks or months but years, decades and reigns.
What is just so sad is that Harry is such an amazing spokesman for the military; that he is such a passionate and committed advocate for the men and women who have risked their life in the name of his grandma and his country.
The tragedy of Harry is that his heart has always been in the right place; it is just that his mouth, at times, is not.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.