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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Right royal stewpot

So. Prince Harry has written a book. Just in case you missed it.

I’ll be serious now. Spare, the Duke of Sussex’s explosive memoir, was released earlier this month – and the public can’t get enough. Across the US, UK and Canada, 1.4 million copies were sold within 24 hours. Here at home, including in Wairarapa, it’s bolting off the shelves – apparently, The Warehouse Masterton sold out in one day. I suspect Air New Zealand’s shady Tweet about its dealings with Harry and Meghan had something to do with it.

In Spare, the Lord of the Gingers [as comic Stephen Colbert affectionately dubbed him] doesn’t mince words. And the reviews are … mixed. To his fans, he’s the lovable rouge who courageously exposed the racism within Buckingham Palace and the British Press. His detractors wonder if his thoughts were best confined to his therapist’s office.

I find myself oscillating between burn-out from the headlines and empathy for the Sussexes. It’s abundantly clear Harry is still carrying immense trauma from his mother’s death. And I don’t think we in Aotearoa fully appreciate the brutality of the UK tabloids. After a lifetime of being stalked by the photographer’s lens, who can blame Harry for wanting to take back control of the narrative?

That said, I feel for Prince William. If Harry hopes to mend fences with his brother, I doubt mocking his receding hairline will have the desired effect.

Back in the UK, the Sussexes’ popularity has taken a sharp tumble since Spare [and their Netflix docuseries] was released. Royalists are hugely protective of the institution which is, undoubtedly, integral to Britain’s DNA. Anti-royalists, struggling amidst a cost-of-living crisis, are also tuning out. Harry grew up in impossible wealth, mostly funded by their taxes – and now he’s complaining about being hard done by?

Even some Americans aren’t so sure. Can Meghan claim reliability when she throws star-studded baby showers and is besties with Beyoncé?

And yet, we can’t stop talking about the Sussexes. They’re celebrities – and we’re obsessed. As University of London professor Pauline Maclaran wrote for The Conversation, the lives of the Royals play out like a “soap opera”: Gowns, jewels, brawling brothers, illicit affairs, and a public hooked on every word.

Harry’s book, Maclaran points out, is “full of familiar narrative tropes”: the emotionless father, the scheming stepmother, the sibling rivalry, the meaningless sex behind the pub. And, just like any “good” soap, people are encouraged to pick a side. Are you Team Harry – the outspoken modern man, who shielded his wife from the same fate as his beloved mum? Or Team William – the brother who lost just as much, but maintains a classy and dignified silence?

The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. But, you know what people are like. We like nice, neat, either/or, hero/villain stories. That’s what celebrity culture feeds us. And it begs the question – outside of Women’s Weekly spreads, tabloid tidbits, Twitter wars, and tell-all books, what relevance does the monarchy hold in our lives?

I’m not here to tell you what to think. Harryites, Williamists, and those that couldn’t give a hoot – you do you. But I do think there’s a moment for compassion here. We’re talking about a young man who, after his mother was killed, was left in his room for hours to digest the news. Are we surprised that young man now has some bones to pick with the obsolescent institution that raised him?

And, while we’re at it, a question for Air New Zealand: How’s that missing luggage working out?

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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