OPINION: By Selina Scott
Among the many incendiary charges the Duke of Sussex made in his drive-by shooting of the Royal Family this week, one struck me as especially wounding for his father. Prince Harry told Oprah: "My father and brother, they are trapped; they don't get to leave. For the family they very much have this mentality of: 'this is just how it is, this is how it is meant to be; you can't change it, we've all been through it'." He then graciously added, as if to mitigate this corrosive bombshell: "and I have great sympathy for that."
Asked if he would have left "the Firm" if he hadn't married the Duchess, the Duke replied: "No, I wouldn't have been able to, because I myself was trapped as well; I didn't see a way out. I was trapped but I didn't know I was trapped."
The implication of this, of course, is that the Prince of Wales had never developed the mentality to question his destiny, accepting life in the gilded cage of the British monarchy in exchange for the throne. I know this not to be true. Charles has always been acutely aware he was in a straitjacket – in a life he had to lead even though, given his character and personality, it was not one he would have chosen himself.
As I listened to Harry, my thoughts immediately shifted back 30 years to a tiny crofter's cottage on Berneray, a magical island in the southern Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, where I spent a gale-lashed week with Charles. I was making a documentary for ITV about the Prince's deep affection for the Gaels and their culture on this romantic, remote island, home to just 145 people.
For a week, Charles lived in the home of crofter Donald "Splash" MacKillop and his wife Gloria, ate potatoes he dug out of the ground himself, slept in a spartan attic on a hard sprung bed he shared with the family's black cat, loving the simplicity. Far away from the panoply of Palace life, accompanied only by his private secretary Richard Aylard, all barriers and genuflecting had been parked in a landscape of ruined crofts, sheep and beautiful silver beaches, where religion and fishing continues to be a staple of island life.
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After filming we walked on the sands, watching the white foaming rollers crash in, and there was something about this no-filter environment that allowed Charles to relax and speak candidly about his views of royalty, kingship and life ahead as he saw it.
"You're lucky Selina; you don't have your life mapped out for you for as far as you can see, for every minute, for every hour, for every day, for every year," he said.
"Let me tell you there are many times I feel totally trapped ... I lack a great deal of confidence so it is quite a struggle," he continued. "I could quite happily decide to lead a much quieter existence and make speeches that were purely replete with platitudes but I don't think that is going to get anybody anywhere."
When I asked him about his feeling that he was "trapped" he described a pressure to meet both the privilege and responsibilities of his birth.
"I have a very well developed conscience, I suppose, which is always needling me. I look around and I see so many people in far less fortunate positions than I am and I feel: 'here I am in this position. What can I do to the best of my ability to improve their lot?' "
When Charles delivered this mea culpa he wasn't much older than Harry is now and while it may not be fashionable – the Queen's mantra, never explain, never complain, has underpinned the success of her reign – I felt then and still do that his decency shone through.
I have known Charles for more than half his life, both professionally and personally. I have interviewed him twice for American television. I was a guest at Highgrove for his 50th birthday party. I totally believe his sincerity when he said: "I have had this extraordinary feeling for years and years, ever since I can remember, really, wanting to heal and make things better. I feel more than anything it is my duty to worry about everybody and their lives in this country ... to try to find a way of improving them if I possibly can."
How refreshing it would have been to hear Harry speak with such a direct sense of public duty in his interview with Oprah, instead of intoning Los Angeles "truth speak". In baring his soul to Oprah, the undisputed queen of show business, and the protection of her court, Harry has surrendered the sovereignty of the House of Windsor to the House of Hollywood, and swapped his gilded cage for the gated communities of California, where armed guards patrol celebrity homes.
What struck many British viewers as most hypocritical, while he and Meghan played the grieving victims, was not just their display of narcissism before an audience riven by the pandemic, but that they seek to make their fortune out of their association with the Royal Family, with lucrative Netflix and Spotify deals, while rubbishing it at the same time.
Note that though they threw Charles under the bus, they took great care to eulogise their gold-plated association with the Queen. There can be no doubt that Charles is deeply hurt and must recognise the damage to public perception of him as our future king. And, like many of us, will be wondering: what happened to the Harry we used to love?
The roots of the Duke's divorce from his family were forged many years ago – he has had to endure the toxic fairytale of Diana and Charles, the revelation of Squidgygate, Camillagate and Hewittgate and the rumours about his true paternity – but clearly the Duchess is the catalyst for the change. While I don't warm to her, feeling that I saw an actress at work in her Oprah interview, I have a certain sympathy for women in supporting roles. Outsiders marrying into the Royal Family have all had to go through it and there can be no doubt that Meghan, despite her protestations that she was an innocent in royal ways, would have been well briefed before walking up the aisle. She would have known Fergie was branded the Duchess of Pork; Princess Michael, Princess Pushy; the Duchess of Cambridge was Waity Katy.
Revenge outbursts, however, rarely bring happiness. Diana regretted her "There were three of us in this marriage" Panorama broadcast because of the pain it caused her sons. Like any mother, Diana would be distraught at William and Harry's estrangement. She'd devoted her life to keeping them close and although her memory may yet live on in the name chosen for the little girl Meghan is expecting, Diana would never have wanted her boys to end up like this.
With hindsight it is relevant to remember the brothers' teenage years, when headlines such as "Harry's drug shame" or the scandal of his Nazi fancy dress uniform broke, but William's reputation was never tarnished. In his recent book, Battle of Brothers, Robert Lacey wrote that what wasn't reported was that William was with Harry when he chose his costume and laughed all the way to the party with him.
Resentment that William was protected from public opinion while Harry was hung out to dry began to widen into a rift when William urged caution in Harry's romancing of Meghan – and she realised after their marriage that she would always have to fall into line behind William and Kate.
There is no doubt the trauma of his parents' toxic relationship, witnessed by the two boys in all its fury, and his mother's tragic end is a wound that for Harry perhaps can never be healed. Diana confided in a 12-year-old William but Harry was probably too young to have shared that bond. The blame for her death, he holds firm, lies with the media and continues to fuel the anger in him.
Whatever the future, it cannot be doubted that Charles loves his two boys, equally. And in some way Harry is right to say his father is trapped – but it is an emotional trap that cages Charles now, faced with the eventual loss of his own father, still in hospital, and the wounds of his youngest son.