I Used To Think The Royals Were Useless But Prince Harry Changed My Mind
I resent Prince Harry. He made me like the Royals.
Let me clarify, I mean the modern royals, not the originals. No offence to Queen Lizzie II, who seems pleasant enough in a retired schoolmarmy way, but I’ve never been able to see her relevance to a modern Australia (though weirdly I’m more than a little obsessed with the behind-the-scenes monarchy machinations of The Crown). What does the British monarchy really mean to the everyday Australian apart from a sentimental colonial throwback?
But the spinoff, Royals: Next Gen starring the apparently feuding cast members Wills, Kate, Harry and Megs, brought a much-needed gust of fresh air to a musty monarchy. It had been a long time between Spring cleans since Princess Diana last made a royal relatable.
If any Royal could chip away at my cold, cold anti-monarchy heart, I never imagined it would be Harry. It was only seven years ago that the former tearaway, scandal-plagued party boy was snapped cavorting naked with scantily clad women in a game of “strip billiards” in Vegas. His transformation since to responsible royal and tireless humanitarian is nothing short of miraculous, and I commend him for it.
The Duke of Sussex, despite his lofty title, is as down-to-earth as a British Royal can be. He’s personable, cheeky, genial but with a take-no-sh*t attitude, and he’s inherited his late mum’s innate human touch. I’m a sucker for empathy and compassion, and goddammit, Harry has it in spades.
It was there when he lovingly embraced war widow Gwen Cherne during a Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb on a royal tour last year for the Invictus Games. Harry wanted to know more about her husband, war veteran Sergeant Peter Jon Cafe, who she had recently lost to suicide, and if she was getting the support she needed. According to Cherne, he shooed away royal minders when they tried to cut their chat short.
Of all his charitable work, modeled on his mother’s philosophy of using her privileged position to help others, it’s Harry’s championing of mental health awareness, an issue close to my heart, and his honesty in sharing his own struggles, that has landed a one-two punch to my royal resistance.
In a 2017 interview with journalist and author Bryony Gordon on her Mad World podcast, the Royal was stunningly frank about his struggles with mental health, his bottling of grief for his mother and the pressure his position brings.
He admitted he shut down his emotions for 20 years after the death of Princess Diana when he was just 12.
“My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?” he said.
“I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle.”
Our worlds couldn’t be further apart, but Prince Harry’s experiences resonate all the same. At the same age that Harry lost his mother, I had descended into a severe depression. Just over two years before the death of Diana in August 1997, my mother, a fan of the princess, had died when I was 17. I too buried my grief and only in recent times have I started to really deal with her death, which in turn brought on a disturbing bout of post-traumatic stress disorder.
But my grief wasn’t a public spectacle watched by billions, or complicated by the hefty expectations and scrutiny that come with being a Royal.
Today, I fear the acute media scrutiny on Harry and wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and all the rumours of royal fallouts that accompany it, threaten to overshadow his good work. Stories over the past few days alone have veered from whether Meghan is leaving Harry because of his rapidly balding head (yes, really), if the couple and baby Archie are moving to Canada, and former First Lady Hillary Clinton attributing the vitriol lobbed at Meghan by the British media in part, to racism.
I admire Harry for carrying on with his charitable work when you wouldn’t blame him for wanting to do a runner and abdicate his position altogether. But there he was on World Mental Health day last week in a video team-up with muso Ed Sheeran, which not only humorously riffed on the plight of “gingers” but led to a call to look out for those who may be having a hard time. (I was hoping for a ginger duet too, but you can’t have it all.)
Apart from it being his duty, Harry knows as a young Royal of interest that he’s got currency and he’s cashing in to help others. He wants people to talk about mental illness. He knows the “chaos” it caused in his own life because he didn’t; couldn’t. He’s laid his soul bare, putting his mouth where his money is, despite the media intrusion on his privacy that he’s been saddled with his whole life.
“What we’re trying to do is normalise the conversation to the point of where anyone can sit down, have a coffee and just go, ‘You know what? I’ve had a really sh*t day, can I just tell you about it?’" Harry told Gordon of the Heads Together mental health initiative he started with Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge. (Weird side note: nothing gets me going like a Royal willing to swear on record.)
Look, I’ll never be a monarchist, but I’d shoot the sh*t over coffee or a pint with a good prince like this any day.
If you need help in a crisis, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.