“Never complain, never explain.” That is, according to Prince Harry’s latest primetime moan, the motto of the royal family. In service of this, the prodigal prince found himself an hour-and-a-half slot on ITV (9pm on a Sunday, not bad for the “spare”) in which to lay out an exhaustive list of grievances and clarifications. If you’re not already drained by the endless Windsor saga, get ready for another glimpse inside Britain’s iciest family.
Tempting as it is, I’m not here to review the monarchy as an institution. I’m here to review this sliver of television. And ITV’s much-trailed feature-length interview is interesting in that department. The conversation between Prince Harry and interviewer Tom Bradby, who are sat face-to-face in a well-furnished drawing room, looks deceptively conventional. As conventional as you’d anticipate from two milquetoast men in their clubhouse smart casual. But what proceeds from there – a linear interview interspersed with archive footage and extended narration from Harry’s new book, Spare – amounts to what must be the longest-ever advert for an audiobook. “This felt like a good time to own my story,” Harry tells Bradby, and boy does he live up to that.
Bradby, meanwhile, is never one to leave a boot unlicked. He describes Harry’s prose alternately as “moving”, “searing”, “funny”, “scathing” and “heartbreaking”. “I don’t think anyone’s going to read it and not fly through it,” comes his final conclusion. It is a level of sycophancy – Bradby disclaims at the start that they “have known each other for more than 20 years” – typical of a product that is stage-managed and unchallenging from start to finish. For all that the younger prince rails against press intrusion, he has created, here, little more than a press release.
The current imbroglio of the royals is tolerable to me only as a sort of woke Squid Game, where the rich, powerful and entitled tear each other to pieces for the viewing pleasure of the proletariat. If ITV hadn’t been scooped on every major story from Spare over the past few days (from the rumpy-pumpy behind the pub, to the Great Dog Bowl Fight) then there would be a lot of gossip generated in that airless room. Instead, the closest we come to emotional revelation is Harry referring to his beard as “a shield to my anxiety”. The rest is the sort of word salad I more typically see on LinkedIn (perhaps, when the book tour is over, Harry can use it to find a job), with the prince describing how “no institution is immune to accountability” and the process by which he “recognised a level of unconscious bias” and “chose to right that wrong”. With soundbites like those, he could get a job in HR.
All the same, I instinctively support Harry’s crusade. He is self-evidently the lesser of generations and generations of evils. “I would like to get my father back,” he tells Bradby. “I would like to get my brother back. At the moment, I don’t recognise them.” If there is a poignancy to these words – and there is undoubtedly a poignancy to his recollections on the death of his mother – it has been cannibalised by the ferocious ubiquity of his narrative. As the credits roll on this interview, the ITV announcer is already promoting how another of Harry’s interviews, with Anderson Cooper, will be available exclusively on their streaming service. He’s won the air war, alright.
At one point in the interview, Harry refers to the process he’s undertaking – a media tour to end all media tours – as “not just unnecessary but incredibly sad”. He might’ve stopped after the first clause. ITV’s bite of the Harry apple is strange, choreographed, and does little more than rehash the free-flowing headlines of recent days. Perhaps Harry’s right and the villains in the press are going to drain all the fun from this juicy internecine drama by sheer force of overexposure.