PENNY JUNOR: Harry's making the same mistake as Diana

Harry’s making the same mistake as Diana – and I fear he’ll come to regret it, just like his mother did, writes royal biographer PENNY JUNOR

Prince Harry has a lot of his mother in him. And his disastrous decision to sit down with Oprah Winfrey alongside his pregnant wife is straight out of Diana’s book. 

It is just over 25 years since she publicly eviscerated her husband in that Panorama interview with Martin Bashir.

Sitting alone in Kensington Palace, head bowed, wiping away the occasional tear, she told the world about the agony of life within the Royal Family – the pressure, the press, and her loveless marriage to Prince Charles, saying famously: ‘There were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded.’

She lashed out at courtiers, whom she called ‘the enemy within’, cast doubt that Charles should ever be King and, tugging at our emotions, saying all she wanted to be was a ‘queen in people’s hearts’.

She had recorded the interview in secret and only informed her private secretary a week before it was broadcast – and even then refused to tell him in detail what it contained.

Prince Harry’s disastrous decision to sit down with Oprah Winfrey alongside his pregnant wife is straight out of Diana’s book

Similarly, Harry and Meghan kept their interview secret from the Royal Family until a couple of weeks ago.

Diana was delighted with what she had done. ‘It’s terribly moving,’ she said. ‘Some of the men who watched were moved to tears. Don’t worry, everything will be all right.’

Alas, she was wrong and came to very much regret it. Diana had been excited by the attention and hadn’t thought about the negative impact on her children. William was said to have felt embarrassed and humiliated by the broadcast. The Queen viewed it as the final straw and instructed Charles and Diana to divorce as soon as possible.

My guess is that, like Diana all those years ago, Harry and Meghan will be feeling pleased as punch about their own interview with Oprah, which airs in America tonight and in the UK tomorrow. Although perhaps not quite as pleased as Oprah, who has artfully secured the scoop of a lifetime.

But I suspect that one day Harry will come to regret it, just as Diana did.

As a former soldier, committed to putting duty and loyalty to Queen and country above all else, this looks like being a gross betrayal. A betrayal that will feed straight into the hands of those who would like to see the Monarchy abolished.

It is hugely damaging for Harry, too. For him the Monarchy is not some quaint, outdated institution, as it is for millions of Americans looking forward to tonight’s revelations. For Harry, the Monarchy is family.

While Meghan might feel no loyalty or affection for the family, Harry certainly once did. He has always been a much loved son, grandson, brother and brother-in-law.

To be prepared to put those relationships at risk for two hours of television is bizarre.

So why do it? I suspect for the same reasons that Diana went public. Harry and Meghan will be wanting approval and love from the world, and vindication.

Oprah will tease out every detail of Meghan’s ‘truth’ – every last gripe about her brief life as a working Royal, about her experience of racism in Britain.

Harry will play a supporting role and together they will talk about the toll on their mental health and pull at our heart strings, just as Diana did.

They will set out their stall as committed humanitarians, philanthropists whose mission is to make the world a better place, to promote social wellbeing so that ‘we, as people, are able to not simply survive – but to thrive’.

That sentiment from their old website, SussexRoyal, rings a little hollow in the light of claims by Royal aides – denied by Meghan – that she humiliated and bullied staff members, both before and after her marriage to Harry.

It is just over 25 years since she publicly eviscerated her husband in that Panorama interview with Martin Bashir

She particularly went for young women, it is said. Some were reduced to tears. Others were terrified, ‘shaking’ with fear. It is only now, with the complaints made public, that Buckingham Palace has said there will be an investigation. It’s a disgrace that they didn’t investigate in 2018.

Yet everyone at the Palace had been at pains to help Meghan – to make sure the marriage worked. They were acutely aware that the fallout, if it failed, would be catastrophic.

Last week, speaking to the comedian James Corden for the Late Late Show in the US, Harry explained why he gave up Royal duties.

‘We all know what the British press can be like,’ he said. ‘And it was destroying my mental health. I was like… this is toxic. So I did what any husband and father would do – I need to get my family out of here.’

Rich and privileged, he was able to do that. He took them to California and bought an $11 million house with a big garden.

But as he basks in the sunshine, telling Oprah and Corden about how ghastly it all was, I wonder how much sympathy he will get, or how much he deserves?

He’s not the only one whose mental health has been destroyed by their circumstances.

It seems particularly insensitive and self-serving to complain at a time when millions of people have had their lives and livelihoods destroyed by the pandemic.

Millions have been struggling to home-school children, locked down in cramped living conditions, thousands relying on food banks, thousands more grieving over lost loved ones or worried sick about relatives in hospital.

At a time, let’s not forget, when Harry’s own grandfather remains in hospital.

So far, we have seen only three small clips of the full interview – but that’s enough to let us guess what’s coming.

In one of them, Harry says his greatest fear was ‘history repeating itself. I’m just really relieved and happy to be sitting here talking to you with my wife by my side.

‘Because I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her [Diana], going through this process by herself all those years ago. It’s been unbelievably tough for the two of us, but at least we had each other’.

I suspect Harry still has a lot of unresolved grief about his mother. The loveable joker seems to have become an angry and unforgiving man, although there were charming snatches of the old Harry with Corden.

Much of that anger is directed towards the media. He has blamed them since he was 12 for hounding his mother to her death, for humiliating him when he was a wayward teenager, and now blames them for his wife’s sorrows.

He forgets that he had some good friends in the press and in television before he married Meghan – friends that he has frozen out.

Without media interest he could never have raised so much money or visibility for his charitable projects – the Invictus Games, Heads Together, Sentebale, to name but a few. It was the media’s coverage of his wedding that made it such a joyous day for millions.

When he announced that he wanted to step away from all of that a year ago, I think most people were sympathetic. Harry was worried about his wife and wanted privacy for his family.

But riding around Los Angeles on an open double-decker bus with Corden is not being private. Neither is sitting down with Oprah. Over the course of the past year, the Sussexes have courted publicity time and again.

At one point, Corden asked Harry if he had watched The Crown on Netflix, which paints a damning portrait of his father as a man whose treatment of Diana was monstrous. A portrait that is certain to be taken at face value by millions of viewers the world over, believing the programme to be historically accurate.

And Harry’s response?

‘I am way more comfortable with The Crown than I am seeing the stories written about my family, or my wife or myself.’

Harry, now in the pay of Netflix to the tune of many millions, missed the opportunity to stick up for his father – or even to suggest that the portrayal of Prince Charles was harsh and fictitious.

Maybe, like many people, he believes that what Diana told Martin Bashir all those years ago was the whole truth.

Charles has never attempted to correct her version of events, or defend himself. He has never criticised Diana. Her Panorama interview lives on.

I fear tonight’s broadcast will be just as divisive because Meghan, like Diana, polarises opinion. And those who buy into the narrative that they are all victims will applaud them for having had the courage to speak out.

Others will see it less charitably.

I hope it will bring Harry and Meghan everything they hope for. And I hope that one day the hurt and anger can be laid to rest and that Harry and his brother, in particular, can repair their relationship.

But I fear that the only winner tonight is going to be Oprah.

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