I wonder what it feels like to celebrate a 36th birthday out in a mansion in California, far from your family, friends, the army comrades and indeed regiments that might wish you well; the charities that would want to mark the day with a card or a text to thank you for your support? Prince Harry turns 36 today, 15 September. It is an age with poignant reminders. Soon he will have lived as long as his mother, Diana, who died two months after reaching the very same age. He has a little boy, Archie, too young to recognise his dad’s birthday (and even if older, children are surely more interested in their own birthdays than those of their parents). And he has his wife, Meghan, who will no doubt celebrate the occasion with appropriate festivities – appropriate at any rate to California.
It may be that the Sussexes consider they are on a bit of a roll at the moment. They have bought a house north of Malibu for a rumoured $14.5 million. They have paid back the British taxpayer the cost of doing up Frogmore Cottage – £2.4 million. They have secured a massive Netflix deal, which sounds as if it is just what they wanted. Forgive me if I am not overly excited about this, because I predict some pitfalls. Obviously when companies give you a lot of money, they expect a lot in return. Will they get what they want? We are not privy to the finer points of the agreement, but it would not surprise me if the new Netflix partnership leads the Sussexes into uncomfortable situations and uncharted waters. They will have to deliver.
Prince Harry occupied a great role in Britain.
All we have been told is that the deal should bring them in the region of $100 million and that they will be producing programmes “creating content that informs but also gives hope”. The Sussexes stated: “As new parents, making inspirational family programming is also important to us”, and they added that Netflix’s “unprecedented reach will help us share impactful content that unlocks action”. So 193 million subscribers to Netflix can access these programmes exclusively. I subscribe to Netflix but the Sussex show may not be my first choice.
Harry has a new life now. The Queen is very nearly 95 and Prince Philip is well on his way to being 100. Elizabeth II continues to represent this country, working daily on her red boxes. In the recent pandemic crisis, she has proved – again – to be an inspiration to the nation. There are not many people who can make a broadcast and casually refer to a wartime broadcast that they made 80 years before. She has had much on her plate, worrying about how Covid-19 is affecting the nation, dealing with the transfer of government from Theresa May to Boris Johnson, Brexit negotiations and private family worries: the inevitable concern for a very old husband, not to mention the Duke of York.
Members of the Royal Family are at their best when they support the Queen, rather than set themselves up in competition. Those who do their duty, as the Queen has done, usually emerge happier than those who pursue the path of perceived happiness. Witness the Duke of Windsor, who clearly did not want to be king. Subconsciously perhaps, he found a woman whom the British would never accept as Queen, a twice-divorced American. Off he went and yet hardly had he gone than he wanted to return, to reinvent himself as a younger brother of the new King, to live at Fort Belvedere, and to suit himself in which way he contributed to national life. But no. He had let his people down and so he remained in self-imposed pointless exile. Members of his family spoke of him in the past tense. He had turned his wife into one of the world’s most hated women, and that was uncomfortable. Unfairly described as “the woman who stole the king”, the Duchess of Windsor looked after him as best she could – a man with a formerly-great destiny, reigning over two thirds of the population, but who from 1937 onwards had nothing to do.
Members of the Royal Family are at their best when they support the Queen, rather than set themselves up in competition.
Prince Harry occupied a great role in Britain. As boys, he and his brother inspired considerable sympathy for losing their mother in their teenage years. Harry grew up as something of a tearaway, but his was the right age to be one. Then he served gallantly in the army, was respected by his peers and seemingly happy in their company. His creation of the Invictus games was inspirational. The Queen gave him and Meghan the entire Commonwealth to explore and to help. It seemed an ideal fit, where they both had so much to offer. But selfless service was not to be – and as Britain and the world descended into pandemic crisis, off they flew to their new life. Meanwhile, the Royal Family threw themselves into the effort of supporting the NHS and others who were striving hard in the time of crisis. Even the little Cambridge children entered public life with their clapping. Prince Harry could have contributed so much, but he wasn’t there.
These birthday thoughts are uncomfortable. I wonder what the next year will bring him. Meanwhile, let’s hope he has a happy day.
Hugo Vickers in a writer and broadcaster. He has written biographies of Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece, and Gladys Deacon, Duchess of Marlborough.
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