On Monday, UK time, when Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex popped out of an anonymous mini-van outside the London High Court, thus surprising the pants off the waiting media throng, something very unusual happened.
Yes, Harry, a man who has single-handedly made himself into the world’s only professional kvetcher, appeared with that rarest of rare facial expressions, his now trademark glower replaced by an actual grin.
Today, it’s clear why the 38-year-old was looking so unusually upbeat as he entered the court, where he is one of seven famous names suing the Daily Mail’s parent company for alleged phone hacking. (The company has denied the claim.)
He was not just in London to share chia pudding recipes with fellow claimant Sadie Frost or to use up flight credit or because it is impossible to get a decent white fried slice in California.
Rather, he was there to indulge in his two favourite pastimes – giving Fleet Street a good kicking and launching a fresh, bruising PR assault on the royal family.
And for that reason the by now probably-broken-from-overuse alarm bell at Buckingham Palace should be ringing loudly.
The Duke of Sussex’s presence in London this week, the fact he flew 10 and a half hours to ensure that the world’s attention was on what is going on inside court 76, is definitive proof that the man is just not going to stop.
If ever there was a moment that King Charles might consider adding a large belt of whiskey to his usual calming tisane of mugwort then it’s now.
What has become clear this week is that Harry’s tell-all Spare wasn’t his final, parting shot in his fight against the Palace. Instead, the Duke is only going to continue waging his one-man war.
Confirmation of this came on the second day of the preliminary hearing, when Harry, via a witness statement, accused the royal family of covering up phone hacking, saying: “The institution was without a doubt withholding information from me for a long time.”
(Side note: Harry is the first member of the royal family to appear in a courtroom since Princess Anne in 2002 when she ended up with a criminal conviction after her dog bit two children.)
Sigh. Every time I think Harry must have said everything he could possibly say, allege, and sling overarm at the Palace, that he must surely be done with it, he pops up like an aggrieved whack-a-mole with a troop of high-priced lawyers (who must now basically be living in his pool house) to have another go.
For King Charles, Queen Camilla and William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales, who are busy trying to iron their coronation robes and work out if wearing ermine might earn the wrath of Twitter, that is rotten news.
Yes, outwardly the King and the Palace have remained resolutely schtum in the face of Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex’s various multi-platform offensives but his displeasure is pretty blatant.
In late February, it was revealed that His Majesty made the decision to boot them out of their rent-free, UK home Frogmore Cottage within 24-hours of Spare thudding onto bestseller lists. While the couple might have known then they had to vacate the five-bedroom designer home, they only found out when their eviction was made public in late February, that their place had been “earmarked” for his disgraced uncle Prince Andrew, The Telegraph has reported. Ouch.
Then came the news that the couple had christened their daughter and that she would be known as Princess Lilibet (and their son known as Prince Archie), titles that only became available to them when Charles acceded.
Did the Palace put out any sort of statement confirming this? Was there any sort of small glimmer of grandfatherly happiness that his American grandchildren would be assuming their British birthrights? Not at all.
The only reaction from the Palace was that they changed their official website.
We have now passed the two-year mark since Harry and Meghan began to publicly embarrass and attack the Palace with their bouts of self-styled truth-telling.
There has been their Oprah Winfrey special, his appearance on the Armchair Expert podcast, his participation in the Apple+ mental health series The Me You Can’t See, her lengthy interview with The Cut, their six-part Netflix ‘docuseries’, his 400-page plus memoir, his four major TV interviews, that long feature-length sit down he did with The Telegraph’sBryony Gordon and his ticketed 90-minute livestream with Dr Gabor Maté.
Yet Harry has continued on with this dogged battle, even in the face of never managing to wring anything like an apology or an acknowledgment of wrongdoing on the part of the Palace.
The last two years have seen his relationship with his family go from bad to Titanic-ly worse.
More Americans have a negative view of the Sussexes than a positive one and the majority of Brits (64 per cent as of this month’s polling) think poorly of him.
Five years ago, Harry and the late Queen were neck and neck for top spot when it came to Britain’s favourite member of the royal family. Today, there is speculation that the Duke will be booed by the public if he goes to his father’s coronation.
In short, it’s hard to think of a fall from popularity, adoration and public life more precipitous or dramatic. (Andrew doesn’t count – he has never been popular with anyone aside from his ex-wife, Middle Eastern trade ministers happy to pony up free first-class flights, and whoever managed to convince him to buy his tacky Bentley.)
And still, Harry with his witness statement this week, is ploughing on, demonstrating a dogged, self-destructive refusal to seemingly waste any opportunity to aim a quick right-hook at The Firm.
I’m not saying for a second here that he should not pursue his hacking claims, which if they are found to be true by the court, are nothing but utterly disgraceful and totally wrong.
But did Aitch really need to bring his family into things?
The man seems physically incapable of opening his mouth and not taking a pot shot at his relatives. His regular Starbucks order is probably a venti decaf oat milk mocha while droning on at the barista about how William got more sausages than him at breakfast.
Harry’s London appearance is cold, hard evidence that even after Netflix and Spare, even in the face of all the consequences, he has no intention of retreating or deciding to let go of past royal family mistakes, as he sees them.
When it comes to his crusade against The Firm, he is like a Terminator with a serious chip on his shoulder, plenty of grudges and what I’m assuming are a baker’s dozen of barristers who by now live in his pool house.
Arnie’s cyborg iconically intoned, “I’ll be back” and this week Harry proved, so would he – on home turf, in the headlines and trying to skewer the Palace for the umpteenth time.
Maybe two belts of whiskey then today Your Majesty?
Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
Originally published at www.news.com.au