Prince Harry’s surprise UK visit looks like a stunt to overshadow King Charles

Mark Twain meet Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, and Harry meet Mark Twain.

See, Twain famously wrote that “history never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme” and yesterday, Harry proved him right.

Way back in the aughties, a staple of tabloid mags and papers the World over was coverage of Harry eternally making his way in and out of famed SWI haunts, surrounded by a security detail and with snappers jostling.

And in an odd recreation of that exact tableau, on Monday UK time, again, we had Harry making his way into a famed SW1 venue, surrounded by a security detail and with snappers jostling.

But this time, it was not a bevy of Treasure Chest cocktails and a club full of braying Pandoras and Hughs waiting for him, but the British High Court.

In a plot twist no one saw coming, the duke managed to surprise the press by flying in on the very, very quiet (commercial no less) to watch the first day of proceedings in the case that he and six other famous names have brought against the Daily Mail’s parent company. They have alleged that the Mail “habitually utilised unlawful information gathering” while the publisher is denying the claims.

The duke deserved points aplenty for looking so bushy eyed after coming in on the red eye but when it comes to subtly? Ha.

Harry’s trip to London has ‘stunt’ written all over it.

You see, Monday’s courtroom outing was only a preliminary hearing and Harry was not there to give evidence. Remote access was reportedly provided meaning that Aitch could have watched things online from the comfort of his Montecito meditation yurt.

Which begs the question: Why go to the expense and effort of flying halfway across the World back to a city that he has said “triggers’’ him just to be a spectator? And why did Harry use the Court’s front entrance while Sir Elton John and actress Sadie Frost, also claimants in the case, used the side entrance?

What it looks like is that Harry, in making that short walk from people mover he arrived in and up to the Court’s doors, was there to make a point – or perhaps even points plural.

First off the bat. Him turning up in person in the UK, only the fifth time he has done so in over three years, was a sure-fire way to ensure that the court case got serious publicity.

If he had stayed back in California, twiddling with his ubiquitous bracelets and Googling whether you can drink too much green juice, it seems unlikely that the legal matter would have been quite so energetically covered.

That axe that the 38-year-old relentlessly, predictably grinds about Fleet Street? It’s clearly going nowhere and what better way to hold their feet to the fire than to stage a publicity coup such as this?

However, there is another possibility.

Right now, if more than one million French people had not decided to take to their boulevards to burn things in protest over President Emanuel Macron’s unilateral raising of the retirement age, then Charles and Camilla would be in Paris for their first overseas state. Before all those Frenchies and their fug of cigarette smoke and righteous indignation got in the way of things, the King and Queen should by rights this week be enjoying an official banquet at Versailles and then wondering which courtier packed the Quickeze.

It might sound all very ennuyeux (or as we would say in English, dull as dishwater), this trip was not only diplomatically freighted given how things stand post-Brexit, but also a historic milestone for the King.

All of this Harry may have been aware of when he made the decision to return to the UK, meaning he possibly booked his tickets knowing that he would be making a splash in London while his father was trying his hand at regal statesmanship for the first time.

And what would have happened in this scenario? The limelight, the attention, the juiciest real estate on newspaper front pages? It all would unquestionably have gone to the duke’s trip.

There’s really no competition when it comes to what people would prefer to read about: A septuagenarian doing some diplomatic gladhanding and bigging up British pork exports or the latest twist in the never-ending Sussex psychodrama.

If this had come to pass, it would not be the first time that the Sussexes’ have upstaged, inadvertently or otherwise, more senior members of the royal family.

In October 2019, their TV special about their tour of Southern Africa and its unexpected personal revelations blew William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Waleses’ trip to Pakistan out of the water. In March 2020, “Meghan insisted photos of her at a theatre appeared” on the same day that Camilla was giving a major speech about domestic violence, the Mirror reported at the time. It has been claimed that the Sussexes told the Windsors that she was pregnant during the wedding of Princess Eugenie in 2018.

Perhaps most interestingly for us here, in 2016, Harry put out that famous, unprecedented statement of his decrying the “sexism and racism” then girlfriend Meghan was being subjected to online while Charles was on an official tour of Oman, thus torpedoing his father coverage-wise. Why not just wait a few days until his Pa was back?

Despite the cancellation of his French trip, it has been reported that Charles is “too busy” to see Harry. Which does not mean he has not keenly clocked his son’s decision to return during what was meant to be a momentous week for him. The Telegraph’s royal editor Victoria Ward has reported: “It will not have gone unnoticed at Buckingham Palace that the Duke’s appearance may have overshadowed the beginning of the tour, had it gone ahead.”

How long will Harry stay in London? How many chip butties with extra HP sauce might he try to sneak in during that time? (Carbs on carbs? I think that’s a criminal offence in California.) No one knows.

But what seems clear is that Harry is not done, not by a long shot, when it comes to his expressing his anger towards the British press nor his wholesale unwillingness to in any way play the Palace game.

It’s funny, isn’t it? Meghan might be the one with the entertainment background but the duke clearly has quite the showman – if not the stunt man – in him too.

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.

Read related topics:King Charles IIIPrince Harry

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