By now, we are all familiar with the Sussex Paradox. Prince Harry and his wife Meghan abhor the press, but they need it to survive.
Harry dreams of a private life, in which he can still be the centre of attention. The pair tell the world that all they want is to be left alone. For some reason they do this via televised interviews, podcasts and tell-all memoirs. They suggest the media has ruined their lives, fully in the knowledge of everything it has given them.
It is hard not to have sympathy for two people whose lives are predicated on such a stark internal contradiction. Achieving inner peace seems a distant fantasy for anyone operating under these conditions. And it was clear on Tuesday, as Harry delivered evidence in his case against the Daily Mirror Group for alleged unlawful information gathering.
No matter the personal feelings anyone holds for the Sussexes – and they tend to inspire intense affection or ferocious animus – we are watching a sad tale unravel about a man driven to madness by his hatred of the media. The press intrusion started when he was at school, and followed him into early adulthood.
Nothing in his life, his lawyer David Sherborne says, “was sacrosanct or out of bounds”. Sensitive details about his familial relationships – including claims about how he was handling his parents’ divorce – were all fair game.
Articles with details of his location and movements troubled him greatly, too. He even suggests that seeds of distrust between him and his brother were sowed by the Daily Mirror Group. “Every one of those articles played a destructive role in my growing up,” he says.
Harry claims he is bringing this case to draw attention to journalistic malfeasance. But it seems bigger to him than that: he wants to expose the press’s rotten soul. He might need to hold off on the victory march just yet.
Andrew Green KC, the barrister for Mirror Group Newspapers, has done a good job in court pointing out some inconsistencies.
How could Harry’s phone have been hacked at a time when he did not own one? Is it really fair to accuse a journalist of unlawful information gathering when the details of their story were already in the public domain? Is there anything more specific he wants to point to beyond general speculation?
This is tragicomedy at its peak. The general contours of Harry’s argument are basically right: the press was intrusive, and a corrosive atmosphere was cultivated and allowed to fester for years, at some point everyone lost their minds and lost any sense of boundaries.
But everything else about Harry comes across as a little wrong: his self-righteousness, his inability to see his contradictions, his desire to have it all without any of the consequences.
In fact, it is precisely that lack of self-awareness that draws in most of his critics. Harry thinks he is a reformed and mature man. But in a written statement submitted to the court he says he ended up playing up to a lot of the headlines and stereotypes. The tabloids, he contends, coaxed him into his bad behaviour: “If they are printing this rubbish about me and people were believing it, I may as well ‘do the crime’, so to speak.”
For a man attempting to prove he’s now a grown up, this is a rather odd way to do so. And worse than that, Harry is standing up in court lamenting the damage the press wrought on his private life. He seems to have forgotten that his own book Spare hardly demonstrated a great deal of concern for his family’s privacy. There is no doubt that Harry’s life is thoroughly unenviable. And his feelings are definitely real, maybe even his motivations are pure. But he is a terribly inconsistent person too.
The question, when it comes to Harry, is always the same. Is he a hypocrite, or a terribly damaged young man? Is he a sensitive lamb or a spoiled brat? Self-absorbed or genuinely concerned? To which there can only be one answer: he’s all of them.