Why Princess Diana's Friends Are Worried About Prince Harry
"This is clearly not just about the duchess."
Prince Harry's escalating war against the British tabloids has left royal watchers stunned and has some friends of Princess Diana especially worried. Those who were close to Harry's late mom fear his determination to take on the press in defense of his wife, Meghan Markle, has resurrected his grief and anger at the media over his mother's death, which could ultimately "do more harm than good," according to one royal insider.
"This is clearly not just about the duchess," said the insider. "Harry holds the media responsible for his mother's death. It must be terribly traumatic for him to relive what he believes to be the same series of events that ended in a tragedy and changed his life forever. His anger over the circumstances surrounding Diana's death seems to be fueling much of what he's doing in defending Meghan. Even certain members of the royal family consider it to be an overreaction."
It's quite clear Diana was on Harry's mind when he released his deeply personal and emotional statement last week in conjunction with the lawsuit Meghan filed against The Mail on Sunday for publishing a private letter to her estranged father, Thomas Markle. According to her legal representation, it was a breach of privacy and copyright infringement. In his statement—which was published on sussexofficial.uk, and not on the couple's Instagram, or on the royal family's website—Harry made a direct connection between Diana and his wife. "I lost my mother and now I watch my wife fall victim to the same powerful forces," he said.
Royal insiders point out that while Harry called Meghan "one of the latest victims of the tabloid press," the avalanche of media attention she's been subjected to since her wedding in 2018 has been "generally positive." "The details of the sad relationship with her father that have fueled much of the tabloid coverage have largely been revealed by Mr. Markle himself," one insider said. "He's gone to the press with his story, so it's hard to hold the media solely responsible."
One friend of Diana's added, "Harry has said many times that he deeply regrets not being able to protect his mother from the harassment she suffered at the hands of the media. In his mind, it is happening all over again and he is determined to stop it. The truth is the situations are entirely different."
"Diana was literally hounded by the paparazzi every time she went anywhere," another insider pointed out. "She was spied on. Her marriage was dissected in the media time and time again. Meghan has never been chased down by the media. She is left alone when she ventures out. The press is always kept at arm's length. All her appearances are tightly controlled. There is no comparison at all between what the princess suffered and the press the duchess has received."
The Times's royal correspondent Valentine Low told Town & Country that Harry seems to be lambasting all the British media about their coverage of his wife, including the credentialed news outlets that have had a longstanding history of cooperating with the royal family. He "appeared to tar all the royal media with the same brush and certainly tarred all the tabloid royal media with the same brush, when in fact, specifically in this instance, it is an argument that he's got with The Mail on Sunday," Low said of Harry's statement.
Earlier this week, Buckingham Palace confirmed that Prince Harry had filed claims against the owners of The Sun, the Daily Mirror, and the News of the World (no longer in print) for intercepting both his and Prince William's voicemail messages. According to The Guardian, the hacking reportedly took place in the early 2000s when it was discovered that reporters were regularly accessing several public figures' voicemails in search of tabloid fodder. "The general reaction within the family was surprise that Harry would resurrect something that happened so long ago," an insider said.
Similarly, in 1992, a transcript of a Diana's lengthy phone conversation with James Gilbey was published in a British tabloid where the liquor heir told the princess he loved her and she discussed her unhappy marriage to Prince Charles. And those interested could call a special number to listen to a recording of the call. According to Diana's bodyguard at the time, Ken Wharfe, Queen Elizabeth wanted to launch an official investigation into the matter, but Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke reportedly vetoed the idea at the time. Diana never issued a comment on the story.
"Now that Harry is a father, it is only natural that he wants to protect his family," said an insider. "But constantly comparing Meghan to Diana and throwing down the gauntlet with the press may only encourage the more unethical outlets to do even more negative stories. There is a reason the royals have always lived by 'never complain, never explain.'"
One tabloid reporter told me, "The prince is playing a dangerous game. If he thinks he can stage-manage every story written about him and his family, he is very much mistaken. Taking an openly hostile tone towards the media is something no one in the royal family has ever done, as much as they might have liked to. Yes, the media needs the royals, but as the Queen knows all too well, the royals very much need the media on their side. Diana understood that."
A friend of the princess concurred. "Diana would have never dreamed of doing anything like this," the insider said. And for more on the late princess, Here's the Truth Behind 17 Myths About Princess Diana.
Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.
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