Voices: Prince Harry has begun his ‘life’s work’ – by turning up in court when he didn’t need to be there
The very best satire has a remarkable knack for changing absolutely nothing. Harry and Meghan were made to look so perfectly absurd by South Park’s “Worldwide Privacy Tour” episode that the California-based campaigners have evidently concluded that they have been left with little choice but to carry on precisely as normal.
The Worldwide Privacy Tour made an unexpected stop in London on Monday morning, when Prince Harry arrived at the High Court to attend a preliminary hearing in one of his many legal actions against an extremely large section of the British newspaper industry.
He didn’t need to be there. He wasn’t required to participate in any way in the hearing. But the act of taking everyone by surprise by actually turning up is certainly the prince’s first big shot in what he told Tom Bradby was going to be his “life’s work” from now on: that of holding the press to account.
It’s an especially fiendish moral maze, all this. Naturally, the press is very fond of its self-appointed role of holding the powerful to account, though it sometimes struggles to articulate why that noble mission has to involve, for example, listening to Leslie Ash’s voicemails.
So someone, surely, should be holding the press to account, but should that person really be a royal prince who occasionally pops over from California in between making seven-part documentaries about his own privacy?
Is it also permissible to wonder quite what the prince is trying to achieve with this morning’s flurry of excitement? It’s not uncommon for people to turn up to court for appearances’ sake. Over the course of five and a half days last year, Wayne Rooney spent almost 28 full hours silently and motionlessly staring at an oak panel two yards in front of his nose in a show of solidarity with his wife, Coleen, while she was being extremely unsuccessfully sued by Rebekah Vardy (Jamie Vardy managed four hours himself).
Once the court rises, who is and isn’t there watching doesn’t matter in the slightest. But the act of being there, of being photographed, does. Vardy and Rooney were not really fighting each other for money in court; they were fighting, especially in Vardy’s case, to rehabilitate their reputation outside it.
The arrival shots each morning were every bit as important as the (quite often rather dry) courtroom drama. Prince Harry’s legal action against Associated Newspapers is meant to go to trial in May, and it’s very clear he’s going to be leaning into it very hard indeed, whipping up as much publicity, and therefore heaping up as much pressure, as he possibly can.
The allegations that he, Elton John and various others are bringing in this court action are extensive and serious. Using private investigators to secretly record inside private cars and homes, impersonating individuals to gain access to medical records, and the payment of police officials for inside information are just three of the charges.
In his autobiography, Spare, Harry writes of telling his father that the press “were lawbreakers” and that he “was going to see some of them thrown into jail”.
It may be worth pointing out that he also writes at great length about “working systematically through the racks” of clothing outlet TK Maxx on the first day of its “annual sale”. TK Maxx has said in a statement that it doesn’t actually have a sale. It is, as ever, hard to know who to believe.
Harry’s many legal actions against newspapers will certainly generate headlines. After the Mail, he’s suing the publishers of The Times as well – and notably the Daily Mirror, over allegations of phone hacking when it was edited by Piers Morgan.
If the prince’s actions this morning are a foretaste of what is to come, the Worldwide Privacy Tour is only just getting started.