Voices: Prince Harry’s relationship with the press used to be ‘mutually parasitic’ – now it’s openly antagonistic
Up on the third floor, in the strip-lit, pine-clad bowels of the Royal Courts of Justice there’s a sign on the door of Court 76 that says “Sussex and Others”. You could be forgiven for thinking you’d got lost in a very sterile beer festival or a Shakespearean costume store.
On Monday, Court 76 broke all attendance records for a pre-trial hearing, at least in the view of its presiding judge Mr Justice Nicklin. Elton John and David Furnish, Doreen Lawrence, Sadie Frost and of course Sussex himself all lined up to listen to interminable legal argument that will cost you about £800 an hour just to pay someone to understand for you.
Day two, by contrast, was for the diehards, and Sussex – also known as Prince Harry – is going to be dying very hard indeed. This is only a pre-trial hearing in his action against the publishers of the Daily Mail, over breaches of privacy and the illegal gathering of information (chiefly by private investigators), which Associated Newspapers denies. It is the sort of thing that the rich and famous rarely bother with, but arguably, it’s certainly bothering the most famous person in the world right now.
This, his fight to hold the press to account, is now, he has said, his “life’s work,” and he is evidently not going about it lightly. He is, self-evidently, the squadron leader of “Sussex and Others”, an unlikely battalion of which the other members are Liz Hurley and the Liberal Democrat politician Simon Hughes. The hired assassin (who else) is the barrister David Sherborne. (Still, somewhat mysteriously, not a KC. It is said that his “showy” manner does not impress the people who make such decisions, but he does have a fair wedge of both the Vardy and Rooney fortunes to comfort him against the sleight.)
Harry is taking his role seriously. Not for him the vacant staring into space which is so often the way of the A-list superstar having their day in court. The world’s best-ever-selling autobiographer writes notes and passes them forwards, receiving others coming the other way with fierce interest. Obscure technical matters prompt frantic discussion with his legal team. He’s also accused the royal family of “without doubt” withholding information from him “for a long time” about phone hacking as they did not want to “open a can of worms”.
For Wagatha Christie trial veterans (of which I am one), the presence of Sherborne and one of the very brightest stars in the tabloid firmament lends the occasion a familarly low-rent feel, but this is not the stuff of tittle-tattle.
Halfway through the morning, Doreen Lawrence arrives and quietly sits down in the public gallery. She spent decades fighting for justice for her murdered son, assisted, in no small way, by the newspaper she is now suing. Her husband was the decorator for the editor-in-chief of the paper and it was seen as an extraordinary front page, with the word “Murderers” written across it, accusing five young men of ending her son’s life.
To gaze upon Prince Harry’s fierce countenance, it is immediately obvious that, as far as he is concerned, he is fighting for justice for his mother.
He has taken the red pill and this is how deep the rabbit hole goes – in court with Elton John, duking it out with the media, rather than the supine acquiescence of his now estranged family. Last year, he told Oprah Winfrey his family’s relationship with the press was “mutually parasitic.” His, he has decided, will be openly antagonistic.
It will be a long and brutalising war. He has already opened up as many fronts as he possibly can. After this there’s the Murdoch empire and The Mirror, with one of those court cases currently scheduled to kick off a couple of days after the coronation.
It’s still very much unclear whether we’ll be seeing him at that lofty occasion. The courtroom brawls on the other hand? Wild horses couldn’t drag him away.