HARRY, the Duke of Sussex, has led a complex and difficult life.

Underneath all the privilege, which many of us on the outside might crave, lies human tragedy which surely none of us would.

No amount of privilege can cushion a young boy who loses his mother in such tragic and public circumstances, not long after enduring the divorce of his parents in equally public glare.

Being the Spare, as his book is titled, will also be psychologically wearing, albeit a phenomenon which younger brothers of future kings have been coping with for hundreds of years.

And, of course, the day-to-day life of British royalty can be a burden in at least equal measure as it is a blessing. Harry’s inability to step outside the front door, far less make the mistakes of youth, without the media reporting it, will have been wearing.


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However, despite all this, it seemed that as he entered his thirties, the Duke had found some inner calm, and purpose. He had created the wonderful Invictus Games, a multi-sport event for injured veterans. Harry seemed settled and mature, and was hugely popular both amongst the British press and amongst the British people.

That endured as Meghan Markle – also initially wildly popular – entered stage. And then, not.

It is all too easy to blame the Duchess of Sussex for the extraordinary events of the last few years, and particularly the last few weeks since extracts of the Duke’s book emerged. The truth is that none of us really knows the power balance in their relationship. Whether Meghan has pushed Harry into all of this, or whether he was always going to be a bubble which burst irrespective of the woman he married, will likely never be understood.

Whatever the reasons, though, what is done cannot now be undone. It has been clear, since the so-called "Megxit" announcement of just over three years ago, that money has been the key driver of the actions of the Duke and Duchess.

For a couple who reportedly left the UK in search of a normal, private life, they have seldom stayed out of the public eye, with their Disney and Netflix deals, their tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey and the release of Finding Freedom, the biography which was ostensibly written without the pair’s cooperation but was mysteriously not contradicted by them during its heavy and prolonged leaking.

People will obsess, quite understandably, about whether the various revelations in Spare are truth or invention. What I find more interesting, though, perhaps because of my day job working in public relations, is the strategy behind the Duke’s decisions and the lasting impact they are having on his popularity, and that of the royal family.


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Because, for someone who advertises himself as a standard-bearer of modernity and 21st century savvy, Harry has made the oldest mistake in the book – believing your own PR. If he thought that this country was ready for a Royal Family 2.0, a Glasnost moment for "The Firm", a sort of King Meets the Kardashians era of life in public, then he has utterly failed to read the mood of his country.

YouGov, the pollster, has tracked sentiment towards individual members of the royal family for some time. In the last five years, Harry’s positive ratings have gone from over 80 per cent to less than one-quarter of us seeing him favourably (roughly the same as the rating for Meghan). The Duke and Duchess are cushioned at the bottom of the league table only by Prince Andrew, which is hardly a boost.

Even amongst 18-24-year-olds – the group which the Sussexes were always considered to be able to rely on – only two in five have a favourable view.

Those ratings will inevitably stabilise as time goes on, particularly if his publicity splurge dies down, but the truth is that he has made some dramatically bad decisions which were always going to result in his dramatic slump in popularity.

As it turns out, Britons are rather squeamish at the thought of a family member sharing all their most intimate details to a global audience. People don’t like what appears to be an attempt by Harry to question the success of his brother’s marriage. We have collectively raised an eyebrow at the Duke’s claim that all he really wants is to "have his family back" in the same breath as he tosses personal insults at his father’s wife.

We have wondered how someone who claims to have killed 25 enemy soldiers on his two tours of Afghanistan can also claim to be so scared when his brother grabs the collar of his shirt and pushes him. And people, no surprise, get the "ick" – as Harry’s former fans in the millennial brigade would call it – when he shares intimate details of his genitalia and his sexual prowess.

HeraldScotland: Prince Harry claimed to have killed 25 people on his tours of AfghanistanPrince Harry claimed to have killed 25 people on his tours of Afghanistan (Image: Newsquest)

Perhaps the largest, and most revealing mis-step of all was the now-famous exaggerated bow which the Duchess claimed on Netflix (with her husband looking as comfortable as a vegan in a steakhouse) she was made to perform in front of the late Queen – a claim which has been roundly rejected by those with knowledge of the event. To so openly mock such a popular Queen, and so soon after her death, was as poor a piece of PR judgment as you will see.


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The new reality is that the royal family does not need to respond to any of this. Harry is consuming himself, and the nation is increasingly unclear about the veracity of anything he says.

As an opponent of a hereditary head of state, I have no skin in the game here. But I do feel a sense of sadness for Harry, and for the silent family on which he is inflicting his inner turmoil. He presents as someone who has never found his role, and whose troubled life has finally got the better of him.

When you play all your cards, by definition you have nothing left to offer. This is peak Harry, at 38 years old. The new media, which he loves as much as he hates the old media, will be increasingly less interested in retelling the same stories. He may now face a long slide into the relative obscurity and irrelevance which he says he wanted all along.

Andy Maciver is Founding Director of Message Matters and Zero Matters