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RICHARD KAY: Oh Harry... how Diana would have despaired: Their cold dismissal of ex-confidants makes them so alike. But, argues the royal journalist who knew the Princess best, Harry's destructive attitude towards the Press would have left her aghast

RICHARD KAY: Oh Harry... how Diana would have despaired: Their cold dismissal of ex-confidants makes them so alike. But, argues the royal journalist who knew the Princess best, Harry's destructive attitude towards the Press would have left her aghast
The scene is a residential road in an affluent suburb. A young woman approaches her parked car and, before she can open the door, a blizzard of flashlights transfixes her.
The men wielding the cameras are so close she can smell their breath and hear their contemptuous jibes: ‘Just because you’re f*****g royal,’ swears one.
Soon the tears start to come, first in gulps, then in great sobs as a photographer slithers Hollywood-style over the bonnet, desperate to get that lucrative close-up of their quarry’s shocked face.
This was almost exactly 24 years ago and the target of the paparazzi that day in Hampstead, North-West London — as it was most days then — was Princess Diana. Soon enough, pictures of the episode were appearing in the tabloids under headlines such as ‘Diana Weeps’.
What readers were not told was that the reason for her tears was the confrontation with the photographers.
So how did she handle this unsavoury and shocking intrusion into her privacy? She composed herself and, within a few short hours, picked up the reins of her official duties to pay a private visit to a homeless charity in Westminster — accompanied, incidentally, by her sons William and Harry. The latter was then a bright and inquisitive ten-year-old.
So much about Harry is reminiscent of Diana. The palpable way he connects with people is uncannily like that of his mother. But there are other characteristics, too — his impulsiveness, his emotional openness and, yes, that short fuse
So much about Harry is reminiscent of Diana. The palpable way he connects with people is uncannily like that of his mother. But there are other characteristics, too — his impulsiveness, his emotional openness and, yes, that short fuse
What she didn’t do was announce that because of such treatment she would never again co-operate with the media.
I was reminded of that day in Hampstead as Harry and his wife, the Duchess of Sussex, issued their self-serving pronouncement from faraway Los Angeles that they would boycott sections of the British Press in protest at the way they claim their lives are covered.
Not only did they make their complaint at a time of worldwide dread over the coronavirus, but within 24 hours the privacy-obsessed couple were instructing flunkeys to share their congratulations to the Queen on her 94th birthday with a selection of hand-picked publications.
And then there were the words they used in their statement — ‘distorted’, ‘false’ and ‘invasive beyond reason’ — that seemed so jarring. Jarring because there is absolutely no comparison between the treatment they complain of and that which was handed out to Harry’s mother on an almost daily basis.
As a close friend of the Princess for the last five years of her life, I was witness to many of those meltdown moments when the ruthlessness of the paparazzi who followed her day and night reduced her to tears of frustration and despair.
Princess Diana was exasperated by media coverage, too, some of it staggeringly unfair. But her complaints were by no means confined to the excitable tabloid newspapers — Harry and Meghan’s focus (pictured at a Commonwealth Day service in March)
They tracked her from her home to her gym, to restaurants, medical appointments, shops and, on the rare occasions she sought the company of friends, to their houses too.
On occasions, I was also photographed with her. It was a paradox that Kensington Palace, which she often complained was a gilded prison, was also her only refuge.
Of course, she was exasperated by media coverage, too, some of it staggeringly unfair. But her complaints were by no means confined to the excitable tabloid newspapers — Harry and Meghan’s focus.
Some of the cruellest coverage came from the broadsheets, with their often lofty, patronising and sneering disapproval of her.
In the very last weeks of her life, she was driven to distraction by a French newspaper, noted for its sober and serious reporting, which she felt had wilfully misinterpreted her stance on landmines.
Diana always said that while William, with that wide, handsome face, physically most resembled her, he was internally more like a Windsor (pictured together at Thorpe Park in 1993)
Diana always said that while William, with that wide, handsome face, physically most resembled her, he was internally more like a Windsor (pictured together at Thorpe Park in 1993)
At times — and those were extraordinary times, when for several years barely a day went by when she wasn’t front-page news — she gave up fending off the criticism, choosing to put the whole thing down to experience and moving on to the next challenge.
So much about Harry is reminiscent of Diana. The palpable way he connects with people is uncannily like that of his mother. But there are other characteristics, too — his impulsiveness, his emotional openness and, yes, that short fuse and sense she had that the world was against her.
Diana always said that while William, with that wide, handsome face, physically most resembled her, he was internally more like a Windsor. She put that down to the obligations of duty and responsibility that came with being heir in line to the throne.
Harry, free from such burdens and expectations, was, she reasoned, much more like her.
Never has his character been more significant than now. Cut off from his friends and family and far from home, the cheerful, curious prince who loved to act as chaperone to his mother, as he did that day in 1996, has retreated behind a scowl.
Glimpses of the old Harry, the one who dazzled on those Commonwealth tours, joshing with Usain Bolt, the one glowing with pride and happiness when he was first showing off Meghan to the people of Britain, are still there but they are increasingly rare.
As a close friend of the Princess for the last five years of her life, I was witness to many of those meltdown moments when the ruthlessness of the paparazzi who followed her day and night reduced her to tears of frustration and despair
As a close friend of the Princess for the last five years of her life, I was witness to many of those meltdown moments when the ruthlessness of the paparazzi who followed her day and night reduced her to tears of frustration and despair
The signs of change have been there for some time. Always thin-skinned, he bridled at even constructive criticism.
But the real shocks came after he and Meghan were married. The first was the announcement that the Sussexes were quitting Kensington Palace, where they lived next door to William and Kate, for Windsor.
The next was that the two brothers, whose public lives had been so entwined, were splitting their joint household and their charity work.
And while these were the public examples of Harry’s march towards princely independence, there were other, equally significant moves behind the scenes.
Throughout his troubled 20s, Harry had a close network of reliable friends.
Many of them are no longer part of his magic circle. They include those from his schooldays who provided vital support after Princess Diana’s death but whose services are no longer required. Many have been left hurt and baffled. How familiar that will sound to those who were once in Diana’s circle, only to find themselves suddenly excluded.
The father of one of the Duke of Sussex’s friends told me: ‘Harry has stayed in our house several times over the years; he got drunk here and played the fool but he was always very welcome.’ Then one day phone calls went unanswered and there were no more visits.
‘He was the one who usually got in touch but there was no explanation, just silence.’
Of course, he won’t be the first married man to find new companions after taking a wife. But last year I revealed how Harry had left his own family members puzzled after changing telephone numbers without immediately telling them.
It had a bigger impact on those friends of the old Harry — the nightclub-going, carousing prince — who were once so close to him but have now apparently been jettisoned.
If this sounds familiar, it is because we have been here before — with Princess Diana. She, too, regularly changed mobile numbers. It was an effective way of dumping friends she no longer wanted, or no longer trusted.
Even persistent callers to the Kensington Palace switchboard eventually got the message when told repeatedly that the Princess was unavailable.
Sometimes it happened for the most baffling of reasons. After Andrew Morton’s explosive book came out in 1992, she dropped a number of the very friends she had encouraged to speak to the author in the first place.
She broke with some of her oldest friends, confidantes since her days at West Heath school in Kent and those who had been with her every step of her royal life. Many were hurt because they were never reconciled but others remained steadfastly loyal.
One friend told me he had not spoken to her for years when her car pulled up alongside him in Knightsbridge and the Princess jumped out, kissed him on each cheek and asked how he was. ‘It was as though we hadn’t spoken since last week,’ he told me. ‘There was no explanation, she just picked up from where she left off.’
For Diana, this scouring of friends was a way of insulating herself from bad news — but it meant she became reliant on an ever-narrowing band of trustworthy voices.
Take her decision to do that BBC Panorama interview in 1995.
She sought the views of several influential broadcasters with whom she often lunched: those who advised against it found that when they next tried to book lunch, her diary was inexplicably full for the foreseeable future.
Diana’s most troubling shattered relationships were with her own family. As a child she adored her older sisters, the sophisticated Sarah — who once dated Prince Charles — and the dependable Jane, closer to her in age and through her marriage to the Queen’s private secretary Lord (Robert) Fellowes, a neighbour at Kensington Palace.
Yet their relationship was affected by Jane’s spouse, who found himself in an impossible position over the Morton book, which in his view embarrassed and endangered the monarchy.
Then there was the row with her brother Charles, Lord Spencer, over the use of a cottage as a bolthole on the estate at Althorp, near Northampton, where she had been brought up. It ended with an unopened letter from him being returned and a long period of silence, though the two were reconciled before her death.
Unlike Diana and her mother, Frances Shand Kydd. A silly quarrel over a magazine interview given by Mrs Shand Kydd escalated into a bitter war of words between the two, with the older woman castigating her daughter over the friendships she had been pursuing as a single woman.
But for the Princess’s death and subsequent inquest, some of these deeply personal and private rifts might never have been made public.
Harry has not — so far — split from his family. But he has come perilously close.
The once-unbreakable bond with William has loosened considerably; his father Prince Charles is at a loss; and for the Queen and Prince Philip there is desperate sadness for a much-loved grandson who appears to be turning his back on all they have worked so hard to uphold: family, duty, country.
So much of Harry’s life has been shaped by the loss of his mother. Blame and guilt for her death he understandably places squarely on the media, especially those who, by buying their pictures, paid the wages of the paparazzi who pursued Diana’s car into the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris on that August night in 1997.
But it is also a misunderstanding. For in all her desperation the Princess of Wales never turned against the media, perhaps because she needed them.
At times she tried courting them, at others she tried to reason with them and sometimes she just ignored them. But she never tried to exclude them. More than anything, she understood that the paparazzi were not the Press.
Now Harry and Meghan are in Los Angeles, home to the most pernicious photographers in the world. How desperate it will be if he finds that, by exiling himself, his wife and son Archie from everything he knows, he has ended up exchanging what he considers a disrespectful Press for the presence of an unregulated paparazzi.

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