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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

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HARRY’S AT IT AGAIN 

Just a small traffic jam in Manhattan, not many dead

We need to talk about Harry. I’m tempted to say his whole life has been a car crash but that might be in bad taste, given the nature of his mother’s death.


However, I feel absolved by the histrionics of last week. Apparently, some of those blackguards from the New York Press staged a scene from The Fast and The Furious in their attempts to take pictures of him and his wife.


Really? That must have been awful, right? Well … not exactly.


Small traffic jam in Manhattan – not many dead.


Harry’s at it again, you see, grabbing headlines by the descenders and squeezing hard.


But whatever you think of the Duke of Sussex, imagine what might have happened if he had been the King’s firstborn.


He would have been heir to the throne, of course. His family and courtiers would have made him very aware of his gilded future, the weight of his responsibilities, his destiny.


Harry’s life might then have been very different. No cocaine or cannabis, no psychedelic drugs to lessen the pain of the loss of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, and, as he saw it, his empty, pointless existence as a member of the Royal Family.


Maybe he wouldn’t have ended up naked in Las Vegas at a game of strip pool; or worn a swastika armband to a fancy dress party. As a young man, Harry was a human pinball, crashing from one crisis to another, lighting up danger signs for the Palace.


He’s more mature now, married and a father of two. The Army and service in Afghanistan helped, too. But the anger remains.


Sometimes, in occasional moments of weakness, I feel sorry for him. He’s trapped in a world he doesn’t understand, devoting his life to proving that he is not irrelevant, not a Spare.


And the more he tries, the more he proves that he is.


Harry is caught between a dysfunctional family, who no doubt love him but are incapable of showing affection; and an ambitious and calculating woman who gazes adoringly at him whenever photographers are near.


And they are always near. For Harry, the man who turned his back on his Royal destiny, is news – here and in the United States – whether he likes it or not.


He proved it last Tuesday when he and his wife, the B-list TV actress Meghan (née Markle), were involved in a “near catastrophic car chase”, which their people – yes, they’re the kind of people who have people – claimed lasted for two hours.


Pursuing paparazzi allegedly chased them through red lights, mounted pavements and reversed down one-way streets to get close enough to take their pictures. A Press secretary claimed the couple were “incredibly scared and shaken up” by the incident.


Harry is said to have told friends that it was “the closest I have ever felt” to understanding what happened the night his mother, Princess Diana, died in a Paris road tunnel.


But by Friday, witnesses were beginning to cast doubt on the couple’s version of events.


There were no collisions, deaths, injuries or arrests and one paparazzi driver claimed it was their own security team who put lives at risk by “zigzagging” and “blocking vehicles”. Even the boss of that security team admitted it was “not a high-speed pursuit”.


So, what lies behind the hyperbole? Entitlement, certainly. Harry was raised as Royalty and will never shake it off. He wants the trappings but not the life that goes with them.


And perhaps resentment and even revenge play a part. In their interview with Oprah Winfrey and in Harry’s book, Spare, they castigated senior Royals for slights and racism — real or imagined — against Meghan.


There might be one other factor, too. Harry, having been told that he no longer qualifies for specialist protection because he has stepped down as a working Royal and moved abroad, wants to be allowed to pay for police bodyguards.


Last week his lawyers were back at the High Court in London to press his case. But Robert Palmer, KC, representing the Home Secretary, said that “it was not appropriate to support an outcome whereby wealthy individuals could ‘buy’ protective security from specialist officers.”


So perhaps the farce in New York was being used as an illustration of how much he needs bodyguards with official clout, not just hired muscle.


Harry looked uncomfortable at his father’s coronation. He seemed left out, cut adrift, only there because protocol required it and King Charles desired it. Meghan couldn’t make it, despite this being the photo-op of the century, though admittedly it would have been another of her bit-parts.


That is their dilemma, their Shakespearean tragedy. They both claim to want to lead normal lives, away from the prying eyes of the Press.


But he hasn’t got a regular job, just a festering hatred of journalists, which regularly brings him to the High Court. And she craves the limelight, can’t live without it.


Yet the actress, who once worked for a frozen yoghurt shop called Humphrey Yogart, had few starring roles and the summit of her career was when she appeared as Rachel Zane in TV’s Suits.


Meghan seems so divorced from reality you half expect a Norma Desmond moment. Remember in Sunset Boulevard when screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) recognises the faded star Desmond (Gloria Swanson)?


Gillis: “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.”


Desmond: “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.”


The narcissism of the ever more paranoid and delusional Sussexes threatens to damage the monarchy (bad) and destroy what Prince Philip called The Firm – the system by which senior Royals carry out public duties in exchange for remaining on the public payroll (not so bad).


I’m a monarchist … but only to the extent that the thought of a president being voted in fills me with dread. What, another layer of politics, with all its infighting, lies and corruption? No, thanks.


So, let’s keep the King and his heir and let the hangers-on pay for themselves.


But that’s going to leave us with a familiar problem: What the hell are we going to put on Page 3?


*****

They’re making a film about the great Harry Evans, inspirational Editor of The Sunday Times for 14 years and, briefly under Murdoch, Editor of The Times.


Sir Harold, who died in 2020, aged 92, was most famous for campaigning over a decade to win justice for victims of Thalidomide, a morning sickness drug that left thousands of babies with terrible birth deformities.


Sometimes, he would personally sub-edit the reams of exhaustive copy that his investigative reporters produced on the subject. One Saturday night he had left instructions that he alone was to make any necessary cuts and, as the ST deadline approached, he received a call from the stone.


“Harry,” said the stone sub, “the Thalidomide story is a little bit over.”


“Okay, how much?” Evans asked.


“Three feet.”


His reporters also unmasked Kim Philby as a spy and revealed the cover-up behind the 1974 DC-10 Paris air crash in which 346 died.


His widow, journalist Tina Brown, said she was excited that the film would “bring to life the courageous, ground-breaking, investigative work that Harry and the Sunday Times Insight team produced.”


Evans was a handsome man. But even so, I imagine that, as he looks down from his chair on the celestial Backbench, he will feel flattered that the man chosen to portray him is Michael Fassbender.


*****

Our old chum Richard Desmond, sometimes unfairly characterised as the man in the back row of the cinema wearing a grubby mac and a blissful expression, has seen his fortune boosted by £3million to £1.403billion in the last year, according to the Sunday Times Rich List just out.


That’s a decent wedge but he’ll be hoping for more in the months or years to come. Desmond, 71, former owner of Express Newspapers, wants to revive his plans for a £1 billion luxury housing development at the old Westferry printing site on the Isle of Dogs. His last attempt was judged unlawful, despite being approved by the then Tory Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.


Desmond’s position as the 128th richest person in Britain puts him above Rupert Murdoch’s TV producer daughter, Elisabeth, and his old sparring partner, Viscount Rothermere (both 147= with £1.2 billion). He also outshines his old friends David Sullivan (159, £1.118 billion) and Gerald Ronson (160, £1.112 billion).


Desmond’s burgeoning bank account slightly bucks the trend. The ST reports in its 35th Rich List that the 171 billionaires who appear on it are six fewer than in 2022. The boom time is over, it says.


*****

Despite the march of time, I reckon I’m pretty enlightened. But I was taken aback when someone showed me this.


Transport for London (TfL) is advertising an internship, with a bursary of £21,824, which it says could teach the successful applicant essential skills in public relations, public affairs or marketing.


Explaining the qualifications required, TfL, which is overseen by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, says: “You must be of black, Asian and minority ethnic background, defined as having some African, Afro-Caribbean, Asian or other non-white heritage.”


How, in this age of inclusiveness, is it possible to rule out white people entirely from applying for a job? Is it even legal?


Then I read a story in The Times yesterday, which said that a theatre in east London was urging white people not to attend a play on July 5 so that the audience can enjoy it “free from the white gaze”.


Former Cabinet Minister Damian Green called the move “sinister”.


Wanjiru Njoya, a law lecturer and author of a book on racial diversity, said: “They wouldn’t like it if anyone was racist to them. Why do they think it’s OK to be racist to white people?”


If you want to see a resurgence of the Far Right, this is the way to go about it. The play is Tambo and Bones at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. I’m booking a coach for July 5. Let me know if you want to come.


*****

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters whose stories helped to bring down President Richard Nixon in 1974, reckon investigative journalism has nothing to fear from artificial intelligence.


I wonder what my old friend and fellow columnist William Dumpster makes of it?