Prince Harry and The Victimhood of Privilege
Why you can’t read the room when you’ve never been in it
“The Mind is its own place, and in itself can make a hell of heaven…”
— John Milton, Paradise Lost
‘Out of touch’ is probably the phrase I use the most in PR, and for good reason. It’s not because rich and famous people are stupid. It is alarmingly easy to forget what ‘normal’ is when you’ve reached the top of your career, your income potential, or your fame. Even I can sometimes forget my privilege on what $50 means to a struggling family, or someone working on the minimum wage. It happens. We slip up.
But when you refuse to learn from that criticism, it stops being a mistake, and starts being dangerous. And when you delusionally view yourself as a victim or worthy of social pity for attention, fame, or influence, you can end up destroying everything.
Understanding Harry: why is he making such stupid PR calls?
An American friend called me the other day, in nothing short of a rage. “Why can’t you shut that stupid prince of yours up?” she snapped. “Why does he think anyone in the US cares about his vapid lectures on vaccines?” To be honest, she has a point.
To be clear, I’m not one of those morons who has a problem with Harry quitting the Royal Family. I’d make the exact same call if I was him because that institution has more problems than a chocolate teapot.
What I do have a problem with is the fact his PR team is clearly not confronting him on some seriously stupid decisions. When you are aware how celebrities actually work with the media, this is particularly cringeworthy. So we are all on the same page, here are some quick facts about reputation management:
- If you don’t want more attention, you don’t do any interviews.
- If you have to clarify anything in the press, you release a statement.
- If you want to have a low-key profile, you don’t share your opinions.
- If you want to support charities or raise awareness, you fund experts.
If an American client came to me and said ‘I hate all the attention I’m getting’ my immediate response wouldn’t be to get him on eight different TV channels extolling the virtues of vaccines or democracy to the American people. I definitely wouldn’t get him a Netflix show. I’d decline all interview requests, advise he moved to a nice ranch in rural Colorado, and make sure he said bland quotes in charity conferences. That’s pretty much the industry standard.
The problem is that Harry comes from the UK, where the media expects royals to extol their utterly vacuous, middle of the road opinions on everything from racism being horrid to recycling being great. His PR team will have had a hell of a time explaining to him that Americans base respect on talent, ability or experience, not just the fact he’s a royal. You have to remember this is a man who is surrounded by people who cry with joy when he opens their toilet factory.
He probably got very cross at them and insisted he had a duty to share his wisdom, because no one has ever had the nerve to tell him that ‘Please don’t do racism, because it makes people feel sad’ isn’t the philosophical breakthrough he thinks it is. In a way, I feel sorry for him, because he has absolutely no basis of understanding how ridiculous and arrogant he looks.
Views from the Ivory Tower: why he thinks he’s a victim
It’s hard to read the room when you aren’t in it. The only exposure Harry has ever had to life in the projects, the persecution of ethnic minorities, or the reality of living on welfare, is the people carefully selected to shake his hand at soup kitchens. This whole ‘Harry is an ordinary lad from the army’ routine as about as real as Trump’s tax returns.
To Harry, poor people are grateful for his very presence. They are delighted he’s turned up to see their homeless shelter, or sharing his important opinions on poverty being bad. He genuinely feels he’s doing them a favour by talking about their suffering, or by sharing his important views to 500 charity ball guests.
It’s worse than white saviourism: it’s monarchical saviourism, which is why it leaves such a bad taste in many people’s mouths. But even that is just scratching the surface: the real tragedy isn’t the fact he’s been operant conditioned into perceiving himself as a martyred saviour. It’s the fact he really feels he’s the victim of any negative coverage or criticism of how massively problematic he is being.
In the real world, you aren’t automatically a good person for raising awareness of poverty, vaccines or democracy. You aren’t exceptional. You aren’t worthy of praise. If anything, you’re just virtue signalling. The real world has seen celebrities pout at the camera with a token orphan on their lap a thousand times, and they know that the celebrity is far more invested in the praise and credit they get from behaving charitably than in the charity itself.
But how could Harry know that? No one would have sat down with him and explained that being able to influence people or support charitable causes is a privilege, just like no one would have told him that ordinary people think you should pay for your own security when you have $60 million in the bank and a $31m inheritance from you mother. He’s surrounded by yes men, and all he can see is how horrid everyone is for being mean about his attempts to do what he has always done: help the deserving poor through his brilliant and wise advice and influence.
It’s genuinely sad. Privilege has created a naked emperor who cannot understand why people are laughing at him, or see that he has no clothes. He has no basis to understand why he is irrelevant, ignorant, or unimportant, and no way of ever having a slice of humble pie because he views those who criticise his delusions as persecutors.
If you are a rich, successful and influential person, sometimes the best thing you can do is shut up. It is sometimes the right thing to do to elevate and draw attention to experts and people experiencing the problems you care about, instead of promoting yourself. It is sometimes the right decision not to raise your own sadnesses or irritations when you know they are dwarfed by the suffering and grief of others less fortunate than yourself.
And if your PR person isn’t brave enough to have that conversation with you: