News, Culture & Society

Max Hastings: Worries over Hollywoodising of young royals

Prince Harry’s girlfriend, gorgeous U.S. soap star Meghan Markle, stars on the cover of the forthcoming issue of Vanity Fair, in which she is billed as his likely wife.

She herself says: ‘We’re two people who are really happy and in love.’

To make the front of Vanity Fair is the dream of every Hollywood actress. Even the biggest and best would kiss the shoes of veteran editor Graydon Carter for the privilege.

It does not seem cynical to suggest that Ms Markle, for all her beauty and charm, would have been unlikely to achieve such prominence on the strength of her acting achievements, nor merely to celebrate the 100th episode of her TV drama Suits.

It does not seem cynical to suggest that Ms Markle, for all her beauty and charm, would have been unlikely to achieve such prominence on the strength of her acting achievements, nor merely to celebrate the 100th episode of her TV drama Suits

She has got there as the date and prospective bride of the Queen’s grandson.

Whether this is a good idea from the viewpoint of Harry, the Royal Family and the monarchy as an institution, is disputable, though it is doubtful anyone around Kensington Palace dares to say as much to the young man in the case.


Attitudes to the recent surge of exposure of Harry and his brother William reflects a yawning generation gap in Western societies about the virtues and pitfalls of what’s referred to these days as letting it all hang out.

It goes without saying that the older among us find such emotional incontinence difficult to admire. A few weeks ago, I wrote here about the mistake Harry seemed to be making, both by abandoning his army career and the discipline this imposed on his life, and by giving interviews in which he bemoans his lot.

Since then, prompted by the 20th anniversary of their mother’s death, he and his brother have talked frankly — some would say too frankly — about the emotional cost the tragedy imposed on them. Significantly, William, too, has quit his day job as an air ambulance helicopter pilot to become a professional king-in-waiting, a role he may come to find as frustrating as his 68-year-old father has done.

Online comment suggests that 80 per cent of readers under 35 thought my criticisms of Prince Harry unjustified — indeed, completely misplaced. They believe he is merely doing and saying the sort of stuff they all do.

Social media — I shall again emphasise my ripe age by characterising Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as a plague — have induced and empowered their entire generation to bare everything, figuratively and sometimes literally, in a fashion unimaginable to earlier generations.

They film each other, or indeed themselves, eating cornflakes, jogging, partying, getting drunk, even having sex, and share the images with online pals around the world.

Forgive me for asking, but what hope is there for these millions when social media becomes the dominant force in their lives? I am sometimes teased by the 20-something sons of a friend, who say they will never take me seriously until I start tweeting. Never, I respond: I prefer a real life to a virtual one; I stubbornly reject the notion that telling all makes us better people.

Prince Harry and Ms Markle talk and behave in a fashion in perfect harmony with their selfie generation, the most narcissistic in history

Prince Harry and Ms Markle talk and behave in a fashion in perfect harmony with their selfie generation, the most narcissistic in history

Prince Harry and Ms Markle talk and behave in a fashion in perfect harmony with their selfie generation, the most narcissistic in history.

That is why many of their contemporaries applaud their openness, contempt for stiff-upper-lippery, rejection of what they regard as the suppression of honest and honourable emotions by their elders, boring old windbags like me. Yet the old are not wrong about everything. Some of us will continue to argue that privacy represents a self-defence mechanism which the young discard at their peril.

Almost daily we read of some sobbing girl or bloke wailing about indiscreet or frankly pornographic images which they were crazy enough to collude in snapping, then blush to find broadcast, often by an aggrieved ex-squeeze.

Moreover, does the fact that all the young take selfies and tell everything to everybody make it sensible for the Royal Family to do likewise?


Ordinary young things who babble can rebuild their privacy, if later they come to their senses. Royals cannot.

Once they have driven a coach and horses through the secrets of their lives and hearts, as the young princes and especially Harry are doing, they cannot later think better of it. They can’t return revelations to the closet or resume moaning about the intrusions of the paparazzi.


More from Max Hastings for the Daily Mail…

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  •   Mrs May must not send one more British soldier to Afghanistan: MAX HASTINGS says if Britain sends troops it will be only to appease Washington rather than change the outcome  22/08/17
  •   Trump could be in the White House for eight years: MAX HASTINGS says President still remains a standard-bearer for tens of millions of Americans 27/07/17
  •   A war film that dares to celebrate a British triumph: After decades of movies lionising the Yanks, MAX HASTINGS says Dunkirk should be required viewing for all schoolchildren  22/07/17
  •   Pride of Britain? No, HMS Queen Elizabeth is a £6bn blunder that should be scuttled, writes MAX HASTINGS  27/06/17
  •   Oh do stop whinging Harry: The young Princes should quit baring their souls, ditch the self-pity, behave with dignity and, oh yes, get proper jobs, says MAX HASTINGS 23/06/17
  •   OK, it’s hot. But what a glorious diversion from all our woes, writes MAX HASTINGS  21/06/17
  •   Idiocy of handing £250,000 to a jihadi would be comical… were it not so utterly grotesque, writes MAX HASTINGS  14/06/17

Now that Ms Markle has gushed all over Vanity Fair about her relationship with Harry for no better purpose than to satisfy a yearning for fame, she cannot at some future date reinvent herself as a princess possessed of the graces of Princess Alexandra (the Queen’s cousin who is patron or president of more than 100 organisations).

We have moved on 60 years since the Establishment figures around Princess Margaret, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrecked her happiness by barring her marriage to the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend.

That Ms Markle is a divorcee should no more be an obstacle to her marrying into the Royal Family than the fact her mother is black. Yet it is absurd to go further and suggest, as some do, that her profile makes her just the ticket to brighten up the Royals in a multicultural age.

Contrast here the behaviour of the two princes’ consorts. The Duchess of Cambridge, by sustaining a Trappist silence, has not put a foot wrong since she married Prince William. For her part, Ms Markle, who is wooing Prince Harry up a floodlit path, could end up triggering embarrassments that could outdo those of Fergie, the ill-starred Duchess of York.

The monarchy is an archaic survival which has served Britain wonderfully well.

It is sustained by a web of delightful illusions and fantasies that are based on concealment from the eyes of us commoners the humdrum ordinariness of the Royal Family’s individual members.

Albert of Saxe-Coburg, Queen Victoria’s Prince Consort, was their last leading light to merit respect for the high quality of his brains and imagination.

The triumph of our Queen’s long reign has been founded on concealment of her real self behind a mask of duty, grace and serenity that has been wondrous to behold.


While she has been for six decades the most famous woman in the world, her iconic status owes not one jot to the celebrity culture for which Vanity Fair serves as house magazine. In the 21st century, support for the monarchy is solid but fragile. It could weaken alarmingly quickly if the facade becomes smeared with greasepaint.

For all the siren voices that urge ‘modernisation’, allowing the Royals ‘to reveal themselves as real people’, this Hollywoodisation — which really means vulgarisation — of the institution is, I believe, a mistake, possibly a serious one.

Prince Harry’s contemporaries may tweet to each other that Ms Markle brings a breath of fresh air into the corridors of the royal palaces.

Some of us, however, instead scent a gas leak, and are nervous of an explosion.