Oh, Harry! How has it come to this? From a Royal Highness who commanded respect and affection to a celebrity trinket paraded in front of paying guests at a cheesy Hollywood awards ceremony…
The only crown I could see at Friday’s Living Legends Of Aviation gala to honour the Duke of Sussex was one made from plastic and rhinestones, and perched atop the elaborately coiffured head of Miss California.
And the only other ‘royal’ present was a German who goes by the ridiculous name of Prince Mario-Max Schaumburg-Lippe – though his right to use that title is hotly disputed – who once appeared in a saucy internet series called Travel Boobs.
Given such a distinctly D-list gathering, no wonder the audience was abuzz as they waited for their guest of honour to arrive – although his faded Royal stardust would not be enough to save the deeply unimpressive night.
Organisers had promised that the Duke would attend with his wife Meghan, in what had been billed as the couple’s first joint Hollywood red carpet appearance, but a PR lackey suddenly announced that Harry, 39, would be solo, and that he had just snuck in through a back entrance.
It was later reported that 42-year-old Meghan had decided to stay home because one of their two children was sick. Perhaps a wise move by the image-savvy former actress considering so many of us were wondering: ‘What on Earth is Harry doing here?’
Harry is pictured with Prince Mario-Max Schaumburg-Lippe at the awards ceremony in LA
The prince is seen arriving for Friday’s event in Los Angeles
With his father about to undergo a prostate procedure and his sister-in-law Kate, to whom he was once so close, in hospital for treatment for an abdominal problem, the Harry of old would surely have taken such an opportunity to publicly wish them both good health.
Of course, he may have done so in private but the omission here was as painful as a wasp sting. Instead, here was a man – who remains fifth in line to the throne despite ‘Megxit’ four years ago – mingling with some of Hollywood’s most frivolous personalities and being garlanded by sycophants with yet another meaningless bauble at a £1,100-a-head event that was so lacklustre that one elderly attendee admitted he slept through most of it.
A fellow guest told me: ‘We all assumed Harry would say something kind about his father and Kate, before going into his acceptance speech. But he didn’t say a word about them, which was weird.’
Before dinner, Harry posed for a selfie with Prince Mario-Max, whose website boasts connections stretching back to William of Orange, which would make him a very, very distant cousin of the British Royals.
But his royal connections have been described as a ‘beautiful illusion’ and are disputed by the family, who accuse him of using the title to make money, bringing the name into disrepute.
The head of the family, Prince Alexander of Schaumburg-Lippe, told The Mail on Sunday last night: ‘It’s very painful for me, this guy has been harvesting our name for his personal gain. Prince Harry cannot stoop lower than appearing with him. I would advise him to stay away from this man. ‘
Mario-Max – who claims he has the right to use the royal title after he was adopted by a distant relative of the family when he was 23 years old – has been dubbed ‘the King of Trash TV’ in the German Press for appearing on the local version of Big Brother, and hawking products on shopping channels including a so-called ‘wealth elixir’.
He is also a regular visitor to America, where he has posed for photos with celebrities including Paris Hilton, Liza Minnelli and Ivana Trump at parties and red-carpet events, and where he once dated one of the Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills.
Garlanded with a meaningless bauble by frivolous sycophants
On Friday he immediately posted the photo of himself with Prince Harry – as featured on our front page – on social media. It attracted comments including: ‘So cringe. Two irrelevant middle-aged men without serious pursuit using their titles to grift in superficial Hollywood,’ and ‘I’m embarrassed for both of you. This must be a joke.’
Speaking about meeting Harry, Mario-Max told The Mail on Sunday: ‘We had a personal conversation and he was fabulous, very humble, very sweet. It filled me with joy.’
Questions of whether the Duke deserved to be called a ‘living legend of aviation’ had been raised before the bash.
Harry’s award citation described him as a ‘humanitarian, military veteran, mental wellness advocate and environmentalist’, adding: ‘He has dedicated his life to causes he is passionate about and that bring about permanent change.’
Prince William and Prince Harry are pictured laughing after a game of polo in May 2014
Harry is seen in December 2012 working as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan
Harry is pictured in March 2011 standing in front of an Apache Helicopter a few days after the royal passed the half-decade milestone to become a captain in the British Army
Mario-Max has been dubbed ‘the King of Trash TV’ in the German Press
Questions of whether the Duke deserved to be called a ‘living legend of aviation’ had been raised before the bash
Organisers had promised that the Duke would attend with his wife Meghan but a PR lackey suddenly announced that Harry, 39, would be solo
But while the Duke served in the military for ten years – rising to the rank of captain, and completing two tours of Afghanistan as a forward air controller and an Apache helicopter pilot – a former head of the Royal Navy had poured scorn on the accolade.
A shambles to pop Harry’s sanctimonious bubble…
Lord Alan West said: ‘He is not a living legend of aviation. To suggest he is, is pathetic. It makes the whole thing seem a bit of a nonsense.’
And Colonel Richard Kemp, a retired British Army officer, said the ceremony was about ‘celebrities massaging each other’s egos’.
Accepting his award, Harry spoke of his pride in his military career – and as he did, I found it impossible to avoid thinking that, perhaps, it might finally be dawning on Harry that trashing his family for Netflix’s millions and leaving behind a life of service in the UK for a ‘career’ pandering to the whims of rich Americans might have been too high a price to pay.
When he spoke about his ‘old’ life, it felt meaningful and honest in a way that so many of his Hollywood psycho-babble interviews and his kamikaze memoir Spare have not.
He said: ‘For me, flying has been a transcendent experience. A close encounter with magic, an invitation to both protect freedom… and to feel free; and, funny enough, an opportunity to ground oneself, without actually being grounded.’
He spoke movingly of his former career, saying: ‘I had respect for the Apache in a hover and was in awe of it flying at night… so many moments as a pilot where you feel like you’re walking on air.
‘And throughout each flight during my military career, the one constant was always trust. Trust in the aircraft, trust in my fellow comrades, trust in my many mentors and, above all else, trust in myself.
‘Flying taught me the power of discipline, the power of patience and, beyond that, the power of trusting your gut.’
One guest commented that Harry might be lining up Bezos, the world’s third richest man, for when the £63million deal he and Meghan have with Netflix expires next year
Prince William and Prince Harry attend the premiere of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in 2017
It was later reported that 42-year-old Meghan had decided to stay home because one of their two children was sick
Lauren Sanchez, 54, was also being hailed as a living legend for her work as a helicopter pilot who runs a company offering aerial filming
Harry attended without his wife, Meghan Markle, for the awards ceremony
Prince Harry accepts his award as a Living Legend of Aviation at the glitzy awards ceremony in Los Angeles
These emotive words triggered an obligatory standing ovation from the audience which included Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and his fiancee Lauren Sanchez, 54, who was also being hailed as a living legend for her work as a helicopter pilot who runs a company offering aerial filming.
Trailed by her own TV crew, she was dressed in a black, strapless, fitted gown and wore her engagement ring, reportedly worth £1.6 million, over her black opera gloves.
One guest commented that Harry might be lining up Bezos, the world’s third richest man, for when the £63million deal he and Meghan have with Netflix expires next year.
It was a valid point as the couple have yet to prove themselves properly in Hollywood, with their efforts attracting no little ridicule.
Meghan’s podcast deal with streaming service Spotify has ended, they were lampooned on the TV show South Park and the Hollywood Reporter, considered Tinseltown’s ‘bible’, recently wrote: ‘In 2020, the royal duo fled a life of ceremonial public service to cash in their celebrity status in the States.
‘But after a whiny Netflix documentary, a whiny biography (Spare, even the title is a pouty gripe) and an inert podcast, the Harry and Meghan brand swelled into a sanctimonious bubble just begging to be popped.’
In many ways, this vainglorious gala felt like the popping of Harry’s bubble. But it was hard not to feel a smidgen of sympathy.
During my three decades working as a journalist in Hollywood, I’ve been to scores of A-list events, including nearly every Oscars ceremony, but Friday’s event was a low-rent shambles.
Apart from Ms Sanchez, none of the big names, including John Travolta and Morgan Freeman, walked the red carpet. Other promised guests, including musician Kenny G, failed to show.
Artist Mimi Stuart showed off a gaudy yellow portrait of Harry in his Apache cockpit. ‘He has a magnificent, big helmet,’ Ms Stuart said gauchely, causing a ripple of awkward giggles in the crowd.
At one point, the Beverly Hills Fire Department turned up, emergency lights flashing. Paramedics rushed in with a stretcher, only to leave ten minutes later saying it was a ‘false alarm’.
It must be said, though, that many were delighted by the Duke of Sussex’s appearance.
Businessman Shane Lundgren, 62, said: ‘It’s fantastic to have someone with his level of celebrity being part of something like this.’
Fellow guest Nita Epps said: ‘He’s been outstanding in his service in Afghanistan. It’s wonderful he’s being honoured’, and Miss California, Tianna Clark, agreed: ‘There’s a lot of love for Harry here.’
As Harry left the way he arrived – slipping out of the back entrance into a waiting Range Rover – I was left pondering if this event was an indication of what the future holds for him. Will he be reduced to giving speeches alongside the likes of Mario-Max over gala chicken dinners to support his £11 million Montecito mansion and estimated £1.6 million-a-year security bill?
For his sake, I sincerely hope not.