Harry’s Tell-all Tour: Talkshow audiences, fueled by hours of anticipation and the hidden cost of a day off work, would rally for any guest above the level of a pot plant, but this shouldn’t be used to judge guests.
After a week of a lot of media attention in the US, Prince Harry’s appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday night was the first time we saw him interact with Americans.
For days, the American media talked about how Spare’s deployment was too much. As Colbert put it, the 38-year-old “husband, father, military veteran, and activist” got a standing ovation in New York. Harry gave a shy smile. British people found it strange and unsettling.
Full disclosure: I didn’t watch the Netflix show and didn’t want to read the book, but I’ve still read everything I could find about Harry Potter this week. I’ve sent and received dozens of texts speculating on whether or not his accusations are true, and I’ve spent a lot of time complaining with the caveat “this is not sisterly, but…”
English and Australian friends in New York are obsessed, frantic, and angry that Harry is so far out on the ledge. Americans, on the other hand, are bored and a little bit confused.
From the time Harry and Meghan moved out here, most of them went from saying “good for you” to “wow, this guy is really going for it” to “meh” this week. Brits are saying things like “the man’s gone completely crazy.”
More important than Harry’s words are how many and different places he goes. “I assume there are some veterans in the house tonight?” he asked on Colbert, showing his unease.
People cheered when someone said, “America is a great place to live!” The New York Times said that Colbert’s style was “probing but polite,” and former reality stars said that Harry said too much.
Harry, a former royal, is the last person on earth who should know what’s healthy honesty and what’s not, and as the play went on, it was hard not to shudder. He did a short sketch with Tom Hanks, got mugged by extras in royal clothes, and looked uncomfortable when Colbert asked him about the death of his mother. As I watched, I thought, “Poor bugger.”
Harry will always be a sideshow in the US, so this feeling of sadness for him was especially strong. This week, Spare’s discoveries came between the rain in California, the chaos in the race for House speaker, and the Golden Globes.
Harry’s act, right down to his slightly forced transatlantic accent, was clearly for the people back home who hated him, even though the number of people who buy books in the US is much larger than in the UK.
(Harry has lived in the US for a few years, which is enough time for an English person to forget how to say “tomato” or “water,” but not enough time to change “route,” which in British English means “root,” to “rowt,” as Harry did in an interview with Anderson Cooper.)
Harry would say that his “story” about breaking away from tradition and routine is great, but that it has been traded for another set of almost as strict rules.
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On Tuesday night, he talked about “giving space” to his “experiences without shame.” He talked about his “journey with mental health” and the “strength in sharing.” “Getting out of a dangerous situation” was praised.
Friends of mine from England who are married to Americans saw in this performance what their American partners often complain about: that they “talk it out” with their English families, bring things up, put things on the table, face problems, and sometimes get annoyed that they have to explain and defend the structural silence in English family life. Mostly, it’s bad. Sometimes it’s successful diplomacy, not just avoidance.
Harry’s funny self-parody seems strange and low-class when compared to how I train. I’ve made fun of the fact that he wants to keep the title “Duke of Sussex.”
On Tuesday night, I smiled when he said that the Queen had a “great career,” but this week has mostly been sad. Harry smiled ruefully as people shouted, “Harry! Harry!” It’s a shame.