Prince Harry PR: The Ups and Downs of Royal Life
Let’s talk about Prince Harry PR. The Prince, of course, is no stranger to press coverage. Or controversy. Over the years his (many) drunken antics, drug taking, racist slurs, and scraps with photographers have made front page news. Then there was the royal exit, the infamous Oprah interview and the release of his memoir, Spare.
But it’s not all bad. A staunch campaigner, he’s used his unique position to raise awareness of the plight of orphans in Lesotho, shine a spotlight on the limitless possibilities for servicemen and women with disabilities, and change attitudes around mental health.
Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny Hazza is an endless source of fodder for the press.
We take a look at memorable Prince Harry PR moments, good and bad.
Who is Prince Harry?
Born in 1984, Prince Harry is the youngest son of King Charles III and the late Diana, Princess of Wales. He’s fifth in line to the throne, after his brother, Prince William, and William’s three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
In 2018, Harry married unknown America actress Meghan Markle in a lavish ceremony at Windsor Castle. Two years later, the couple announced they were stepping back from royal duties and leaving Britain to start a new life in California.
Despite leaving his role as a senior member of the Royal Family, Harry still holds the title of Duke of Sussex.
Interested in the PR history of the Royal Family? Read: A Right Royal Soap Opera: Royal Family PR Lessons.
So let’s look at some classic Prince Harry PR moments.
His royal lowness: Harry’s teenage years
We all made mistakes as teenagers that we’d rather forget. But few of us have the world’s media poised to immortalise every one of those mistakes in print.
During his teenage years, Prince Harry was regularly pictured stumbling out of nightclubs and enjoying boozy nights out. This led to the media dubbing him the ‘Party Prince’. The pictures made front page news, but his antics were laughed off.
Then, in 2002, media outlets caught wind of the then 16-year-old Prince smoking marijuana at a pub in Highgrove. Reports at the time stated that Charles (then Prince of Wales) had stern words with Harry and made him check into a drugs rehabilitation centre to shock him into changing his ways.
Charles won widespread approval for the way he handled the situation. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said at the time: ‘I think the way that Prince Charles and The Royal Family have handled it is absolutely right. They have done it in a very responsible and sensitive way for their child’.
However, in The Express, Royal author Penny Juror claimed the rehab trip was ‘fabricated by Prince Charles’ office to make him look good’. Harry had in fact once visited a rehab centre, but not with his father – and not because his father was worried about him. Charles had no idea what either of his sons got up to.’
She went on to say that Harry ‘bitterly resented’ being made to look bad so his father could look good.
Did The King use his son’s PR fail to generate positive publicity for himself? Who knows? Either way, the incident caused no long-term damage, and the debacle was quickly resigned to the history books.
But worse was yet to come. The Prince Harry PR train came rattling off the tracks due to his tasteless fancy dress outfit choice a few short years later.
Harry clearly forgot he’s prime headline fodder when he attended a party dressed in a Nazi uniform in 2005. Complete with a swastika armband, his inappropriate choice of attire caused widespread outrage as photographs were splashed across the front pages.
To make matters worse, this happened two weeks before the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Following the backlash, Prince Harry issued a statement through Buckingham Palace: ‘I am very sorry if I caused any offence or embarrassment to anyone. It was a poor choice of costume and I apologise.’
Harry then met with the Chief Rabbi in London to make a personal apology.
In his recent memoir Spare (more of that later) he says: ‘I sat down and spoke to the Chief Rabbi in London, which had a profound impact on me. He urged me not to be devastated by my mistake, but instead to be motivated. He spoke to me with the quality one often encounters in truly wise people — forgiveness. He assured me that people do stupid things, say stupid things, but it doesn’t need to be their intrinsic nature. I was showing my true nature, he said, by seeking to atone. Seeking absolution.’
Harry’s apology, and subsequent visit to the Chief Rabbi had the desired effect. The Board of Deputies of British Jews released a statement saying that while the costume ‘was clearly in bad taste, especially in the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day, the board is pleased that he’s apologised for the incident’.
Tony Blair attempted to downplay the situation via a statement which said: ‘clearly an error was made. That has been recognised by Harry, and I think it is better that this matter continues to be dealt with by Buckingham Palace.’
If the Palace’s PR team hadn’t swung into action, Harry’s poor judgement could have had serious repercussions for The Royal Family, and Britain. After all, the swastika is a symbol of hatred and the persecution of millions of people.
As a business owner, be mindful that your actions – both in and out of the office – can negatively impact your reputation. While some mistakes can be put down to poor judgement and resolved with some well-landed crisis communications, others can cause long-term, irreparable damage to your brand.
Megxit and the aftermath
In 2020, Harry and Meghan announced that they would be stepping back from their senior roles within The Royal Family.
The revelation sent shockwaves around the world. Social media was ablaze with divided opinions. While official statements made it all seem like an amicable affair, it was a different story behind closed doors.
What followed was a series of events that left both the Palace and the Sussexes in the midst of a public relations minefield:
The Oprah interview
Following their retirement from royal duties and subsequent move to the U.S., Meghan and Harry took part in a highly publicised tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey.
And they didn’t hold back. There were allegations of racism, sexism, in-fighting and backstabbing within The Royal Family, to name a few. Unsurprisingly, the aftermath of the special was explosive. The public and British media let rip on the couple in spectacular fashion.
Harry added fuel to the fire with the release of his memoir, Spare, which lifted the roof on life in The Royal Family. He took aim at everyone, mercilessly trashing the Royals, portraying them as cold, dysfunctional and ruthless.
Once again, the UK media were less than impressed. Harry was labelled ‘petty’ and his popularity went into freefall with the British public.
Harry incurred further wrath with the launch of his 2022 Netflix docuseries, ‘Harry and Meghan’, in which he unleashed more vitriol at The Royal Family.
The Daily Telegraph screamed: ‘Sussexes’ TV show claims are a ‘direct hit’ on late Queen’s legacy’. The Sun renamed the Prince ‘Harry the Nasty’. While the outspoken TV presenter Piers Morgan tweeted:
‘Never seen an unhappier ‘happy man’ in my life. Prince Harry’s a bitter, delusional, paranoid, family-trashing halfwit exposing & exploiting the Royals’ most personal secrets for gazillions whilst wanging on with jaw-dropping hypocrisy about media intrusion. He’s pathetic.’ Ouch.
No such thing as bad publicity?
Clearly, there is. Harry’s refusal to pivot away from attacking The Royal Family (a much-loved British institution) has had disastrous consequences. He’s vilified daily in the press and his popularity in the UK is at an all-time low.
If he’d maintained a dignified silence or taken a more low-key approach to resolving the issues with his family, he could have escaped with his reputation intact.
Disputes waged in public never end well. The longer the battle lasts, the harder it is to recover. Sometimes in business, relationships break down. For the sake of your reputation, it’s best to settle your differences behind closed doors. If you choose to air your dirty laundry in public, you need to be prepared for the backlash.
Want to learn how not to deal with a PR crisis? Read: Some of the Worst PR Campaigns of All Time.
Harry the philanthropist
With all the bad press Harry’s attracted, it’s easy to forget the good stuff he’s done – namely, his philanthropy.
Over the years, the prince has supported numerous charitable causes, including UNICEF, National AIDS Trust, Help for Heroes and The HALO Trust. He’s also co-founded a number of charities such as Sentebale, which supports children affected by HIV/AIDS in Lesotho.
However, the Duke’s most notable charitable undertaking is his founding and chairing of the Invictus Games, a biannual, international sporting event for wounded, injured, and sick servicemen and women.
Launched in 2014, the event aims to ‘harness the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation, and generate a wider understanding and respect for those who serve their country.’
During the games, more than 500 athletes from 20 nations take part, watched by a crowd of 75,000 spectators.
The event has been hailed ‘an unmitigated triumph’, and Harry has been widely commended for his commitment to increasing awareness of the challenges that wounded service personnel face. On the Invictus website, it states:
‘Harry’s military service and experience, combined with his genuine compassion and understanding for those who serve their countries, has raised awareness of wounded, injured and sick service personnel and the role they continue to play in society.
His work has had an extraordinary impact on the way in which disability, service and mental health is viewed around the world. He has been instrumental in changing the lives of many.’
Aligning your brand with a good cause is a win-win. The charity benefits from increased awareness and financial support, and you benefit from the positive PR that comes with it.
However, joining forces with a charity purely for positive press is a bad PR move. People can sniff out phoney generosity, and your reputation will take a beating if they do.
Choose a cause you’re passionate about and make sure your team are behind it.
For more on the importance of brand reputation, read: PR and Reputation Management: How to Build and Maintain your Brand Reputation with Public Relations.
Matters of the mind
In 2017, Prince Harry recorded an extraordinarily frank podcast interview with Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon.
He discussed the mental anguish he felt after losing his mother, admitting he suffered from severe attacks of panic and rage and came ‘very close to a nervous breakdown’. He also disclosed that he needed therapy to come to terms with it.
The interview marked the first time a member of The British Royal Family had spoken so candidly about mental health.
His willingness to be vulnerable and share his own experiences earned him praise from the media and mental health charities, such as Mind and the Samaritans:
‘We need role models from all walks to life and Prince Harry talking about his experience is immensely valuable as it reduces stigma, shows anybody can struggle with difficult feelings and encourages other men of all ages to speak out.’
It takes guts to be vulnerable and expose yourself to public scrutiny. Far from being a weakness, when it comes to business, vulnerability can be an asset.
You don’t need to share every aspect of your life with customers. But expressing yourself authentically – admitting when you’ve made a mistake, and that you don’t have all the answers is a great way to build trust with your audience.
If they trust you, they’ll reward you with their business.
PR fit for a prince
These are just a few of Prince Harry’s many memorable PR moments. With rumours of a second book and further tell-all documentaries circulating, there’ll no doubt be a lot more to come.