In 2020, the Duchess of Sussex took a break from her new Californian life of yoga breath work and burning all her royal-mandated nude hose to reveal her husband Prince Harry was an out and proud feminist.
In a video chat with US feminist Gloria Steinem, Meghan recounted Harry meeting the iconic activist during which he had told her it was “important” she knew that he was “a feminist too”.
Since then, Harry has doubled and tripled down on his gender equality cred, with Meghan revealing he’d had a “guttural” reaction to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade abortion protection, and that he chose a T-shirt emblazoned with ‘Girl Dad’ for a video about a green travel initiative.
However, a 20-year-old report has resurfaced, one which details a series of shocking incidents that run counter to the right-on Duke of 2023. Incidents that somehow also got left out of his recent smash hit memoir Spare.
We all know the Harry, pre-Meghan, story; how he went from the haunted boy who was forced to walk behind his mother’s coffin to the larrikin boozer of his early 20s to the dutiful soldier who took on the Taliban, and then to Invictus mastermind.
He might have played billiards starkers and made the imbecilic choice to go to a dress-up party channelling Erwin Rommel, but by and large the public consensus seemed to be he was a ‘Good Lad’.
However, is that quite the full picture?
Let’s rewind. It’s around the turn of the millennium, flip phones are in, Britney Spears is dating that nice man Justin Timberlake, and a teenage Harry is on holiday in Cornwall, staying in a beachside town that sounds a bit like the Gold Coast for the gee-gee, polo-playing set.
So, what does a royal teen do with himself all day? Hit a hedge with a stick? Sneak a cheeky Marlboro out a window? Try explaining the plot of The Phantom Menace to Prince Philip via fax?
Instead, the red-headed teen allegedly threw bottles and “drunkenly abused teenage girls”.
That was a claim that was raised two years later by the Daily Mail – back in 2002 – about the time Harry’s partying proclivities had burst into the open.
One girl told the Mail: “Harry was sitting on a wall outside a pub. In between throwing cider bottles he was vomiting behind the wall. He is one of the most revolting people I’ve ever met.”
What a charmer.
Allegedly, when one teenage boy put his arm around a girl from Harry’s group, the royal hit him, according to the Mail, saying, “Get your hands off, she’s mine. She’ll do what I say.”
Another teen’s mother described the royal’s attitude to girls as “intolerable”.
That same Mail report also revealed a series of other disturbing incidents.
Take the story about Harry at a shooting weekend hosted by the former Duke of Westminster, a knees-up that sounds like the sort of getaway Roman emperor Caligula might have enjoyed.
Let’s assume the Duke’s Cheshire pile, the vast Eaton Hall, was full of chaps like Harry – boys with pedigrees that date back to the Domesday Book and who have never once in their lives been asked to take the bins out.
Our man Harry, according to that Mail report, got so drunk he threw up across a bar.
According to an eyewitness, “Harry was legless and speechless. The catering staff were appalled because they were left to clear up the vomit.” (Just in case the indignity of working for minimum wage in the house of Britain’s richest aristocrat was not quite galling enough.)
While it is unclear whether Prince William was at the Duke’s party, he was reported to be “livid” with his brother, viewing him as “a bloody liability”.
A few other choice titbits: Harry was barred from his local boozer the Rattlebone Inn and had called the French undermanger “a f***ing frog,” suggesting Harry might have just arrived at that bit in history class when Napoleon eyes off the UK.
Spare a thought in all of this for Harry’s protection officers who had to deal with an “often abusive Prince”, according to the Mail.
Knowing what we know now, these stories take on a new light: A boy dealing with complex, horrible trauma and who was clearly in real pain.
However, here’s the tricky bit – does that mean we should let Harry off the hook? Does his own suffering represent a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to his former alleged bad behaviour?
In recent months, we have watched Harry try to get his family to take responsibility for their mistakes. But is he ready to wholly do the same?
In Spare, in his sell, sell, sell TV interviews and, most recently, his pay-per-view sit-down with Dr Gabor Maté, a trauma expert, he was willing to unpack his suffering, you know, the bits where we see him as the deeply wounded boy and man he was (and some might argue, is).
However, when it comes to ‘owning,’ in the Californian parlance, his regrettable behaviour, he has shown a tendency to skirt going the full mea culpa.
In his telling, it was William and Kate who encouraged him to wear that infamous Nazi uniform. Of a video that emerged in 2009 of him directing a racial slur at a fellow Sandhurst cadet, he pleads ignorance and complains that the palace wouldn’t let him put out a statement.
He writes that he “cared about not being a racist”. But did he do anything about that? It would be seven years before he got around to fixing his “unconscious bias” thanks to the arrival of Meghan.
Then there is his story in Spare about a house mistress at his prep school Ludgrove called Pat. Sure, she sounds like a horrible sort but the way he writes about her does not exactly tally with his new-found proud feminist label.
Harry says: “Unlike the other matrons, Pat wasn’t hot. Pat was cold. Pat was small, mousy, frazzled, and her hair fell greasily into her always tired eyes.” He writes of her knees and spine: “The latter was crooked, the former chronically stiff. Walking was hard, stairs were torture. She’d descend backwards, glacially.”
Harry, by his telling, was the most enthusiastic in “making faces” at her.
However, does he express any remorse for making fun of the woman? While there is a certain self-recrimination in his tone, he does not actually say so.
My point here is not to condemn Harry for silly things he did decades ago, because lord, there is not a soul on the planet who hasn’t, but about the selectiveness of Harry’s atonement and soul-baring.
In the wake of Spareand the revelations about William, a friend of the royal family told the Sunday Times: “There’s so much stuff over the years that Harry has rung friends up about and said, ‘Throw away that photo, promise you won’t speak about this.’ You could have a f***ing field day with sh*t on Harry. So could William, who (in comparison) is as clean as a whistle. I can’t believe he’d stoop so low. It’s outrageously disloyal.”
Meanwhile, another friend told the Times’ Roya Nikkha: “Harry is good at getting his narrative out there but we know so much, we’ve cleaned up so many messes over the years, there is so much we could say.”
The Duke so very clearly wants the royal family to fully accept and publicly acknowledge their mistakes, but has he really and truly done the same thing himself? Where, for example, is that apology to Pat?
At least I can leave you with this eye-popping image. One of those 2002 Daily Mail stories also revealed what Harry got up during King Charles’s big 50th birthday party in 1998, namely getting drunk, stripping and “running around the guests”.
Imagine: The horsey, hunting set choking on their miniature cocktail Scotch eggs as they realise a certain set of Crown Jewels was on full display. Atta boy.
Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.