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Why Prince Harry is raising eyebrows again

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Prince Harry may have stepped back from official royal duties, but the sixth in line for the throne hasn’t stepped back from stirring controversy and sparking headlines.

One such moment came the other day, when he told the U.S. network NBC that he’s making sure his grandmother — Queen Elizabeth — is protected and has “the right people around her.”

As eyebrow-raising as it was for some, particularly because Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have been living in California for more than two years, it was hardly the first time he’s been something of a “loose cannon” with comments about his family or the monarchy. 

The attention his recent comment garnered was also perhaps magnified by — or reflective of — a larger public focus on the monarchy right now, as the Queen, who just turned 96, has been gradually stepping back from official duties and other senior members of the family take on more themselves.

“Harry’s relationship with his family is intersecting with this larger scrutiny of the monarchy in transition,” Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based author and royal historian, said in an interview.

Prince Harry talks to former marine Jelle van Der Steen, an injured member of the Team Netherlands basketball team, during the wheelchair basketball competition at the Invictus Games in The Hague on April 21, 2022. (Joern Pollex/Getty Images)

“Though Harry’s causes such as the Invictus Games do receive publicity, there’s a great deal of press scrutiny of his relationship with his family:  Will that relationship continue to be more distant? Will we see a rapprochement over time? Will Harry and Meghan participate in the Platinum Jubilee celebrations? Will their children come to England?”

In the interview with NBC, Harry said he didn’t know if he’d be at the Jubilee celebrations at the beginning of June, marking Elizabeth’s 70 years as monarch. (He has launched a court action against the British government over its decision not to allow him to personally pay for police protection while in the United Kingdom.)

More definitive, however, was his view of his relationship with the Queen, whom he and Meghan had visited for tea at Windsor Castle the previous week.

The Queen was “on great form,” Harry told NBC’s Hoda Kotb, and “it was really nice to catch up with her.” 

He and the Queen have “a really special relationship,” he said, and “talk about things that she can’t talk about with anyone else.”

But it was his comment about “making sure she’s protected and got the right people around her” that provoked considerable reaction from royal observers, and was seen as a possible slight to others within the royal household and his own family, including his father and brother, Princes Charles and William.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Harry attend the annual Chelsea Flower show at Royal Hospital Chelsea on May 18, 2015, in London, England. (Julian Simmonds/Getty Images)

It “really seems a bit of a snub to William and Charles, who have very much stepped up to the plate and are supporting the Queen at the moment, and I think are quite antagonistic comments,” Vanity Fair royal editor Katie Nicholl told the CBC’s Karen Pauls in London.

Five years ago, Harry raised eyebrows with comments — again made to U.S. media — suggesting no one in the Royal Family wants to be the monarch.

“It’s clear that long before his relationship with Meghan that Harry was spending time contemplating the nature of royal life,” said Harris.

Given that Harry isn’t a working member of the Royal Family and he and Meghan stepped away to forge a more financially independent life, some wonder why his words or actions should still be the focus of such media attention.

Harris says there’s going to continue to be interest in Harry and Meghan because even though they stepped back, Harry remains the grandson of the current monarch and the son and brother of future monarchs.

“In a sense, [Harry] knows Charles and William better than most other people, so there’s going to continue to be an interest in Harry’s perspective,” Harris said.

Prince Charles, left, Prince William and Prince Harry visit the tunnel and trenches at Vimy Memorial Park during the commemorations for the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 2017, in Vimy, France. (Tim Rooke/Getty Images)

“It complicates Harry and Meghan’s plans going forward, that on the one hand they’re interested in a greater degree of independence, but in terms of the public, it’s Harry’s royal connections and his conflict with his family which make him a person of interest.”

As the NBC interview showed, some of that interest recently has focused intently on whether he, Meghan and their children will be in England for the Jubilee celebrations in a few weeks. The Queen has yet to meet their younger child, daughter Lilibet, who will have her first birthday during the Jubilee weekend in early June. And if they do go, to what extent might they participate in various events, including the high-profile family appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace?

“This is a big milestone moment, and I think [Queen Elizabeth] wants all of her family up on that balcony,” said Nicholl.

Other interest in what Harry says is likely to arise around his expected memoir and whether it will arrive on schedule later this year.

“Harry and Meghan have a number of projects on the go and not all of them have unfolded as quickly as expected,” said Harris, “so there’s going to be interest in what he does with this memoir and what aspects of his life that he focuses on the most.”

As much as there is a public spotlight on him now, that could change with time, something history suggests might be a possibility.

WATCH | Prince Harry raises some eyebrows over remarks after visiting Queen:

Prince Harry’s remarks on Queen visit raises some eyebrows

In an interview with NBC, Prince Harry says he wants to make sure his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, has ‘the right people around her.’ His comment caught the attention of some, including royal commentator Katie Nicholl, who called it a snub to Prince Charles and Prince William. 2:01

“With the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, for instance, there was a lot of scrutiny in the years after the [1936] abdication crisis and in the Second World War,” said Harris.

After the war, they both released memoirs, but “they gradually faded into a greater degree of obscurity,” Harris said, and there wasn’t the same intense press coverage of them.

More current events, less big spectacle

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, shown during a visit to BBC Broadcasting House on Thursday in London, England, will be in Canada from May 17 to 19. (Hannah McKay/Getty Images)

For the knitters who will meet Prince Charles when he and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, are in St. John’s later this month, there is great anticipation.

“They’re beyond excited,” said Katie Armstrong-Lestrange, quality control supervisor for NONIA, a century-old non-profit cottage industry that employs about 175 knitters and weavers across Newfoundland and Labrador. 

“A lot of them don’t know what they have done to deserve this kind of thing.”

Charles’s meeting with the knitting circle is part of the May 17-19 royal visit that will take him and Camilla from Newfoundland and Labrador to the National Capital Region and the Northwest Territories. An itinerary was released this past week.

Pam Parsons, right, and Cindy Miller, left, are a mother-daughter knitting team who create garments for NONIA, a non-profit organization in St. John’s that will welcome Prince Charles to a knitting circle when he visits the city on May 17. (Submitted by Katie Armstrong-Lestrange)

The trip, which is part of efforts to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, will see Charles and Camilla undertake a number of engagements that focus on areas of personal interest and public priority, ranging from Indigenous issues and climate change to literacy and help for survivors of domestic violence. 

“The Prince of Wales has long believed that we need to learn from Indigenous peoples around the world how better we should live in and care for nature and the planet,” Clarence House said in a news release. 

WATCH | Itinerary set for Charles and Camilla’s visit to Canada:

Prince Charles, Camilla finalize plans for Canadian royal tour

As part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubliee celebration, Prince Charles and Camilla will start their three-day Canadian trip in St. John’s on May 17. The prince has promised to learn more from Indigenous peoples during the trip, which includes plans to meet with residential school survivors. 2:02

“Canada is seeing the impact of climate change and so this tour will highlight an emphasis on learning from Indigenous peoples in Canada as well as a focus on working with businesses to find a more sustainable way of living with global warming.”

Itineraries can be as interesting for what isn’t on them as what is. Harris was struck by the focus this time on current events and the lesser concentration on the sorts of things that might have been the hallmarks of previous royal tours. 

“We’re seeing fewer big set-piece events,” Harris said. “We do have the RCMP musical ride as Prince Charles is honorary commissioner, but there seems to be less emphasis on big public spectacles and more emphasis on quieter and more intimate events.”

In St. John’s, along with the knitting circle, Charles will meet a representative from Campaign for Wool Canada, an initiative launched during a 2014 visit by the couple that is meant to raise awareness of wool’s sustainability.

Armstrong-Lestrange welcomes the opportunity Charles’s visit provides to put a focus on the material and its natural benefits.

“It’s just really exciting to have a royal visit, and to have the purpose be to discuss wool and its uses, its sustainability and how it can biodegrade … especially with what’s going on climate-wise, I think it’s a really important conversation that needs to be had,” she said.

Prince Charles walks in Bonshaw Park on Prince Edward Island on May 20, 2014. (John Stilwell/Getty Images)

“[With] Prince Charles starting it, it’s just going to continue and continue and continue.”

Royal visits typically provide — or provoke — the opportunity for public discussion and debate about the future of the monarchy and Canada’s relationship with it.

This trip also follows Jubilee visits to the Caribbean by Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, where the royals faced protests. William and Kate’s trip was also marked by uncomfortable, potentially tone-deaf moments, including their ride in an open-top Land Rover during a military parade that many felt harkened to colonial times.

During Charles and Camilla’s trip to Canada in 2009, police had to push back about 200 anti-monarchists before the couple visited an armoury in Montreal.

This time, Charles and Camilla aren’t visiting Quebec, beyond the National Capital Region, so Harris says there’s likely to be less emphasis on French Canadian attitudes toward the Crown.

“But there may well be scrutiny of the range of Indigenous views of the Crown, both the special relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples, but also some critical scrutiny of the history of the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

Prince Charles leaves the Con Mine in Yellowknife on April 28, 1975. (Doug Ball/The Canadian Press)

The timing of the visit is also interesting. Previous royal trips to Canada in May have occurred over the Victoria Day long weekend, with Victoria Day also marking the Queen’s official birthday in Canada. In 2014, Charles and Camilla took in Victoria Day fireworks in Toronto. This time around, there is no such overlap.

“Instead, there’s a very strong emphasis on visiting during the week rather than this holiday weekend and a focus on listening to the concerns of Canadians, particularly Indigenous Canadians,” said Harris.

The visit will be Charles’s 19th to Canada, and the fifth for Camilla. His first trip came in 1970, while she visited first in 2009.

  • Our friends at CBC in Newfoundland and Labrador took a look at how the City of St. John’s has quietly rechristened a building nestled on the craggy shore of Quidi Vidi gut ahead of the visit by Charles and Camilla. Read their report here.

  • Do you have a personal story of your family’s relationship with the monarchy, whether positive or negative? Pitch it to us as a CBC First Person column. Send your pitches to firstperson@cbc.ca by May 15.

More birthdays, more photos

In a photo taken in March and released to mark Queen Elizabeth’s 96th birthday earlier this month, she poses with her fell ponies Bybeck Nightingale, right, and Bybeck Katie on the grounds of Windsor Castle in Windsor, England. (Henry Dallal Photography/Royal Windsor Horse Show/The Associated Press)

Queen Elizabeth celebrated her 96th birthday on her Sandringham estate north of London on April 21, and was thought to be staying at the smaller residence where Prince Philip spent much of his later years.

A photo released to mark the occasion showed the Queen with two ponies, a nod to her longtime love of the equestrian world.

Elizabeth wasn’t the only member of the Royal Family to have a birthday marked with the release of a picture in recent days.

As has become tradition for the children of Prince William and Kate, photos she took of Prince Louis were released for his fourth birthday on April 23. 

And we can expect another picture in a few days: Princess Charlotte turns seven on May 2.

Royally quotable

“It can happen to anyone. At any time. In any place. Just one moment can turn a life upside down.” 

— At a dinner to raise money for helicopters for London’s Air Ambulance charity, Prince William told guests of his observations about serious injury during his time working as an air ambulance pilot.

Royal reads

  1. On their recent visits to the Caribbean, Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, faced simmering resentment. The BBC takes a look at why.

  2. Prince Andrew, Duke of York, has lost his honorary freedom of the city of York. Councillors in the English city voted to strip him of the title in the wake of his now-settled civil sexual assault case. [The Guardian]

  3. It’s long been said the Queen has a great sense of humour. But what makes her laugh?  [BBC]

  4. The Invictus Games are returning to Canada, with a new-look version of the event coming to Vancouver and Whistler, featuring winter adaptive sports for the first time. Prince Harry, who founded the games in 2014, announced the two B.C. municipalities will host the eight-day international sports competition for wounded and ill military personnel in February 2025. [CBC]

  5. Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood are among the Canadian authors included on a list of 70 books from around the Commonwealth selected to mark the Platinum Jubilee. [The Guardian]

  6. A huge sculpture made up of 350 British native trees is to be erected outside Buckingham Palace to mark the Jubilee. [ITV]

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