The Villains We Love to Hate. Oh, and Never Write Off the Beast.
Every story has a hero. But the best stories have a really great villain. Villains sell. What is Star Wars without Darth Vader? The Wizard of Oz without the Wicked Witch of the West? Game of Thrones without Cersei? Harry Potter without Voldemort? Villains sell stories.
So when Prince Harry’s memoir “Spare” rocketed to become the fastest selling nonfiction book of all time, it wasn’t because Harry made such a resplendent hero, it’s because he had a ready made villain. His mother’s old nemesis, a modern Cruella De Ville, Camilla Parker Bowles. Instead of clubbing Dalmatians, she used the media to run over royals.
They say there are three narratives all people like. First is a rags-to-riches tale. Second is, redemption after a fall from grace. And finally good ole revenge.
As a hero Harry is a tough sell in a rags to riches or redemptions plot. Is the burden of being born second really such a tough row to hoe? So you’re Prince instead of King? Good looking, royal, rich, so entitled that when he’s forced to live in exile he chooses Montecito? To steal the line uttered to Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Harry wasn’t going to get the ultimate power so he walked away from responsibility. Understandable yes. Heroic, no.
Fortunately, a good story doesn’t require a hero we love, just a villain we love to hate. Picking up where his mother’s story left off, Harry already had a ready-made villain for his memoir. Ever since Diana uttered those famous words, “There were really three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded…” we had Camilla served up on a platter. And if you thought she was bad as “the Other Woman” think of how truly awful she would become when cast as the Evil stepmother.
In an interview with 60 Minutes at the start of Harry’s media onslaught, he called Camilla “dangerous” because of her close ties to the media. “There was open willingness on both sides to trade information. And with a family built on hierarchy and with her on the way to being Queen Consort, there were going to be people or bodies left in the street.” He then described his stepmother as “the Villain.”
I’ll admit I have a soft spot for Camilla. Entire generations have been indoctrinated and are still being taught that witches are bad, but Evil Stepmothers are worse. Stepmothers have no magic and just bad motives. As a stepmother myself, I can honestly say it’s time for some rebranding.
I have a problem when young, privileged men vilify older women for their own purposes. Camilla’s story is an old one and a familiar one. It’s a classic love story. She fell in love with a man she could not have, from a family who did not approve of her. But her love would not be denied. It actually sounds a lot like Harry’s love story with Megan.
According to Harry, Camilla’s unforgivable sin is her manipulation of the media.
In an ITV interview, Harry talks about the royal family’s media manipulation tactics of “briefings, leakings and plantings.” He points the finger squarely at Camilla when he accuses members of the Royal family of getting in bed with the devil. “Those certain members have decided to get in bed with the devil (media)...to rehabilitate their image…” Harry says in his memoir. And not just rehabilitate their image, they hope to tarnish his. Harry claims Charles and Camilla’s spin doctor threw Harry ”right under the bus” when they leaked details of his drug use in 2002. He claims this leak was an attempt to make Charles look like a sympathetic figure - the loving father coping with his child’s drug use.
So Harry seeks to tarnish his enemies by exposing how they’re in bed with the devil by inviting the media devil into his living room in Montecito. Now that’s media manipulation!
Harry is a media blitzkrieg, disguised as a tell-all book launch that includes one hand grenade after another hurled at his Royal brethren. You can’t sling mud without getting your hands dirty.
Who taught our young Jedi Harry how to fight fire with fire, press with press? Most likely his greatest hero and mentor, his mother, Diana. Vanity Fair writer Sally Bedell Smith wrote of Diana, “It is an undisputed fact that the Princess connived with the media and exploited it for her own interests. Diana learned over time and was better than anyone at feeding the media beast, as the British tabloid press was called. And while feeding the beast. She could make the best purr when she wanted.”
I’ve always found the story of the Royals to be a sad one, and this is another depressing chapter in that sad story. Royalty without nobility, a world where heroes and villains are hard to discern, and the beast, the media, still roars. Eulogies for traditional media may have been premature. There is still power to the poison pen. And it has not run out of ink.