Princes William and Harry are good lads, and either would make a proper 21st century king. Given all that has happened, that is amazing.
On the 20th anniversary of the death of the People’s Princess, the British people have reached a consensus: Diana raised two relatively normal, capable, flawed but decent, and maybe even exceptional sons, under extraordinary circumstances.
That one of them, Harry, once dressed up as a Nazi is mostly forgotten. That the other, William, is a little dull is OK.
All eyes are now on the next generation of royals as the world remembers the strange and unsettling tabloid days surrounding the death of Diana, killed in a spectacularly reckless car crash in a Paris tunnel on Aug. 31, 1997.
William was 15 then; Harry was 12. That they were young and that it was heartbreaking escaped no one. Billions watched the televised reports that day, one of the largest global audiences ever assembled.
Since then, the pair has done well. To recap, the princes got through their teens and survived their roaring 20s without fatal embarrassments.
There was plenty of partying — and some jousting with paparazzi outside night clubs. But both served honorably in the military, which was applauded by the British public.
William worked as a pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance until last month. He had a day job. His crew saved lives.
Harry served as an Apache attack helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. Two tours. He got high marks for trying hard not to draw too much attention to himself. Or as the Sun put it in a tabloid headline, “From wild nights to fire fights: How Prince Harry became a man.”
Once dubbed the Party Prince, the ginger-haired bachelor Harry has settled down, a bit. He is now dating American actress Meghan Markle. He understands your interest, but issued a statement through his Kensington Palace spokesman to back off.
These days, William and Harry are busy promoting charities that seek to help AIDS sufferers and disabled veterans. And most remarkably, they are speaking out on the stigma surrounding mental health challenges — by discussing their own, and by extension, very delicately, their mother’s struggles. She suffered from depression and bulimia.
None of this was guaranteed, not at all.
That neither prince became a punchline, an afterthought or train wreck — growing up in the selfie age under the all-seeing eye of the most unforgiving tabloid culture on earth — is remarkable.
Their parents, Charles and Diana, had a deeply unhappy public marriage with the most lurid details gracing the front pages of the world’s newspapers for years. The fascination continues today.
A documentary that aired on Britain’s Channel 4 two weeks ago generated news about how much sex — or not so much — Charles and Diana were having as their marriage cratered, mostly because Charles could not get over his one true love, Camilla Parker-Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall, whom he later married.
It’s hard to overstate just how unusual it is, even in 2017, for the queen’s subjects to see the princes on the telly talking so openly about Diana.
Old-school British aristocrats are renowned for the stiff upper lip. The royals can be reserved to the point of hypoxia, in a mostly mute doggedness, viewed charitably as keeping calm and reigning on.
Queen Elizabeth II has ruled for more than 65 years and she has given exactly zero interviews during her long reign.
But William says he felt now was an appropriate time to honor his mother’s memory. In two documentaries, one of which has aired on HBO, the princes paint a portrait of a fun-loving, cool mum who liked to play pranks and is dearly missed.
In his post-army career, Harry founded the Invictus Games, a sporting event for disabled veterans. To help publicize it, he roped in the queen for a promotional video with the Obamas that went viral on Twitter.
Proving the royals have a sense of humor.
William, second in line for succession after his father, Charles, is the less interesting one, with the thinning hair and the glamorous wife. He doesn’t have the same bad-boy allure as his brother, but he hasn’t fully escaped criticism from the news media.
“Work-shy William” is his nickname in some tabloids, upset that he hasn’t clocked up enough royal duty hours. “Throne idle” said one front-page headline in the Sun.
William defended himself against the jibes, saying that he was concentrating on being a good father, pilot and a royal.
Despite their recent openness, it’s widely reported that the princes loathe the media, and William in particular comes across as guarded.
“William has to be more private. He’s the father of two young children and he doesn’t want a repetition of the abhorrent behavior of the media that chased his mother to her death,” said Jobson.
In the BBC documentary about Diana, William said that when he saw his mother crying, it was usually to do with something connected to the media. He said this took its toll on him and he found it difficult as a young boy who wanted to protect his mother from the paparazzi.
“And I mean a pack, like a pack of dogs, followed her, chased her, harassed her, called her names, spat at her, tried to get a reaction to get that photograph of her lashing out, get her upset,” said William.
Last year, Prince Harry fired his own salvo at the news media, condemning what he said was the media’s racist and sexist abuse of Markle, arguably best known for her role in the TV drama “Suits.”
The princes have signaled they won’t be talking about Diana as much going forward, but don’t expect them to stop talking about the importance of expressing feelings.
“There may be a time and a place for the ‘stiff upper lip,’ ” William has said. “But not at the expense of your health.”