Ninety minutes is a long time to do anything, let alone delve into the deepest corners of your psyche and family history on a ticketed livestream video feed. It’s a marathon of public self-examination, to be sure, but it’s one Prince Harry has been training for ahead of his online conversation with Gabor Maté, a Hungarian-Canadian trauma expert on Saturday. (Writing a 416-page tell-all memoir about his life so far while filming a six-part documentary about his marriage has clearly built his stamina in the confessional arena.)
This weekend’s virtual event was hosted by Random House, Harry’s publisher of his record-selling memoir, as well as of Maté’s own new book, “The Myth of Normal,” elegantly arranged alongside “Spare” on the rustic wooden mantle of the fireplace that burned behind the two men, snow falling softly outside.
It was not, however, entirely the cosiest of fireside chats. Maté was firmly in therapist mode, far more interested in plumbing the depths of Harry’s feelings than casual chit-chat that might reveal nuggets of salacious gossip. Nothing, for example, about whether Harry and Meghan will attend King Charles’s coronation, how he feels about the Frogmore Cottage “Frogxit” drama, or even whether he’s spoken to his family since his book came out.
What we did get, however, was a series of fascinating revelations, straight from the therapist’s couch (armchair). Let’s get into it.
There is very little physical affection between the Windsors
We already had a sense that the royals aren’t huggers (Exhibit A: Meghan’s story of her first time meeting William and Kate, when it seems they found her attempts to embrace them “jarring”), but Harry really drove the point home in this conversation. When Maté suggested he had a childhood “deprived” of touch, Harry agreed, implying that he was traumatized by his father’s lack of physical affection, which never went beyond a touch on the shoulder or knee, and even then only in times of emotional extremis.
“It leaves me in the position of a father having two children trying to smother them with love,” Harry said of parenting Archie and Lilibet. “I feel a huge responsibility not to pass on any trauma or negative experiences that I’ve had as a kid or as a man growing up. There are times when I catch myself when I should be smothering them with that love but I might not be.”
Harry said he’s focused on “breaking the cycle” in his own family, a clear implied indictment on the way he was parented (and the way Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip did, by extension). In Charles’ defence, however, Harry added that “we only know what we know.”
Harry said Meghan “saved” him
Harry landed another less-than-favourable blow against his family, who he describes as being trapped in an unhealthy “gilded cage”: That his wife “saved him.” As he put it: “ I was stuck in this world, and she was from a different world and helped draw me out of that.” In a fascinating follow-up, surely in response to the commenters who paint him as a manipulative woman’s puppet, Harry went out of his way to say, “But none of the elements of my life now would have been possible without me seeing it for myself.”
Along with an admission that he reads the Amazon reviews of his book (at his publisher’s urging), this little detail reveals that Harry is indeed keeping tabs on what tabloids and royal watchers are saying about him.
Gabor Maté suggested Harry has ADD
In one of the stranger moments of the livestream, Maté began to diagnose a sometimes visibly uncomfortable Harry with various mental health conditions: PTSD (which Harry said he prefers to call a “post-traumatic injury” instead of disorder, since it’s something that can be healed rather than a life sentence); depression (which Harry accepts, while stressing his episodes were very brief) and ADD, or attention deficit disorder. Gamely going along with being diagnosed live on air, Harry entertains the idea. “OK … should I accept that, or should I look into it?” he says with a slightly awkward laugh before his on-air therapist tells him to do “whatever” he wants with that information.
Harry’s a fan of psychedelics — and skeptical about Big Pharma
At one point, the conversation turned to substances that Harry may have used, both to mask his pain and to heal it. Cocaine “didn’t do anything” for him, Harry said, while marijuana “really did help.” It’s psychedelics, however, that he really rates. “I started doing it recreationally and then started to realize how good it was for me,” says Harry. One such experience is detailed in “Spare,” when he took magic mushrooms at a party at Courtney Cox’s house and encountered a chatty garbage bin in her guest bathroom.
“I would say it is one of the fundamental parts of my life that changed me and helped me deal with the traumas and pains of the past,” Harry adds, describing taking ayahuasca as akin to cleaning a dirty windscreen. “It removed it all for me and brought me a sense of relaxation, release, comfort, a lightness that I managed to hold on to for a period of time.”
Harry seems less keen on pharmaceutical medication, however, asking Maté’s opinion on prescription drugs used to treat depression in a leading sort of way that indicated he’s not such a believer himself. Later, he posited a theory that doctors are paid more (by who, it’s not clear) when they prescribe medication.
Harry views “Spare” as “an act of service”
One of the striking things about the release of Harry’s memoir has been the dissonance between how he talks about it in interviews and what’s actually in the book. For instance, his thoughtful explanation to Stephen Colbert of why he chose to write about his “kill count” in Afghanistan read very differently in the book than the way he spoke about it. Saturday’s event was another example of this: Harry called writing the book “an act of service,” something he did to help other people. While that may be true, it’s also a glossing of the fact that many parts of the book — including some of the petty family dramas he airs — feel less like charitable works and more like chances to score points against people who will likely never answer back, publicly at least.
This tale of two Harrys could have a few different explanations: evidence of his continuing evolution, perhaps, a kind of growth that means he might now see things he wrote in the book differently. Or it could be the added veneer of public relations interventions giving him talking points to address points of controversy his “authentic” self spilled in the book.
This interview makes it seem unlikely Harry and Meghan will be at the Coronation
While Harry and Meghan’s reps have confirmed they’ve received an invite to King Charles’s coronation, in the wake of this interview it seems increasingly bizarre that we would see Harry and Meghan at Charles’s big day. Not only has Harry not walked back any of the more hurtful things he’s said in his memoir, he’s taken another opportunity to reiterate them, even added to them. “I always felt different from everyone in my family, and I know my mother did too,” he said at one point. He also strongly implied that there’s little to no contact between him and his family: “I’ve lost a lot.”
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