Today’s prince Hazza/Usain Bolt story is remarkable in demonstrating just how far the royals- and prince Harry in particular- have come, PR wise, in an infinitesimally small space of time. The pair’s ‘race’ was gleefully picked up by scribblers across the tabloid and broadsheet press- all of whom absolutely fell into line with what must have been a palace PR agreed interpretation. Harry’s banter-fuelled premature start and Bolt’s quasi-ironic deference combined to create a feel-good, saccharine masterpiece of a stunt.
What struck me as incredible was this total confirmation of Harry’s newfound status as palace PR vehicle. Not 5 minutes ago, back when Wills was the nice-but-dim publicity even keel for the House of Windsor, Harry was a one-boy PR disaster. Of course, there was the uniform scandal (though perhaps that seems tame following the new heights to which Max Mosley took the genre), but it seemed every week there’d be some new splash of Hal stumbling out of Mahiki, sporting a pith helmet and waving a giant cartoon spliff.
Thinking of what this trip could have been is enough to make any palace press officer wake up in a cold sweat. Some mischievous scribbler, doggedly following the Prince around until the inevitable photo op with a healthy bundle of Jamaica’s finest. As it was, however, even a spot of royal flirtation with two of the country’s beauty queens sparked only bawdy 1930’s parlour gossip about marriage prospects.
It’s also remarkable that no anti-monarchy movements showed up- or remained unsuppressed- to rain on Harry’s parade. Nothing ruins a bit of pro-royalist japery like some insufficiently deferential poor people, yet all were mysteriously absent.
Undoubtedly, this is largely down to the genuinely phenomenal and all-pervading ‘Will and Kate effect’. Following a certain wedding, the house of Windsor has succeeded in transforming itself to something friendly, funny and a little bit lovably starchy. It’s a far cry from space lizards, at any rate. Clearly, public opinion shows no signs of waning in the run-up to the Jubilee.
Of course we wouldn’t admit it, but we all have a guilty wish at this point for a good sting. Long may the PR success of the house of Windsor continue, indeed I applaud them, but let’s please not rule out a good old fashioned scandal just yet.