Breezing into the building with a smile flickering around the edges of his beard, Prince Harry started the day cheerfully enough, clutching a wad of notes nervously like a GCSE student rolling out of bed for finals.
By the end, he looked as pale and limp as his lime green tie.
As his lawyer, the nasal silk David Sherborne KC, asked him how he was holding up, the eyes of the world on him, Prince Harry choked and looked hard at his shoelaces. “It’s a lot,” said Harry. It’s not every day you see a King’s Counsel duking it out with a prince of the realm. Occasionally here, he was made to look more like a boy again than a grown-up father of two – isolated and alone.
There were moments when he was puffed up. At others he deflated like a balloon. “For my whole life the press have misled me, have covered up wrongdoing, so to be sitting in court knowing that the defence has the evidence in front of them, and Mr Green [the publisher's lawyer] says I’m speculating… I’m not entirely sure what to say about that.”
At first, things didn’t look good for Harry: try as we might to strain our ears, his voice deep and breathy, he didn’t put up a shred of hard evidence to explicitly prove any of the Mirror Group Newspapers’ stories – lurid as they were about his youthful misadventures – in question leant on “unlawful information gathering”. Instead, coincidences were deemed “incredibly suspicious”; “highly suspicious”; or viewed with “incredible amounts of suspiciousness”. There was a lot of suspicion to go around. But where was the crunch? He says he’s been “consistently hacked” for 15 years and that “it could have been happening on a daily basis” – then added that the lack of evidence is “part of the reason I’m here”.
Harry has never been very fond of exams, bless him, and this was certainly a cross one: the masterly Andrew Green KC, acting for Mirror Group Newspapers, peering down at the seated Harry sternly, taking off his glasses to jab their ends towards the prince in the witness box, popping them back on again to peer incredulously in the royal’s direction whenever he said something silly.
No wonder he’s foggy, though. We were stepping back in time. It all felt a bit public school — the forever prince being dressed down by a bespectacled Eton beak. Harry was dragged through newspaper articles in which he alleges that the Mirror Group’s journalists had used “unlawful information gathering” to dish on his private life: to his school years, and his first mobile phone; to email exchanges with his girlfriend Chelsy Davy at Sandringham; lurid headlines about seedy trips to Spearmint Rhino and lapdances with leggy blondes; his “playboy” lifestyle; to being drunk; to being dumped.
Talking about Ms Davy, his brow furrowed. “This isn’t easy for me or my ex.” He called the coverage “a little bit mean”.
At times Harry was brusque, dismissive: squeezing out monosyllabic affirmatives. “Uh, yes.” “Uhm, yes.” “Uh. Yes.” But at others he was bright, fun, game for a laugh. Lord knows he likes to tell his story his way. It’s when others get involved that he gets spiky. “This isn’t about you asking me questions, this is about me asking you questions,” Green was forced to remind the prince.
But the tide turned. The funny thing is that Harry actually wears the witness box rather well. He soaked up Green’s early barbs like a plush pin cushion. His broad shoulders filled it squarely. He shrugged off the punchy KC like a prize boxer for more than seven full hours. A bruising encounter, yes. But Green didn’t appear to land any palpable hits.
Where Harry really came to life was on the subject of his mother, Diana. A question from his own counsel about a story from 1996, “DIANA SO SAD ON HARRY’S BIG DAY”, brought Harry to such vigour that he almost leapt out of his box to gesture at the article’s inconsistencies; his arms waving about to indicate how a “couple who were walking on a nearby footpath”, quoted in a story about his mother’s trip to visit him at Ludgrove school, were – yes – suspicious. But, for God’s sake, he was only 12.
Then he was clear as a bell on events that clearly haunt him. The “bombshell” part of his testimony saw him claim a tracker was placed on his ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy’s car by a private investigator. He could remember that like it was yesterday.
It was a curiously mortal performance; a highborn royal come to slum it with us lowlifes down in the docks. He has sunk so low in order to show us the world as he sees it. In the halls outside, a passing lawyer was heard to say Harry looked as if he’d be enjoying “a good lie in tomorrow”. “Does he look as if he needs a break?” asked a member of the public.
Inside, Harry puffed out his cheeks and slumped next to his counsel to watch the proceedings continue. Yet I thought I detected a whiff of a man who almost seemed to be enjoying himself — to relish the attention back in Britain, on his home patch; to be enjoying the rules, the chance to say “my lord”, to bow low to the assembled lieges. Perhaps he misses the trappings of courtly life. Maybe this was the next best thing.