At last! Here we go. Curtain up, drum roll. Lights, action and here comes the judge, closely followed by the Duke of Sussex, one day late.
In the corner of a civil courtroom, sitting in a pale wood witness box, Prince Harry initially seemed pleased to finally have his day in court. Yet after five bruising hours of being cross-examined by Andrew Green KC, acting for Mirror Group Newspapers, one wonders if he felt quite so buoyant.
With scrupulous politesse, the renowned barrister took the prince through his evidence, step by ever so stealthy step. Time after time, it seemed to me the prince struggled to convincingly verify the facts of his case and had an alarmingly faint grasp on detail. He was vague about when he had first read the MGN newspaper articles in question.
He was vague about precisely why he believed the information printed had been gleaned by illegal methods. He was even vague about a hunting trip with his then girlfriend Chelsy Davy to South Africa in 2005.
This is the kind of event you might think anyone would remember, what with lions and giraffes and rhinos thundering about, but no. ‘I don’t recall,’ he said.
Time after time, it seemed to me the prince struggled to convincingly verify the facts of his case and had an alarmingly faint grasp on detail
In the corner of a civil courtroom, sitting in a pale wood witness box, Prince Harry initially seemed pleased to finally have his day in court. Yet after five bruising hours of being cross-examined by Andrew Green KC, acting for Mirror Group Newspapers, one wonders if he felt quite so buoyant
When repeatedly asked how he could prove articles had been hacked, he would say, ‘You’d have to ask the journalists themselves.’ All he had in his prickly armoury was a belief that ‘the timing was suspicious’. Trickier inquiries were met with: ‘That is a question for my legal team.’
It was astonishing. At various stages he also could not recall what his lawyers had or had not shown him before the trial began and he struggled to be precise. ‘More than thousands, perhaps millions,’ he guessed, on the number of articles written about him.
Yet while the princely sketch was sketchy and his brush strokes worse than slippery, his oily big picture was vivid, overwhelming and no surprise. ‘I’ve experienced hostility from the Press since I was born,’ he said at one point.
This is manifestly and demonstrably untrue but it is what Prince Harry believes to be true, which is why we are where we are today.
Time and time again he would turn to the judge, taking it upon himself to explain to Your Honour how the newspaper industry works. ‘Knowing what I know in my experience,’ was how he put it. He also took time to sneer at specialist journalists and suggested they used ‘imaginary sources’.
s Mr Green circled again and again, how Harry must have longed for the schmaltzy embrace of an Oprah interview or the balmy ministrations of his sympathetic friend Tom Bradby from ITV
However, there was at least one moment when it became clear that his knowledge of newspapers is not as comprehensive as he believes. ‘I’ve never heard of anyone writing a story that has been printed before and sending [selling] it on,’ he said, which must have given news editors across the land a good laugh on a grim day.
For his big moment Harry was wearing a dark suit, white shirt, purple tie and a clutch of groovy, beaded bracelets on his right wrist.
The courtroom, with its low ceiling and unflattering lighting, was stacked with silks in wigs — at least five, including David Sherborne, Harry’s luxuriantly bouffanted barrister.
All around the room, there were boxes and boxes of evidence, testament to the hours and hours of work and the millions and millions of pounds this case is costing.
In the box, the prince was frequently asked to search out paragraphs in his witness statement, in various legal bundles, on numbered pages of the box files he had to retrieve from the floor.
‘It is like doing a work-out,’ he grumbled. Mr Sherborne had to arrange for a junior lawyer to sit next to him to help navigate the paperwork – something that even Johnny Depp managed to do himself in his London trial.
For his big moment Harry was wearing a dark suit, white shirt, purple tie and a clutch of groovy, beaded bracelets on his right wrist
Harry has never been seen like this before; under sustained pressure, being asked to account for himself and his barrage of accusations in the sombre confines of a court of law
For those in the courtroom or, like me, watching the court feed, it was a fascinating spectacle. Harry has never been seen like this before; under sustained pressure, being asked to account for himself and his barrage of accusations in the sombre confines of a court of law.
Of course, he is no stranger to public interlocutions, but this was very different from being mollycoddled and indulged by his showbiz pals in a rose garden.
This was serious, formal, exacting. As Mr Green circled again and again, how Harry must have longed for the schmaltzy embrace of an Oprah interview or the balmy ministrations of his sympathetic friend Tom Bradby from ITV. Instead he had the forensic Mr Green. ‘So what? So what?’ barked the KC at one point, as Harry waffled on about some irrelevant point of peeve.
It came as no surprise that the prince’s level of truculence seemed to rise as the day progressed – you don’t need a dipstick to gauge the actual depths, but here he is, just the same.
‘Repeat the question,’ he demanded at one point. At other moments, he had trouble locating the evidence on the screen in front of him. ‘It is on the screen in front of you,’ Mr Green told him.
‘It is not,’ said Harry.
‘I think it is,’ said the lawyer.
‘If you say so,’ said Harry, a 38-year-old man who can still locate his inner Kevin the Teenager with distressing ease. Hour after hour, the Harry that emerged in court was a combustible mixture of victimhood and arrogance. The latter often took precedence but his broken side, the damaged side, was never far away.
My favourite exchange of the day was a deeply revealing one over a news item about Harry celebrating his 16th birthday in a Fulham gastropub. The prince was convinced that MGN had got hold of this story by illegal methods. Mr Green suggested that the celebrity chef who worked there might have called the newspaper himself.
‘As a chef, he would be too busy to make that call,’ said Harry. In riposte, Mr Green suggested that he would have other chefs working for him.
‘I have no idea, I have never worked in a kitchen,’ said the prince, somehow managing to contradict himself, behave like an entitled snob and make no sense, all at the same time.
The Duke of Sussex being cross examined by Andrew Green KC, as he gives evidence at the Rolls Buildings in central London during the phone hacking trial against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN)
Ultimately, what emerged from his historic first day in court is, I would venture, a man who is oddly insubstantial and simply cannot admit he is wrong, even when presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He often complained in general terms about his treatment by the media over the years, instead of addressing the specific issues that were being put to him.
‘Prince Harry, let’s try and focus on the question I am asking,’ said Mr Green, wearying late in the afternoon session. The case continues. Prince Harry will be back in court today.