Invictus 2023: Prince Harry Continues the Queen’s Legacy of Service
Prince Harry in a scene from 'Heart of Invictus,' his docuseries that premièred on Netflix last week. Photo: Courtesy of Netflix
Friday is a very big day for the Royal Family and royal watchers the world over: Sept. 8, the first anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and King Charles’ ascension to the throne. It will be a quiet day, with no official engagements set, as Charles and Camilla observe a day of “quiet reflection” at Balmoral, the traditional summer vacation setting for the British monarch, and the place Queen Elizabeth died last year.
Prince Harry will be in England on the eve of the anniversary, to give a keynote address for Wellchild Awards, a charity the Sussexes have long been associated with. This will be a solo trip, as Meghan will not arrive in Europe until towards the end of the Invictus Games this year, which will begin in Dusseldorf on Saturday, Sept. 9.
The games, launched in 2014, are the signature charitable initiative of the prince, and reflect his grandmother’s commitment to a life of service. Harry’s military service, including two tours of combat duty in Afghanistan, is his proudest professional achievement.
It was fitting, then, that the second release from Harry and Meghan’s Archewell Productions began streaming on Netflix last week. Heart of Invictus is a five-part series focused on injured veterans from the U.K., the U.S., Canada and Ukraine who are preparing to take part in the last Invictus contest in The Hague. It was at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto that the couple attended their first event as a couple.
That anything associated with Harry and Meghan will be scrutinized is a given. There has been a period of relative calm for the couple, who save for a couple of paparazzi’d date nights in SoCal and appearances at the L.A. Beyonce concerts (together along with Doria, and then Meghan and her mom attended a second show), plus a solo outing for Harry to see Lionel Messi play. Otherwise, the pair have been lying low since their New York trip with the “near catastrophic” taxi cab chase in May. The Royal Family is very quiet at this moment as well, as the King and various relatives take their annual summer holidays at the Balmoral Estate.
Still, Harry’s presence in England will undoubtedly be the focus of media coverage, not least because there are no meetings planned with his brother or father around the anniversary of the Queen’s death.
The Invictus Games documentaries — and the 2023 competition — is an important moment in what is being called the Sussexes’ “rebrand” as a bunch of crises, including the loss of their Spotify deal, have raised questions about how they will build their content empire after their tell-all documentary and his bestselling memoir really squeezed the juice out of the family gossip around their royal leave-taking.
Thus, the release of the Heart of Invictus series has been scrutinized for any possible fuel to fan the flames of the royal rift between Harry and his kin. While Harry’s star power underpins the Games, they really are a major accomplishment and an inspired good work that helps many wounded soldiers and their families around the world. Harry himself suffered PTSD on his return from his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, and it was his own experiences with wounded soldiers suffering from physical and mental disabilities from battle that inspired him to start the Games in the first place, back in 2014.
So, his presence in the series is perfectly valid. He is really not a huge presence in the episodes. Meghan makes a few brief cameos. Nonetheless, the headlines immediately after the release focused around Harry sharing more insider dirt about his family.
The comments are relatively mild. Here is the big takeaway quote that has been blown up in the British tabloids: “Look, I can only speak to my own experience but from my tour of Afghanistan in 2012, flying Apaches, somewhere after that there was an unravelling.” This confession is made to Canadian rower Darrell Ling.
The duke continues, “I can’t pretend to know what you’ve been through, but I had that moment in my life where I didn’t know about it but because of the trauma of losing my mum when I was 12, for all those years, I had no emotion, I was unable to cry, I was unable to feel. I didn’t know it at the time.” His war experiences, he says, brought all that buried trauma to the surface.
“And it wasn’t until later in my life, aged 28, there was a circumstance that happened that the first few bubbles started coming out and then suddenly it was like someone shook and it went ‘poof’ — and then it was chaos. My emotions were sprayed all over the wall everywhere.”
All excellent stuff to reveal about how Harry relates to the competitors and shares their difficult transition back to regular life from the battlefront. The contentious part comes later, and has been mainly taken out of context to refer to his family not supporting him, something he expressed often in the past few years, from the Oprah interview on through to their own documentary and, of course, the book. “I didn’t have that support structure, that network or that expert advice to identify what was actually going on with me. Unfortunately, like most of us, the first time you consider therapy is when you are lying on the floor in the foetal position probably wishing you had dealt with some of this stuff previously.”
Meghan has not been seen with Harry in public often this year, following the release of Spare this past January (of course, she famously did not attend the King’s coronation this past May, with Harry flying out of England straight after the religious service). It has been speculated that she is keeping a low profile as part of a reset of their “brand” to move away from the Royal Family news cycle and into the world of Hollywood power brokers.
Much is riding on this new era for Harry and Meghan. Recently, Netflix purchased the US$3 million rights to Canadian author Carly Fortune’s novel Meet Me at the Lake for Archewell to produce. The novel notably has a few themes familiar to the Harry and Meghan story, from the early death of a character’s mother to mental health issues. But it is fiction, and represents the next high-profile professional step for the couple.
In the meantime, we are likely to see some wardrobe diplomacy practised by Meghan on the ground in Dusseldorf.
And after his whiz through England on the way to the Games, the competition itself will be a place Harry can let down his hair, so to speak, with the fellow servicemen and women with whom he clearly feels intense camaraderie. As the prince says in the series trailer, “The Games don’t focus on what causes the injury. But really about recovery and how to be a part of the community again.”
Emphasizing his legacy of military service, so reminiscent of his grandmother’s long life of service to her country, is a strong link to Harry’s royal roots. Promoting the physical and mental recovery of wounded warriors is also an authentic cause, close to his heart.