In the eighteenth century, the well-to-do and prurient enjoyed visiting London’s most notorious hospital, Bedlam, to gaze at its patients. Today, we have replaced this unwholesome activity with a live-streamed therapy session between Prince Harry and the so-called ‘trauma expert’ Gabor Maté, the Canadian author of The Myth of Normal. Maté is both an acknowledged expert in the field of mental health and someone whose personal politics have led to many a raised eyebrow.
He has compared Hamas to ‘my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw ghetto’, and praised those well-known lifelong anti-racists Jeremy Corbyn and Roger Waters. Additionally, he’s declared that ‘I am arrogant. I like attention.’ Does this make him the perfect sounding board – or sparring partner – for the Duke of Sussex?
During the course of Harry and Maté’s conversation (tickets, £20 each), which predictably started late but, as if in recompense, lasted a punitive half-hour longer than billed, there was discussion of many of the themes from Spare.
It was noted that this was only the second time that the two men had talked, but for the most part they seemed entirely at home in one another’s company, exchanging therapy-speak and jocular badinage with practiced ease.
The only awkward moment came when, referring to the Duke’s military service, Maté said ‘I didn’t particularly align with the West’s invasion of Afghanistan, in which you participated’; the pause that followed suggested both wished that statement had remained unuttered.
There were no revelations. Harry, dressed casually and seeming more relaxed than in his previous filmed interviews, spouted his usual platitudes and greeting card aphorisms: ‘99.9 per cent of us on planet Earth are carrying round some form of grief, trauma or loss – the sooner we realise that, the sooner we can all get along’. ‘I am grateful to have been able to change my environment, but it comes down to resource’. ‘I felt strange being in this container, and I know that my mum felt the same.’
Maté offered up some unorthodox observations – at one point, he declared with a gleam in his eye that ‘we’re going to talk about psychedelics’. There then followed some brief discussion about Harry’s experiences taking psychedelic drugs, of which he said ‘it was the cleaning of the windshield, removal of life’s filters. It removed it all for me and brought me a sense of relaxation, release, comfort, a lightness that I managed to hold onto for a period of time… it is one of the fundamental parts of my life that changed me and helped me deal with the traumas and the pains of the past.’
At another point Maté said, with a touch of Chris Morris’s Brass Eye, that ‘racism causes inflammation in the body… it causes all kinds of disease’. And he engaged in some impromptu diagnosing of Harry’s various personal issues, based on Spare. This included suggesting that the Duke had ADD, anxiety and panic disorder, depression and issues with substance abuse, although, mindful of the potential for negative publicity arising from the latter, he hastily clarified ‘I’m not saying that you’re an addict.’
The Sunday Times will no doubt be displeased (or not) that both men engaged in a session of rubbishing the paper after it ran a story questioning Maté’s professional credentials, and there was a good laugh to be had when Maté casually remarked, of Harry’s memoir, ‘I didn’t care about the royal melodrama… I’ve seen The Crown.’
But there was no outrageous moment to compare to the revelations in Spare, which this event was designed to promote. Instead, we heard Harry’s truth all over again, were told about his love of therapy (‘it’s great!’) and, naturally, there was a paean of praise for his absent wife: ‘my partner is an exceptional human and I am eternally grateful for her wisdom and the space that she is able to give to me.’
Over the course of this initially mildly diverting but eventually interminable 90 minutes, perhaps the most salutary remark came late in the conversation, when Harry – perhaps tacitly alluding to the South Park brouhaha – declared ‘the more [my enemies] criticise me, the more I need to share.’
Perhaps if we can stop talking about the Sussexes, then they will disappear. Yet while events like this one attract eager coverage, then we continue to live in their world, alas.