Of all the frontline royals, Prince Harry seemed to have navigated the family’s often perilous relationship with the press most successfully.
Despite youthful pranks and lapses of judgment, his natural charm and playfulness tended to win over the cynics.
Unlike his big brother William, whose tetchiness is never far from the surface, Harry looked able to ride with the punches of a life lived in the public eye and to almost enjoy the attention.
So what went wrong? From those larky scenes a few years ago – trying to race Usain Bolt, wowing the crowds with a heart-warming speech on his father’s 70th birthday, and capturing the nation’s hearts on his wedding day – to now?
Harry has just launched a war on the media, suing the publishers of The Sun and The Daily Mirror for alleged phone hacking.
In a separate case, his wife Meghan is fighting a legal battle with The Mail on Sunday over its publication of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.
Not content to leave these matters with the lawyers, Harry also lashed out at the tabloids for the “relentless propaganda” against his wife, in language described as unprecedentedly vitriolic by royal watchers.
Before the lawsuits even reach the courts, the Sussexes are dividing public opinion, and the risk for them is that they will lose the huge amounts of goodwill that were effortlessly theirs from the moment they stepped out as a couple.
There will be some sympathy for Harry because of his mother’s tragic death. He and William have always been on the defensive over any press intrusion, and Harry cited Diana in his tirade last week.
But as Princess Diana’s private secretary, Patrick Jephson, said over the weekend, in an article for The Observer, she did not use “invective more normally found in the White House to communicate with a free and fundamentally friendly press”.
It is telling that such a comment should come from a royal aide who spent eight years alongside a member of the family who was subjected to far more scrutiny than Harry or Meghan have been, but who at some level understood the unwritten pact with the newspapers.
As Jephson put it, this involves a “historic deal that’s overseen by the British media holding to account public figures whose lives are subsidised by the (usually) benign British taxpayers”.
Harry had appeared to grasp this; he and Meghan have been setting their own agenda as young royals, embracing projects that suit them rather than the establishment, and thereby furthering causes close to their hearts.
Harry’s Invictus Games for injured ex-servicemen and women is a fabulous example of how this can work in practice. If he had been a commoner, it is unlikely the prince would have had either the good fortune or the immense funds, or indeed the organisational genius, to stage such a worthy spectacle.
Meghan, meanwhile, had hit the ground running as a new royal, easily winning public support for her championing of the downtrodden.
As a pair they were regarded as a breath of fresh air, but the fact that their honeymoon is over so quickly is largely their own fault.
While espousing environmental charities, Harry and Meghan managed to hop on and off private jets four times in 11 days. And while they championed the poor, they squandered money, including £2.4 million on their grace and favour pad on the royal estate at Windsor. Harry isn’t the first royal to be guilty of double standards but he may be less constrained by protocol than his forebears, his father included.
There was much talk about the Sussexes having their own court but that scheme was given short shrift – mercifully. More control, not less, by the palace is called for.
A life of privilege has inevitably made Harry spoilt. According to those who have observed him at close quarters – such as the journalist Angela Levin who followed him for more than a year, he is on a short fuse. This was evident just last week when he snapped at Sky’s royal correspondent Rhiannon Mills for daring to ask him a question.
Now he has really lost it and, by the timing of his outburst and his and Meghan’s legal actions, undone all the positive press of their recent South African tour. The Sussexes have yet to learn that living in the lap of luxury and being able to indulge every whim comes at a price.