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How Prince Harry Served in Afghanistan in Secret—Despite the Notoriously Cutthroat U.K. Press

Town and Country logo Town and Country 19/04/2019 Chloe Foussianes
Prince Harry wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: The media can be counted on to report every detail of the royal family's lives-but for a short 10-week stint in the winter of 2007-2008, they agreed to sit on one of the biggest royal stories ever. For the safety of Prince Harry and his British Army troop, during their tour in Afghanistan, all British broadcasters and print publications consented to a media blackout. Here's how they did it. © JOHN STILLWELL - Getty Images The media can be counted on to report every detail of the royal family's lives-but for a short 10-week stint in the winter of 2007-2008, they agreed to sit on one of the biggest royal stories ever. For the safety of Prince Harry and his British Army troop, during their tour in Afghanistan, all British broadcasters and print publications consented to a media blackout. Here's how they did it.

The media can be counted on to report every detail of the royal family's lives. But for a short 10-week stint in the winter of 2007-2008, they agreed to sit on one of the biggest royal stories ever: Prince Harry would serve in Afghanistan, becoming the first royal family member deployed on active duty since 1982.

For the safety of Prince Harry and his British Army troop, all British broadcasters and print publications consented to a media blackout during the royal's tour in Afghanistan. The feat lasted a full 10 weeks-longer than anyone thought was possible. Now, Miguel Head, the man who pulled it off, has opened up to the Harvard Shorenstein Center's Journalist's Resource about how he did it. (Head was the chief press officer for the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence at the time, and would later become a press secretary at Kensington Palace.)

Here, three things that stood out from the insider's account.

a person sitting on a suitcase: Prince Harry sits on his bed at the base in southern Afghanistan. © Pool/Tim Graham Royal Photos - Getty Images Prince Harry sits on his bed at the base in southern Afghanistan.

They didn't think it would work.

Head and his team thought the blackout would last two days, tops. They never expected Harry to finish his deployment, and instead laid out a litany of contingency plans-if he was wounded, if he came back early, if he was killed. Only near the 10-week point did Head start creating a plan for what would happen if he completed his tour of duty. Unfortunately, after 10 weeks, the Drudge Report (an outlet not included in the blackout agreement) broke the news.

In part, Head credits the press's regret about how they'd treated Princess Diana for their commitment to the blackout.

Head noted that several factors contributed to the media outlets' agreement to the pact, including protecting the lives of those Harry would be serving alongside, and the idea that he should be able to do the job he was trained to do

It was also key that no one wanted "to be the bad person," Head explained. "Prince Harry is so popular, and back then he was still very young. It had been only 10 years since Diana, Princess of Wales, had died. There was still a very strong sense in the country of the public, in effect, bringing the two young princes into their arms and saying, 'We will look after them. And you, press, you had better keep your hands off them. Don’t you dare do to them what you did to their mother.'"

a man standing in front of a building: Harry in an observation post. © AFP - Getty Images Harry in an observation post.

When an interview was too trying for Harry, Prince William stepped up to protect his brother.

Immediately after his flight touched down in the U.K., Harry was rushed into an interview, to hold up his end of the agreement with the media. But after they got through a couple questions, William cut it off. "It was simply a brother realizing that at that point nothing was more important than his welfare, and none of the other agreements mattered at that point," Head explained.

Head noted that this incident spoke to Harry and William's attitudes toward the press in general. "And it says something about the closeness of the two brothers and their authenticity, as well," he said. "They will not fake who they are simply to play a game or to go along with other people’s expectations. And they are perfectly courteous and loyal and they will abide by agreements up to a point. But there will come a point where they say, 'Well, actually our humanity is more important.'"

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