Prince Harry's secret: This was supposed to be a gesture of solidarity with those living with HIV, but all our Prince did was belittle them

How is sharing dull facts about yourself supposed to tackle stigma?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Prince Harry had one job today — to reveal a "secret" and, by doing so, show solidarity with those who live with HIV in silence.

Ironically, he failed to do this, while doing what it turns out he fears the most - public speaking. Yes, that's right, Prince Harry's secret is that he suffers from glossophobia. He doesn't like talking to lots of people at once.

It’s a great cause he’s raising awareness for, but will anyone living with HIV actually be inspired by this confession? And likewise, will anyone who doesn't think having HIV is socially acceptable watch his confession and think, "oh, I see..."?

By telling a secret as part of the Feel No Shame campaign, Harry had a great opportunity to help dispel the stigma that still hangs over HIV. After all, as Ban Ki-moon says, stigma is “the chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world."

No-one thought Prince Harry was going to come out and say he was HIV positive (although if he had, everyone at the Feel No Shame HQ could have packed up and gone home for the day). Some entertained the idea that he would finally tell us who his biological father is. And David Icke was clearly getting ready for the prince to peel off his humanoid morph suit and reveal his true reptilian self. Surprise!

But obviously, neither of these are actually secrets, as they're not true. Prince Charles is obviously his father, obviously. And our lizard overlords aren’t that stupid. In the end, all Harry needed to do was talk about something he's genuinely ashamed of, and which traditionally has stigma attached to it. Something to prove that regardless of what it is (with the exception of crime), we are who we are. It's a tough one, but isn't that the point? Instead, he decided to stand alongside those living with HIV and say “My secret is, believe it or not, I get incredibly nervous before public speaking no matter how big the crowd or the audience."


I might not have HIV, but I keep on trying to imagine what I would think of this if I did. Is it really a secret? And if so, is it really in anyway similar, or appropriate, given the context? Likewise, I’ve been trying to imagine what I would say if I was Harry. Gather round UK media outlets, I’ve got a secret I want you to broadcast. It's all for a good cause. And it's this: I can’t stand liquorice. Every time anyone offers me some I think it’ll be ok, but then wow, it’s just so not. But by telling you this, I hope you realise that there’s really no shame in being HIV positive.

That’s the most ridiculous confession I’ve ever made. But is it really that different to Harry’s? I know his "secret" telling is just a PR stunt for him and the campaign. More people might end up donating to HIV/AIDS charities as a result, but make no mistake: wherever it is, stigma can sleep easy tonight.

That said, we probably shouldn’t be too hard on Harry, as he's only following the campaign's orders. Other celebs who've joined in include Gemma Arterton, who revealed that she’s never seen any of the Star Wars films. Yes, that’s right. But don’t worry Gemma, it’s literally nothing to be ashamed of. Like literally - it's nothing. Why would you even say that? What are you doing?

There’s also Nicole Scherzinger, who has confessed that she doesn’t always “feel like I'm enough...and that erm I don't fit in”. Being honest about self-esteem issues can be tricky, and so she’s probably doing the campaign more justice by doing so. But it’s still slightly hard to sympathize with her fears about not fitting in when she’s sold over 60m records worldwide. At least when it comes to her career, she seems to be fitting in quite well.

So maybe we can’t blame Harry too much. The whole campaign is a bit flawed, but there’s no harm in trying to raise awareness, even if it does come across as a bit stupid. Like Band Aid, this sort of badly thought out campaign is pretty hard to criticise, because its endpoint is so worthwhile.

But what people seem to forget is that it’s actually pretty easy to get it right. Being a bit offensive to Africans and likening the shame around HIV to a fear of public speaking aren't the only options we have here.

If the Feel No Shame campaign really wants to tackle stigma, then why doesn't it actually include people with HIV in the same videos as the celebs? Why not have footage of Prince Harry just hanging out with someone who's positive? They could even hop in a cab to one of Harry’s favourite haunts in Mayfair, and glug from the same bottles of Moët & Chandon, while reminiscing about life and stuff. Because fighting stigma starts by ignoring it, and treating everyone the same. And I've pretty much just thought of that off the top of my head.