Nine months ago, Prince Harry launched his £80 million Netflix deal with the series Harry and Meghan, a six-parter detailing how he and his wife, the Duchess of Sussex, quit the grind of Royal life in the UK to seek fulfilment and wellness in Montecito, California.
We saw them scour the sky and the bushes for marauding paparazzi, receive cheesy texts from Beyoncé and generally escape the world of media intrusion by sitting out on their deck sipping coffee and er, scrolling through endless stories about themselves on the internet. I for one thought, ‘When the much-derided Privacy World Tour ends in er, actual privacy, what else will they make programmes about?’
Well, here is the answer. Heart Of Invictus is a five-part series covering the bi-annual games for wounded, injured and sick military veterans which Harry founded in 2014 using £100,000 from The Royal Foundation – a charity he set up with his brother William (oh dear) – along with matching funds from the government.
Heart of Invictus works best because it focuses squarely on those who have suffered real pain and trauma in the service of others rather than, you know, being upset Kate gave you a funny look (Meghan) or William told you to dress up as a Nazi (Harry).
There are several amazing characters here. Tom Folwell lost both legs to an IED explosion serving in Afghanistan. “Clearly someone sees something in me, just not me,” he says before being made captain of both the GB wheelchair rugby and basketball teams at last year’s Invictus Games in the Hague.
Equally moving is the story of South Korean soldier Na Hyeongyoon who had both hands amputated after being electrocuted. Tearfully he recounts how, in his homeland, disability is seen as “wrong” but rather than live in the shadows as expected he uses his amazing prosthetic hands to become an accomplished cyclist.
The series covers a truly extraordinary and international range of stories. Both the strapping Danish soldier Kasper suffering with a devastating hidden injury, acute PTSD, and the ex-US Navy sailor Gabriel George, who lost his right arm but plays golf, swims and competes in the Invictus archery competition, are unforgettable.
Prince Harry says he was inspired to start the Invictus games after flying home with injured servicemen from Helmand province in 2008. However, it wasn’t war itself but the remembered trauma of his mother’s death which brings him close to these veterans.
“I was unable to cry, unable to feel,” he tells Canadian rower Darrell Ling. Harry has gained a reputation for sometimes over-sharing but, in this context, it’s rather moving.
Is Meghan in it? I expected the camera to pick her up chucking a javelin towards the Royal Box or perhaps in a relay race refusing to pass the baton – unless it was to those really in need, like anyone who’s ever gone to dinner and ended up stuck talking to Prince Andrew.
But she keeps a low profile. We see her in a fetching red designer gown and diamond earrings introducing my “incredible husband” at the 2021 Salute To Freedom Gala for Veterans in New York and the odd glimpse of her nodding empathically but that’s it.
Harry does all the heavy lifting, and the veterans seem to love him, to the point where he can risk the odd off-colour joke. In casual conversation about aquatic life one Invictus contestant tells him sharks are actually friendly. “Says the man with one arm,” quips Harry.
And when he takes the stage to address all the veterans, perhaps going full Cali wellness guru and telling them “The wound is the place where the light enters you” will have made some of them think “Yeah, that’s kind of the whole problem with getting shot, Hazza”. But hey, Heart of Invictus shows the Duke of Sussex once more trying to reinvent royalty and perhaps re-tool those old school cringey ice-breakers like ‘‘Have you come far?’ for the therapy generation.
Overall it works. And after the ignominious termination of Harry and Meghan’s Spotify deal, (their $20 million podcast contract was cancelled earlier this year) many think it had to. So many times in the past year we’ve seen Harry shooting himself in the foot. Well, he’s up and running again.
Heart of Invictus is streaming now on Netflix