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Chapter no 86

Spare

RIGHT AT THE TURN OF the new year, 2009, a video went viral.

Me, as a cadet, three years earlier, sitting with other cadets.

At an airport. Cyprus, perhaps? Or else maybe waiting to fly to Cyprus?

The video was shot by me. Killing time before our flight, messing around, I panned the group, gave a running commentary on each lad, and when I came to my fellow cadet and good friend Ahmed Raza Kahn, a Pakistani, I said: Ah, our little Paki friend…

I didn’t know that Paki was a slur. Growing up, I’d heard many people use that word and never saw anyone flinch or cringe, never suspected them of being racist. Neither did I know anything about unconscious bias. I was twenty-one, awash in isolation and privilege, and if I thought anything about this word at all, I thought it was like Aussie. Harmless.

I’d sent the footage to a fellow cadet, who was making an end-of-year video. Since then, it had circulated, flitted from computer to computer, and ultimately ended up in the hands of someone who sold it to the News of the World.

Heated condemnations began rolling in. I’d learned nothing, people said.

I’d not matured one bit after the Nazi debacle, people said.

Prince Harry is worse than a thicko, they said, worse than a party boy— he’s a racist.

The Tory leader denounced me. A cabinet minister went on TV to flog me. Ahmed’s uncle condemned me to the BBC.

I was sitting in Highgrove, watching this furor rain down, barely able to process it.

My father’s office issued an apology on my behalf. I wanted to issue one as well, but courtiers advised against it.

Not the best strategy, sir.

To hell with strategy. I didn’t care about strategy. I cared about people not thinking I was a racist. I cared about not being a racist.

Above all, I cared about Ahmed. I connected with him directly, apologized. He said he knew I wasn’t a racist. No big deal.

But it was. And his forgiveness, his easy grace, only made me feel worse.

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