This vainglorious gala felt like the popping of Harry’s bubble… but it was hard not to feel just a smidgen of sympathy for him – Caroline Graham recalls her night at the tacky ‘Living Legends of Aviation’ awards in Los Angeles

Oh, Harry! How did it come to this? From a Royal Highness who commanded respect and affection to a celebrity trinket paraded in front of paying guests at a cheesy Hollywood awards show…

The only crown I could see at Friday’s Living Legends Of Aviation gala honoring the Duke of Sussex was a crown made of plastic and rhinestones, perched atop Miss California’s elaborately coiffed head.

And the only other “royal” gift was a German who goes by the ridiculous name Prince Mario-Max Schaumburg-Lippe – although his right to use that title is hotly disputed – who once appeared in a cheeky internet series called Travel Boobs.

Given such a decidedly D-list gathering, it was no wonder the crowd was in an uproar as they awaited the arrival of their guest of honor – although his faded royal stardust wouldn’t be enough to save the deeply uninteresting night.

Organizers had promised the Duke would attend with his wife Meghan at what was billed as the couple’s first joint appearance on the Hollywood red carpet, but a PR lackey suddenly announced that Harry, 39, would be solo and that he had just sneaked in. through a rear entrance.

It was later reported that Meghan, 42, had decided to stay home because one of their two children was sick. Perhaps a wise move from the image-conscious former actress, as many of us were wondering, “What on earth is Harry doing here?”

Harry is pictured with Prince Mario-Max Schaumburg-Lippe at the awards ceremony in LA

With his father about to undergo prostate surgery and his sister-in-law Kate, with whom he was once so close, in hospital for treatment for an abdominal problem, old Harry would surely have taken the opportunity to publicly show them to wish both good health.

Of course, he may have done so in private, but the omission here was as painful as a wasp sting. Instead, here was a man – who, despite ‘Megxit’ four years ago, is still fifth in line for the throne – mingling with some of Hollywood’s most frivolous personalities and being wreathed by sycophants with yet another meaningless trinket during a £1,100 per head event. that was so lame that one older visitor admitted he slept through most of it.

A fellow guest told me: ‘We all assumed Harry would say something nice about his dad and Kate before giving his acceptance speech. But he didn’t say a word about it, which was weird.”

Before dinner, Harry posed for a selfie with Prince Mario-Max, whose website boasts connections dating back to William of Orange, which would make him a very, very distant cousin of the British Royals.

But his royal connections have been described as a “beautiful illusion” and are disputed by the family, who accuse him of using the title to make money, bringing the name into disrepute.

The head of the family, Prince Alexander of Schaumburg-Lippe, told The Mail on Sunday evening: ‘It is very painful for me, this man has harvested our name for his personal gain. Prince Harry couldn’t stoop lower than to appear with him. I would advise him to stay away from this man. ‘

Mario-Max – who claims he has the right to use the royal title after being adopted by a distant family member at the age of 23 – has been dubbed ‘the King of Trash TV’ in the German press for his the local version of Big Brother, and offering products on shopping channels, including a so-called ‘wealth elixir’.

He is also a regular visitor to America, where he has posed for photos with celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Liza Minnelli and Ivana Trump at parties and red carpet events, and where he once dated one of the Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills.

Surrounded with a meaningless trinket by frivolous sycophants

On Friday he immediately posted the photo of himself with Prince Harry – as seen on our front page – on social media. It drew responses including: “So cringe. Two irrelevant middle-aged men with no serious pursuits using their titles to ramble in superficial Hollywood,” and “I’m ashamed of both of you. This must be a joke.’

About his meeting with Harry, Mario-Max told The Mail on Sunday: ‘We had a personal conversation and he was fantastic, very humble, very sweet. It filled me with joy.”

Before the bash, questions had been raised about whether the Duke deserved to be called a ‘living legend of aviation’.

Harry’s award described him as a “humanitarian, military veteran, mental health advocate and environmentalist,” adding: “He has dedicated his life to causes he is passionate about and that create permanent change.”

Mario-Max is called 'the king of Trash TV' in the German press

Mario-Max is called ‘the king of Trash TV’ in the German press

Before the bash, questions had been raised about whether the Duke deserved to be called a 'living legend of aviation'

Before the bash, questions had been raised about whether the Duke deserved to be called a ‘living legend of aviation’

But while the duke had served in the army for a decade – rising to the rank of captain and completing two tours of Afghanistan as a forward air controller and as an Apache helicopter pilot – a former head of the Royal Navy had scorned the award.

Lord Alan West said: ‘He is not a living legend of aviation. To suggest he is is pathetic. It makes the whole thing a bit nonsense.’

And Colonel Richard Kemp, a retired British army officer, said the ceremony was about “celebrities massaging each other’s egos.”

A mess to burst Harry’s apparent bubble…

As he accepted his award, Harry spoke of his pride in his military career – and as he did so, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps it would finally dawn on Harry that he would destroy his family for the millions of Netflix and a life of Service in Britain for a ‘career’ pandering to the whims of wealthy Americans might have been too high a price to pay.

When he talked about his “old” life, it felt meaningful and honest in a way that so many of his Hollywood psychobabble interviews and his kamikaze memoir Spare don’t.

He said: “For me, flying has been a transcendent experience. A close encounter with magic, an invitation to both protect freedom… and to feel free; and, funnily enough, a chance to ground yourself, without actually being grounded.”

He spoke movingly about his early career, saying, “I respected the Apache when it flew and was in awe of it flying at night… so many moments as a pilot where you feel like you’re flying through the air runs.

“And on every flight during my military career, the only constant was trust. Confidence on the plane, confidence in my fellow comrades, confidence in my many mentors and, above all, confidence in myself. Flying has taught me the power of discipline, the power of patience and, above all, the power of trusting your feelings.’

Lauren Sanchez, 54, was also hailed as a living legend for her work as a helicopter pilot who runs an aerial filming company

Lauren Sanchez, 54, was also hailed as a living legend for her work as a helicopter pilot who runs an aerial filming company

The emotional words prompted a mandatory standing ovation from the audience, which included Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and his fiancée Lauren Sanchez, 54, who was also hailed as a living legend for her work as a helicopter pilot who runs an aerial filming company.

Followed by her own TV crew, she was dressed in a black, strapless, figure-hugging dress and wore her engagement ring, reportedly worth £1.6 million, over her black opera gloves.

One guest noted that Harry could be lining up Bezos, the world’s third richest man, when the £63 million deal he and Meghan have with Netflix expires next year.

It was a valid point, as the couple has yet to properly prove themselves in Hollywood, with their efforts drawing no small amount of ridicule.

Meghan’s podcast deal with streaming service Spotify has ended, they were satirized on the TV show South Park and the Hollywood Reporter, considered the ‘bible’ of Tinseltown, recently wrote: ‘In 2020, the royal duo fled a life of ceremonial public service for money to earn their celebrity status in the United States.

“But after a whiny Netflix documentary, a whiny biography (Spare, even the title is a pouty complaint) and an inert podcast, the Harry and Meghan brand grew into a false bubble just begging to be popped.”

In many ways, this idle gala felt like the bursting of Harry’s bubble. But it was hard not to feel an ounce of sympathy.

During my thirty years as a journalist in Hollywood, I’ve been to countless major events, including almost every Oscar ceremony, but Friday’s event was a cheesy mess.

Besides Ms. Sanchez, none of the big names, including John Travolta and Morgan Freeman, walked the red carpet. Other promised guests, including musician Kenny G, did not show up.

Artist Mimi Stuart showed a garish yellow portrait of Harry in his Apache cockpit. “He’s got a beautiful, big helmet,” Ms. Stuart said ostentatiously, causing a ripple of awkward giggling in the crowd.

At one point, the Beverly Hills Fire Department arrived on the scene, emergency lights flashing. Paramedics rushed in with a stretcher, but left ten minutes later, saying it was a ‘false alarm’.

However, it must be said that many were delighted with the Duke of Sussex’s performance.

Businessman Shane Lundgren, 62, said: ‘It’s fantastic to have someone of his level of celebrity be part of something like this.’

Fellow guest Nita Epps said: “He has been outstanding in his service in Afghanistan. It’s great that he’s being honored,” and Miss California Tianna Clark agreed: “There’s a lot of love for Harry here.”

When Harry left the way he arrived – slipping through the back entrance into a waiting Range Rover – I was left wondering if this event was an indication of what the future had in store for him. Will he be limited to making speeches alongside the likes of Mario-Max at gala chicken dinners in support of his £11 million Montecito mansion and estimated £1.6 million a year security bill?

For his sake, I sincerely hope not.