Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales — more commonly known since his birth as Prince Harry — is the third in line to the British throne, and to the thrones of 16 independent Commonwealth states. He is thus, particularly since the second marriage of his father Charles and the marriage, last year, of elder brother William, seen as the most “eligible” of the British royal family.
His eligibility is not notably hindered by the fact that he is, in addition to what has often been reported in the intervening 27 years as an “easy charm” and a “sense of fun”, in possession of an annual salary of almost £38,000 (Dh139,573)as a captain in the Army Air Corps. And, according to a 2011 report, there are also savings worth around £28 million. (The results of investments based on a legacy of £12 million in trust left by his deceased mother, Diana, and further inheritances on the death of the Queen Mother.)
He has also, in his relatively short life, attracted as much press attention as any other member of this country’s royal family; quite possibly more. His life and its constant scrutiny, it could easily be argued, have served as the perfect palimpsest for the changing narrative of the relationship between Britain’s citizens and its royal family, much of this narrative being mediated by the press.
In fact, the prince’s own arc of narrative early tragedy, boisterous misbehaviour, respectable adoption of responsibilities in adulthood, interrupted by occasional bouts of boisterous misbehaviour — mirrors many classic spans of fiction, not least that of Shakespeare’s Prince Hal. And it has also, albeit unwittingly, allowed the prince to become the focus of many public debates over what the British royal family is “for”, and how it should behave.
These debates, in a country now without any cohesive republican movement, usually appear to the casual or disinterested observer to take place within a vacuum of analytical thought, and generally and repeatedly split in two ways. One commentariat resents both the “unearned” celebrity status, and undoubted wealth and privilege, of the royal family. The other side these sides are, unusually for this country, hard to categorise along lines of age, political leanings or class, thus adding to the debate’s confusion takes, generally, the view that the royal family does more good than harm, brings income to the country through tourism, allows the nation a focus when it likes to celebrate its “Britishness”, and has, primarily through its more elderly members, served the country for decades with honourable, courteous and mostly apolitical stoicism.
Each debate, real or confected, has been largely initiated and furthered by the broadcast and print media. To this end, the “celebrity” status of the younger members of the royal family, the advances in technology which allow ever-greater intrusion into privacy, especially into the lives of six or seven young British royals — generally seen as kindly, enthusiastic, nonintellectual and miraculously unhampered by physical ails bequeathed from a gene pool whose shallowness remains of frankly staggering medical inadvisability has been catnip. As has Harry. His earliest memorable outing came at the funeral of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997. He walked, with young clenched fists, behind the funeral cortege, accompanied by his brother, grandfather and father, whose own long-running infidelities with Camilla Parker Bowles, now his wife, are widely believed to have been the catalyst for Diana’s many own indiscretions.
There emerged, at that time, a fervid week for the monarchy, a great public desire for both Harry and his brother to be given a more “normal” life than the straitjacketed Windsor-Mountbatten one into which his mother had so singularly failed to fit. She herself had insisted on taking both boys to McDonald’s, Disney World, Aids clinics and shelters for the homeless, the third of which was surely the most fun.
In some ways, he was given such a life. He didn’t get sent to Gormenghast — we mean Gordonstoun — the bane of his father’s life. Instead, as he and William re-established a strong, loving and humour-filled relationship with Charles, and a far more grudging compromise with the media, he went to Eton. There, he didn’t perform particularly well but was left roughly alone. He obtained two A-levels, a B in art and a D in geography (he was to learn much more about geography by simply travelling the world), though he was quite a whiz at both polo and rugby.
The press contented themselves in those days with scuttlebutt about his parenthood. James Hewitt, one of Diana’s suitors, attempted to end the debate in 2002. “There really is no possibility whatsoever that I am Harry’s father. I can absolutely assure you that I am not — I can understand the interest but Harry was already walking by the time my relationship with Diana began.”
Harry was at the same time earning himself, in some newspapers, a reputation. He drank and smoked cannabis at 16, clashed physically outside nightclubs the names Whisky Mist and Boujis crop up in research with dispiriting regularity with paparazzi, whom he is still understood to blame for his mother’s death. He also had to issue an apology for appearing at a friend’s “colonial and native” party in a — it could be argued — ill-judged Nazi uniform with swastika armband.
It wasn’t his last apparent misjudgment over political and racial sensibilities. In 2009, he burst into the dressing room of the entertainer Dizzee Rascal and attempted to engage him in a “street handshake”. Mr Rascal responded: “If you weren’t royalty, I’d have punched you by now.” Around the same time he told black comedian Stephen K. Amos that he “didn’t sound like a black chap.” Amos’s response is sadly unprintable. Friendlier newspapers ascribed much of this to a sense of “mischief” inherited from his paternal grandfather.
As he moved into his 20s, however, he followed tradition by swerving a troubling university education for a commission in the Blues and Royals. He displayed the ability to pilot an Apache helicopter and the bravery to go to Afghanistan, until his presence there was leaked by an Australian magazine unheeding of the concomitant danger to him and his colleagues, many of whom, la Spartacus, took to wearing T-shirts for the benefit of the Taliban proclaiming “I am Harry”. All told, he seemed to be putting some immaturities firmly behind him.
He has, since his first visit to Lesotho during his “gap year”, quietly co-founded an impressively successful Aids clinic there, and returned many times, and says: “In Africa I can be myself There is not a day that I don’t think about my mother when I am here.” He does much for many other charities, many of them sporting, or involving orphans, wounded soldiers and the homeless, in both Britain and Africa, and has annually helped raise a ridiculous exponential of his yearly salary. And sometimes, having been single since splitting last year with a long-term lady friend named Chelsy Davy, he has fun.
Which he apparently did again, last week, in Las Vegas, Nevada. A week after performing more formal duties, representing his grandmother with her stoicism and his humour at the Olympic closure, he was on holiday in Las Vegas and took off his clothes while drunk and single and playing pool, and giggled, and may or may not have achieved coitus with a woman. As ever, it’s not about Harry, but about what the press thinks about Harry, and how this purportedly represents our traumatic confusion over royalty, and, perhaps more pertinently, how it sells papers.
Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie made a statement to broadcast media last Friday, the day on which his erstwhile paper led its front page with a shaky photograph of the third-in-line clutching his genitals, which helpfully encapsulated every side of the argument. “If Prince Harry with no clothes on in a Las Vegas hotel room, surrounded by one naked woman anyway, and a load of other people he just met in a drinking, stripping game, is not a story, then it’s hard to know what is.”
In Mozambique a few years ago, the founder of the Halo Trust mine-clearing charity had a quiet insight into Harry and, arguably, a more lucid one than a shaky stolen Nokia-grab of blurred genitalia. While talking to a blind victim of an excruciatingly random explosion, Harry had held his hand, “which isn’t something that comes naturally to a lot of people”.
Some people might think that’s the beginning of a better story.