The People's Prince: Ordinary Harry Keeps Royals Relevant
Prince William's little brother Harry has long been seen as the bad boy of the British royal family. This may be precisely why he is more popular among young Britons than any other Windsor.
To get a better idea of who Henry Charles Albert David is, one could read the seven or eight biographies published on the 28-year-old to date. But a visit to the bars Prince Harry often frequents until the early morning hours is even more revealing.
Of course, Harry's mother played an important role in her son growing up to be less inhibited than her husband. Diana, the tragic princess, fought to the end to ensure that Harry and his brother William were not quashed by Britain's royal disciplinary machine, with its strict protocol for every blink of an eye. It seems that Diana was most successful with her younger son.
"Harry has done everything he can to be ordinary, to have a normal life," writes journalist Chris Hutchins, whose biography of Prince Harry will be released this week. One reason the British are more likely to take to a prince known for getting drunk is that they can recognize themselves in him. Harry recently advanced to third place on the list of the most popular members of the royal family, after Prince William and the Queen, and ahead of his father Charles. Young Britons idolize him as the most laid-back Windsor England has seen in a long time.
Every monarchy thrives on images, glamour and rituals, but it also runs the risk of eventually becoming ossified within these rituals. This was evident last week during the funeral service for former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in St. Paul's Cathedral, where the Queen and her husband sat almost motionless for about an hour on velvet-covered chairs, looking like wax figures of themselves. British author Hilary Mantel wrote that Princess Kate is so perfect with her "plastic smile" that she "appeared to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen."
'I Can Do What I Want'
Harry, by contrast, is unpredictable, unruly and impulsive, not unlike his mother. He seems spirited in a world of plastic smiles. And his family, too, is beginning to realize the value of a prince who doesn't always stick to the rules. Almost more than his brother, the task falls to Harry to prove that the Windsors are not an obsolete royal family, and that they can lead the monarchy into the 21st century. This is one reason for Harry's growing importance. He is also garnering more media attention, as a swarm of cameras and microphones permanently lies in waiting for his next excess. Harry hates this, because it reminds him that he is not ordinary. He has despised the paparazzi since his mother's fatal accident in Paris in 1997, and he would prefer to see them banished from the island. But the monarchy depends on its popularity among the people, which is one basis of its legitimacy today. Harry knows that this is why he must come to terms with the media mob.
Niraj Tanna is a member of that mob. Before devoting himself to the royal family in 2005, he photographed pop musicians and actors in London. "But stars have no significance," says Tanna. "The monarchy, however, means something, and it will remain relevant in the future." Besides, he adds, it's fun to outsmart Harry's bodyguards.
Though he is only 32, Tanna is already a veteran paparazzo. He has photographed Harry's various affairs, and he has seen him drunk, distraught, happy and angry. Harry also knows Tanna, which makes it increasingly difficult for the photographer to approach the prince without being recognized. The party prince is a good subject, because he struggles with a role that has been established since he was born. Tanna is prepared to rush through the city at all times of the day or night when he hears that Harry was just spotted at a party. He receives his tips from waiters, bartenders, guests and the managers of the city's hottest clubs. For a London bar owner, a visit by Harry is the best publicity possible.
The prince is currently third in the line for succession to the throne, after Charles and William, but he will slip down to fourth place when Kate's baby is born. The circumstances would have to be extremely unusual for Harry to become king, which gives him a freedom his brother would never have. "Harry is the guy who is more risk-taking," says Ken Wharfe, Princess Diana's bodyguard for six years. Unlike William, he says, Harry wanted to be entertained as a child. He would run through the palace, knock over vases and pour red food coloring into his bodyguard's bath water. Even as a young boy, he said to William: "You'll be king one day. I won't, so I can do what I want."
Excess in Real Time
Harry was apparently more upset by his mother's death than anyone else in the family. He discovered alcohol early on, and at his father's 50th birthday party he drank too much, tore his clothes off and ran naked among the guests. He was 14 at the time. The next year, he was in Cornwall throwing around cider bottles. It was easy to interpret Harry's excesses as a reaction to his mother's death, but in truth he was behaving no differently than his friends. England around the turn of the millennium was an island of all-you-can-drink parties. Harry, in a radical way, was living the ordinary life his mother had always wanted for him and William.
No one was surprised that he did worse in school than his brother. He set up a disco, bar included, in the basement of the royal residence at Highgrove House. The parties there apparently also involved drugs. A friend allegedly obtained marijuana and invited girls, although Harry never needed any help with women. The pubs around Highgrove were his hunting ground, writes Chris Hutchins in the new biography. Harry's best chat-up line was: "How would you like to come back to my palace for a drink?"
At 17, he admitted that he had smoked pot. The press called him "His Royal High-Ness," and his nickname among friends was "Hashish Harry." From the palace's perspective, the danger did not lie in Harry's interests in women, drugs and alcohol but in the fact that all of this was being revealed to the public. This is especially true now that every party guest who can whip out a mobile phone at the right moment can turn a photo of Harry into cash. He is the first prince whose excesses are being transmitted in what is essentially real time.
The Prince Harry Watch, run by an American woman who disseminates her information through Twitter, provides constant updates on the prince's whereabouts. "Harry seen in Las Vegas," she wrote last August. Photos later turned up of the naked prince during a game of strip billiards.
Recipe for Disaster
Harry has become more cautious since then. He has behaved more like an adult, says photographer Tanna, since he flew to Afghanistan as a soldier for the first time in 2007. "You could see that he had gotten more serious, more of a man." The great advantage of Afghanistan was that there were no photographers nearby, because the palace and the defense ministry impose a news blackout the minute Harry shows up in a war zone. He flies combat helicopters, and some say that he has a little too much fun doing it. When asked about his deployment to Afghanistan in a BBC interview after the Las Vegas scandal, he said that he loved playing PlayStation, "So with my thumbs I like to think I'm probably quite useful." The army gives him the elbowroom he so sorely misses. It allows him to be himself, to the extent possible, surrounded by many other young men.
Last year was Harry's best year so far. Vanity Fair named him the best-dressed member of the royal family. He managed to convince his grandmother to allow the band Madness to perform on the roof of Buckingham Palace at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert. He reportedly also persuaded the Queen to appear in a short film alongside Daniel Craig, the actor who plays James Bond, at the opening ceremony for the London Summer Olympics. These are the sorts of things that make the royal family seem more modern than it really is.
Is Harry becoming boring?
"Don't worry, the story is just beginning with Harry's new relationship," says Tanna. "I'm sure there is much more that we will see in the future."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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