A fascinating insight into how the once wayward fourth-in-line to the throne has matured into a much loved royal and favourite of the Queen PRINCE HARRY AT 30
SNO SOONER had flight BA292 taken off from Washington DC’s Dulles International airport bound for Heathrow at a little after 11pm than Prince Harry fell asleep in his business-class seat. It had been a long day: he had been in America for less than nine hours of a 24-hour special leave but they were probably the most honourable nine hours of his life so far.
As he boarded the London-bound 747 a stewardess had offered him a dinner menu but he politely declined, saying he had already eaten. That was the understatement of the year: he had just dined at Washington’s Ritz-Carlton hotel alongside his military hero, General Colin Powell – arguably the greatest soldier of his generation – who was about to present him with the Atlantic Council Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership in front of an international assembly of distinguished guests.
Even for the grandson of a reigning monarch it was a crowning moment. Such was the adulation with which he was greeted on his visit to the American capital that newspapers there carried headlines anointing him “The People’s Prince”. That was 2012 and Harry went on to confirm his fitness for the title in the weeks and months ahead. While Palace officials questioned whether he was ready to take on royal responsibilities, the Queen insisted on sending him as her Jubilee Year representative to the Caribbean and South America where he was feted just as his mother had been. It quickly became apparent that he was destined to follow in Diana’s footsteps as the most popular royal of all.
The Queen was delighted especially when word reached her that Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller had embraced him just hours after saying she wanted Her Majesty replaced as her country’s head of state.
Indeed his relationship with his grandmother has turned out to be amazingly strong. I’m told it was Harry who persuaded her to go ahead with the James Bond spoof, which gave the Olympics’ opening ceremony its most incredible moment, and winning hearts and minds and a standing ovation with his speech at the closing ceremony. PEECHES are vitally important to Harry and for that reason he writes his own (just as Diana did) rather than act as another’s mouthpiece. He was still putting the finishing touches to the one he was to deliver at the Washington event on the outward flight, according to someone who sat next to him. Colin Powell was to say later that he was greatly touched when Harry said: “For a captain in the British Army to be introduced by such a world-renowned soldier and statesman is truly humbling – and a little terrifying. Genuinely I don’t believe that I have done nearly enough to deserve this award.”
What a turnaround for a young man who was once the Royal Family’s black sheep. The tragic death of his mother sparked off a turbulent adolescence during which Harry turned to drink and drugs. After joining William at Eton, he founded “Club H” in the cellars of Highgrove for use between terms. It became the venue for wild parties fuelled by a well-stocked bar.
However when Prince Charles was in residence loud music was banned and a new venue had to be found. It was then that Harry discovered the Rattlebone Inn, a 16th-century pub in the Wiltshire village of Sherston.
The centre of entertainment at the Rattlebone was a pool table and it was often the scene of many altercations. Harry was involved in at least one scuffle with two men during a particularly raucous game. Younger than most of the Rattlebone’s customers he was especially vulnerable but royal protection officers seemed loth to shop him to his father, probably for fear of losing his all-important trust in them.
Charles eventually had a heart-toheart with his adolescent son explaining that a fondness for alcohol had long been something of a problem in both families. The Queen Mother was known to enjoy her daily tipples, Princess Margaret drank a bottle of whisky a night towards the end of her life, and four sons of King George V all had alcohol problems: the Duke of Windsor, his brother King George VI and the Dukes of Kent (who was also addicted to cocaine) and Gloucester.
Furthermore both of Diana’s parents were fond of the bottle. The late Earl Spencer’s fondness for more than the odd dram was cited when he was accused of cruelty during his divorce from Diana’s mother who herself was banned for driving under the influence. Diana’s sister Sarah was expelled from school for drinking vodka.
Then Charles sent his youngest son to rehab – Featherstone Lodge in Peckham – in order to get him to confront his demons. He was there for just one day but it worked. He learned the Japanese definition of alcoholism: “The man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink and the drink takes the man.” Then came the real turning point in his life when Charles told him that instead of an enjoyable gap year he was going to what in effect amounted to two years in boot camp. In the searing heat of Australia he rounded up cattle and fixed fences and in Africa he dug trenches. It was the making of him.
WHEN finally he was allowed to join the Army, his rapid progress silenced even his strongest critics – a number of them behind Palace walls. He knuckled down to a complete lack of the privilege he had been brought up with – in some instances he was subject to even greater discipline than many of his fellow junior officers – after stepping through the doors of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in May 2005.
It was the start of an exemplary Army career. When it was announced that he would not be sent to Iraq because it was considered too dangerous, noises were made that he would quit the Army if he was not allowed to be the soldier he had trained to be.
So he was drafted to the frontline in Helmand, the most dangerous province in Afghanistan. A US officer whom he served alongside and befriended, Lt Colonel Bill Connor, told me he exhibited outstanding bravery: “He went up there on the hill in full view of Taliban snipers without showing any sign of fear. I take my hat off to him.”
His conversion from teenage delinquent to soldier hero has not been the only change in Harry’s life. Once pilloried as a playboy prince who downed £200 cocktails in nightclubs then brawled with waiting photographers, he has largely curbed such excesses, thanks to his romance (at present on hold) with Cressida Bonas. When one host offered him a gin and tonic after he arrived for lunch, Cressida said: “At lunch time? No way,” and Harry settled for a soft drink. She did much to help him live the normal life he has long craved, even going to the extreme of paying half when they dined out “like normal couples do”.
At the same time she encouraged him to stick to his mantra: “I am what I am” – for Harry is not a man to be governed by palace dictates.
So where does he go from here? He has made it clear that he has no intention of becoming his brother’s deputy, planting trees in holes dug by others and cutting ribbons. Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott has mooted a proposal that he be sent there as the next governor-general. The only drawback to that idea is that such office holders are usually married.
Whatever he does Harry will always be incredibly popular and he owes that to the charm and manners instilled in him by his mother. Diana’s favourite palace chef, Darren McGrady, told me how she would often bring her boys down to the kitchen to thank him after he had cooked a meal for them – even if it was only beans on toast. She taught Harry not to repeat the bad manners he witnessed some other members of the Royal Family displaying.
As he approaches his 30th birthday on September 15, Prince Harry can be justly proud of his achievements – against the odds – in his first three decades.
Diana would be so very proud.
To order Harry The People’s Prince, by Chris Hutchins (Neville Ness House, £14.99, incl. p&p) call the Express Bookshop on 01872 562 310. Or send a cheque to Harry Offer, PO Box 200, Falmouth TR11 4WJ or visit expressbookshop.com.
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