Prince Harry's first official visit to Manhattan on Friday morning was to lay a wreath at ground zero before going on to meet U.S. veterans who were injured in the war on terror.
“Serving in Afghanistan has made him very alive to these issues,” says one of his aides.
The prince’s 10-week tour of combat duty in Helmand province last year certainly made the Taliban and al Qaeda very alive to him. Al-Ekhlaas (“Loyalty”), the Islamist Web forum, called for the prince to be executed and for a video of his beheading to be sent to the queen.
“Nothing will break the heart of his grandmother but only if she loses him,” exhorted the password-protected Web site. “My dear brothers in Allah, carry on provoking to kidnap this precious infidel.”
Harry made no public comment, but was photographed soon afterward in a baseball cap inscribed with the motto “We Do Bad Things to Bad People.” His bravery was much lauded by his army colleagues.
“Damn right! Respect to the bloke for getting on the ground,” declared one of the U.K. troop Web sites.
“Well done, Ginge [Ginger],” wrote another British blog, which praised him for “having the balls to take on the Taliban.”
Then, 10 months later, the soldier prince was seen in another light, still dressed in combat fatigues, but now dangling a cigarette languidly from the corner of his mouth as part of a homemade spoof video in which he referred to one of his fellow soldiers as his “little Paki friend” and addressed another as “Dan the Man...F*** me, you look like a raghead.”
The video concluded with the prince making a mock phone call to his grandmother the queen. “Love to Grandpa [Prince Philip] and the corgis,” he smirked. “God Save You.”
The contrast summed up the trouble—and the fascination—with Harry. The dashing young prince has a gift for the most catastrophic errors of judgment. Invited four years ago, age 20, to a fancy dress party with a “Colonial and Native” theme, he did not opt for a classic British imperial uniform—of which, one imagines, there must be groaning wardrobes at the palace. Instead he selected himself an elegant khaki desert outfit like the one sported by Rommel’s Afrika Korps, complete with a bright red and black Nazi armband.
The classic comparison for which the British profile writers reach is Shakespeare’s Prince Hal, the dissolute drinking companion of Falstaff who became the sublime King Henry V, the shining victor of Agincourt. Either way, Harry sells newspapers—and when he screws up, the reaction is merciless. Britain’s media appointed itself the boy’s surrogate parent after the tragedy of his mother’s death (having shamelessly stoked the pressures that led to her death), but has so far shown little inclination to behave as a mature and forgiving parent when he makes the occasional mistake, which, inevitably, he can only make in public.
The image of the resolute little boy, by far the smallest of the five besuited males walking mutely behind Diana’s coffin that warm September Saturday, is burned into the national memory, and rightly so, for it determined Harry’s life from that point forward. Not gifted academically, the prince was originally destined for adolescence in one of England’s hearty-arty public schools—with lots of rugby and time at the pottery kiln. But as a half-orphan, it was felt, he would fare better in his elder brother William’s company, which landed him in the competitive hothouse that is Eton.
“Bottom of the class?” he once empathized to an underperforming friend. “I’m bottom of the school.”
In fact, Eton proved a success, thanks to William’s supportiveness and Harry’s grit. The top-drawer academy that looks likely to produce a solid chunk of the next British Cabinet has also produced a stunning first for the British monarchy—a pair of royal brothers who actually like each other and work together as a team with genuine love and respect.
They have recently created their own set of offices in the rambling royal rookery where their father, Prince Charles, Camilla, and a slew of junior royals cluster together down the road from Buckingham Palace, with their own private secretary and their own press officer. You used to write to the Wales boys at Clarence House, their father’s side of the complex, and that is where they continue to live in a clutch of comfortably furnished apartments. But now their official press release letterhead—a shared letterhead with a big crowned W on one side and an equally crowned H on the other—is addressed from the other side of the building, St. James’ Palace.
They are modern young men, and so are their friends—Chelsy Davy, Harry’s former girlfriend, is said to have signaled the end of their five-year romance in January by changing her Facebook profile to indicate she was no longer in a relationship. Stand by, Manhattan maidens—here comes Harry and the City.
But the prince’s principal purpose in coming to New York is to raise money at a charity polo match for his Sentebale charity and that is strictly old-fashioned. “Sentebale” means “Forget Me Not” in the language of Lesotho, in southern Africa, where the charity is based, and was named unashamedly by Harry to commemorate his mother. His local partner in the project, Prince Seeiso, lost his own mother in a car crash, and both young men work to educate and improve the lives of the country’s 180,000 orphans—victims of the third highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world.
“When Harry is working alongside those kids,” says someone who has worked with him in Lesotho, “he has a magic touch. It is as if you are seeing Diana.”
The young prince should be a sure-fire hit with those veterans he meets Friday morning—and the verdict is already out there on www.americanranger.blogspot.com. “He is a real man, a warrior prince who will surely serve in the battle with dignity and distinction,” writes Sergeant First Class Chuck Grist. “The people of Britain should be proud of their brave prince.”
Robert Lacey is the author of Majesty and will be reporting on Prince Harry’s Manhattan visit for Good Morning America this weekend. For details of Inside the Kingdom, his forthcoming book on Saudi Arabia, visit www.insidethekingdom.net.