11.21.11

Prince Harry's Vegas Harley Adventure

The playboy prince snuck away from air force training in Arizona to party in Vegas—and he got there on a 'motorbike.' Tom Sykes on the royal family’s fascination with high speed.

The air force base in Gila Bend, Ariz., where Prince Harry has spent the last few weeks training on Apache helicopters is a six hours’ drive from Vegas. So it was always something of an inevitability that the rowdy young royal would make the trip across the desert to the strip before his stay in the Wild West ended. And sure enough, he’s spent the last few night carousing at the tables and on the dance floors of Sin City, knocking back Grey Goose and flirting with blondes. We await the forthcoming cellphone pictures with interest.

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Of course, this being Harry, he took the opportunity to live out one very unique Nevada fantasy by making his way to Vegas aboard a big, fat, snarling Harley Davidson motorbike (rented from the Harley outlet in Scottsdale).

Harry looked every inch the Easy Rider as he set off for Vegas with a red and white bandana knotted around his neck, a maroon and black lumberjack shirt on, and aviator sunglasses. He was tailed by two cars containing bodyguards, but, an eyewitness told the Daily Mail: “Harry looked like he definitely knew his way around a motorbike. It was Friday rush-hour traffic. He was on the freeway for a while before they hit the open road. He was weaving in and out of commuter traffic. He didn’t even have proper leathers on or gloves. He rode like a pro.”

Chalk that up as a win for the Clarence House press team. 

Harry’s Harley adventure is just the latest manifestation of a long, almost fetishistic relationship between the royal family and their wheels—dating back to Queen Boadicea’s gilded carriage in the first century AD.

William and Harry are both motorbike riders. Harry owns a Ducati 848 and a classic Triumph, and Prince William is frequently spotted tearing around London on a Ducati 1198, much to the chagrin of their father, Prince Charles, who said last year: “I hate motorbikes. My sons are interested in them. I can’t even get my balance on them.”

It’s said that William enjoys the anonymity a motorcycle helmet bestows on him, and it’s also possible that the boys’ petrolhead tendencies were triggered early on in their development; in 1988, the two young princes were given a miniature Aston Martin. Built to exactly half the scale of a regular Aston Martin, it is now on display at the royal museum at Sandringham.

His British-made Aston Martin is Prince Charles’s favorite car, and the sleek, classic motor was given its last public outing when Kate and William were married; they drove it around the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace with a number plate reading, “Just wed” on the front. The 41-year-old open-topped Aston was a 21st birthday present to Charles from his mother in 1969. As one might expect given Charles’s eco-credentials, it has been converted to run on bioethanol fuel made from surplus British wine (plenty of that). Charles’s other cars—Jaguars, an Audi and a Range Rover—have all been converted to run on used cooking fat.

Charles’s late wife Diana, Princess of Wales, was a Jaguar XJ6 (another British brand) kind of woman And really, what else would you expect? 

Prince Philip values his anonymity, and so drives a London taxi (converted to LPG) when he is out and about in London which all but guarantees he never gets a second glance. Legend has it that a guest at a royal event once unwisely tried to engage a grumpy Philip in conversation about his black cab, and commented that it must be jolly handy driving a vehicle that was able to “turn on a sixpence.”

The duke is said to have replied, “What’s a sixpence?”

Philip is also able to fly light aircraft and, according to writer Philip Eade, used to regularly disappear on solo missions when he was younger when he needed a break from being the queen’s consort. 

Like most rulers, Philip’s wife, Queen Elizabeth II, likes a Roller. The oldest Rolls-Royce in the Royal fleet is a 1950 Phantom IV, with a massive 5.76 liter engine. It’s still used for occasions such as Ascot.

The Queen is no longer spotted driving herself, however she has been photographed in the past driving a fairly pedestrian selection of (British) vehicles such as a Rover and a Vauxhall at Windsor Great Park.  

With the demise of the British car industry, however, today’s young royals don’t have the same ability as their forerunners did to promote a great British product every time they get behind the wheel—despite their clear love of fast cars.

Witness Kate Middleton, who drives the most boringly middle class car in Britain—a German-made Audi A3.

Yawn.