The Reinvention of Prince Harry: Why His U.S. Visit Is a Huge Success

The prince’s visit to the States this week has been nothing short of a triumph. Tom Sykes on how the royal cleaned up his image (hint: ditching the booze) and turned up the charm.

05.15.13 9:45 AM ET

One of the most devoutly sought goals for which the Brits travel to the United States is rehabilitation. For some, that really does mean a 28-day program at the Meadows, but for British celebrities old and new, from Victoria Beckham to Piers Morgan to PG Wodehouse, America offers something even more alluring: a chance to clean up one’s image in a country that, in comparison to their homeland, is proud of allowing reinvention and fresh starts.

Prince Harry listens as first lady Michelle Obama, not pictured, speaks at an event in honor of military mothers in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Prince Harry's visit to the US has been transformational for the young royal

One can now add the name of Prince Harry to the list of Brits comprehensively rehabilitated in the generous embrace of the United States. For to describe Harry’s tour of the U.S. as an unqualified success would be mean-spirited. The truth is, the past week has been a transformative one for the third in line to the throne, and nothing short of a triumph.

It certainly seems hard to believe that the handsome young man pictured in the last few days confidently standing alongside a blushing Michelle Obama and praising the "fantastic American spirit" that saw the rebuilding of those parts of New Jersey obliterated by superstorm Sandy is the same person who, just nine months ago, allowed himself to be photographed in the nude playing strip billiards in a hotel room with some girls he had met a few hours earlier downstairs in a Vegas casino.

HRH Prince Harry (L), stands with first lady Michelle Obama during an event to honor military families at the White House on May 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. Prince Harry will be undertaking engagements on behalf of charities with which the Prince is closely associated on behalf also of HM Government, with a central theme of supporting injured service personnel from the UK and US forces.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Mark Wilson/Getty

Prince Harry and FLOTUS

By the time Harry plays a polo match in front of a select audience of 300 invited guests in Greenwich, Connecticut, Wednesday afternoon in honor of his beloved Lesotho children’s charity Sentebale, his reinvention will be complete.

Still the cheeky chappy, yes, and the royal with a sense of humor, undoubtedly, but also the one who has proved himself able to win the hearts of the American people with an effortlessness that his older, stiffer brother William could only dream of—and his mother, whose landmine charity HALO trust was the beneficiary of his first appointment on American soil, would surely recognize.

Indeed, many have argued that the naked pictures debacle actually enhanced Harry’s appeal, especially among younger people with whom the monarchy has traditionally struggled to connect. He was not doing anything most people would consider immoral or harmful. If that’s how Harry parties, many thought, where’s my invite?

Clearly it was embarrassing, but people also felt for Harry, empathizing with his plight of being unable to ever let his hair down without risking having details sold to the highest bidder.

Britain's Prince Harry(R) and British Prime Minister David Cameron arrive at Milk Studio aboard a double decker bus in New York, May 14, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Duand        (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)


Prince Harry arrives with David Cameron at a trade event for British business

Undoubtedly, however, Harry is a much less controversial sell when he is not drinking. One thing we can safely predict about Wednesday's polo match is that Harry will not be pictured with a glass of alcohol in his hand. Like a Moby backstage area, this tour of the U.S. has been an alcohol-free zone, and Harry has not been pictured with a drink in his hand once. 

This little bit of stage management has been a priority for the five-man team of Harry handlers during this trip.

Shortly after he touched down in Colorado he was given a drink of Pimms, but before he had a chance to take a sip, his private secretary and right-hand man Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton had taken it off him and replaced it with a glass of water.

Harry, it has been decreed, will not be photographed near any alcohol. The point was made again after his trip to an English-style pub after Saturday’s Warrior games. Somehow the heir was pictured walking out of the Golden Bee pub holding a pewter ale mug. The moment he realized he was being papped, the vessel was again handed to an aide.

They were at it again yesterday at the GREAT event promoting British trade. After the first few meet and greets, Lowther-Pinkerton got him a glass of water. It was in a sort of wine glass. Another aide literally peered into Harry's glass to verify that the contents really were just New York's finest H2O. It wasn’t that he suspected Harry was trying to get a cheeky drink in; he was just being sure he hadn’t accidentally been handed a glass containing some intoxicating liquid, or else that would be the picture which went around the world.

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The sensitivity to alcohol is well founded. The demon drink, as all those around Harry know only too well, has the potential to undo all his good work in one wild night.

Harry has learned a lot since the Vegas debacle, but, interestingly, most of what he has learned is tactical.

Although he issued a grudging public apology of sorts, conceding he had let his family down when he was finally unable to avoid confronting the issue any longer during a sit-down with the BBC in Afghanistan, privately he does not accept he did anything wrong at all. He blames the whole thing on the press who invaded his privacy, arguing he had a right to privacy in a hotel room and the press should never have published the pictures.

Harry is pretty open about his hatred of the press, and one can hardly blame him for that, but thankfully this tour has been free of petulant outbursts at the press pack (throwing a football at a cameraman in Colorado and telling the kids he was aiming to whack a baseball at the press in Harlem was as bad as it got).

Since he has been back in London after his tour of duty ended in late January, Harry has been careful to do his drinking privately, away from the cameras and away from crowds.

The only place he has been out regularly is the ironically ski-resort themed nightclub Bodo’s Schloss, which is located in the basement of a Kensington Hotel and has a back entrance which gives directly onto Kensington Park, meaning he can get in and out of the establishment without being photographed by the press pack. There are always camera phones, of course, but Bodo’s is well able to protect its star client (even if they have taken to some rather suspicious behavior, such as retweeting sightings of Harry in Bodo’s).

But it is undoubtedly this tour of America—the scene of his undoing last year—that has truly reset public perception of Harry.

He is the most popular royal in America since his mother—and the “Party Prince” narrative is one that Harry and his team have successfully quashed on this trip.

For now, anyway.

Because if there is a lingering doubt, it is that we have been here before. Last summer the same kinds of remarks about how Harry had finally outgrown his youthful idiocy were being bandied about after the Commonwealth tour and the Olympics, and we all know what happened then.

But, for now, at least, it seems the Party Prince Is Dead.

Long Live Prince Harry.