One of the most replayed pieces of vintage film stock of Prince Charles sees him swimming in the sea in Perth, Australia, in 1979—bad hair, trunks beckoning an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction, hot body—and being flirtily accosted by the model Jane Priest. The kiss she planted on him, Ms. Priest later revealed, was a set-up: part of a Buckingham Palace plan to sell the rather awkward young Charles as a sexy, desired bachelor prince.
Charles was 30 at the time; his son Prince Harry is now 29, very handsome, single, just like his father in another faraway time, and in Brazil. Yet there were no pictures of Harry in his swimming trunks being kissed by lithe beauties on Ipanema Beach this week. In another, relatively recent iteration of his own “bachelor prince” image there could have been—and who knows if there was any of that naughtiness going on off-camera?
In the public eye at least, a Prince Harry reboot is underway, and while mischief still seems to dance in his eyes, his Palace overse’ers do not want it dancing more literally across the front pages. After all, the public knows the wild nights of this bachelor prince too well: from dressing up as a Nazi for a party in 2005, to his infamous nude Vegas exploits.
In contrast, Harry’s trip to Brazil this week has been a scene-stealing showcase of a new, extremely winning image of him being crafted consciously or unconsciously: He’s now the fun-loving, but responsible prince; the game for a laugh “spare to the heir” with his heart in the right, socially conscious place. Not being his brother Prince William, the heir to the throne, means Harry has freedom to show more emotion, clown around, and connect more jovially with crowds.
Now it seems he is taking that freedom more seriously: He also seems genuinely warm and outgoing. We in turn can briefly marvel at the bracing, if distant, possibility of a King Harry. This may never come to pass, if William serves out his reign in timely fashion, but the Royal Family is showing itself to be adaptable—future female heirs will have a parity to male—so maybe William could do the gig on a job-share.
If his mother Diana was famously called the “People’s Princess” by Tony Blair after her death, so Harry is becoming the People’s Prince. He is goofy, he speaks haltingly from the heart, and from scripts. He seems a bit scatty, but decent. He has a voice, and a spirit of inquiry, he’s trying to find a role for himself. And he is, as pictures of him playing football in Brazil in a bicep-hugging T-shirt show, super-hot. He is, you sense, trying not to misbehave, while remaining human and not becoming a Royal cyborg.
In Brazil, there was a microcosmic slice of the kind of public role he is attempting to carve. Not for Harry, the simple, private jolly of a trip to the World Cup—although he managed to do a bit of that—but also a carefully choreographed roll call of empathy-engendering public engagements. This was all good PR for sure, but those engagements came with some notably sharp edges. On Thursday he visited a project for crack cocaine addicts.
In Sao Paulo’s drugs ghetto, Crackolandia, he heard from one woman: “Monday morning I’m in work mode,” she said. “But I cannot just quit 100 percent.” From a man: “I don’t use it because I’m an addict. I use it because I like it.”
On Monday, Harry visited a hospital for those with neurological injuries. He has played basketball. Then on Wednesday he said he had cried about his mother, spurred by meeting two young girls who had lost their mother. “There are two little girls—I’m quite emotional, just looking at them,” Harry said afterwards. “I wanted to talk about my own experiences, but there is no point because it is just so far removed…The bravery of them looking at me, smiling at me... I wanted to use my own experiences in a very small way, to try to give them a bit of understanding about the fact, [that I saw what they] are going through.”
After the visit to Acer—the Association for Support of Children at Risk—to help underprivileged children in Diadema near Sao Paulo—he said that some of the children’s stories had “reduced me to tears, but the smiles on their faces show the positive impact their community is having on them and the success of Acer.”
“I’ve never blubbed in public as far as I can remember,” Harry said. “It was amazing to hear those stories.”
Harry even recorded a videoed thank-you message to the people of Brazil. “I feel very moved spending the last four days here with amazing, passionate people…thank you for the hospitality and warmth and see you again soon,” he said.
But just as Harry’s warmth and general good-eggery was being shown off in Brazil, a reminder of the practical cost of the Royal Household was showcased in the British parliament. The Guardian reported that “the cost of the monarchy to the public purse last year was £35.7m.”
The cost of redecorating apartment 1A in Kensington Palace, home of the Prince William and Kate Middleton, contributed to an increase in the Queen’s official expenditure year-on-year of £2.4m. Kate and William have apparently paid for the installation of a second, smaller kitchen themselves, with royal aides professing they are “sensitive” to being seen spending public money on themselves.
The report reveals that while younger Royals fly on planes with the rest of the hoi polloi (albeit in first class), the older generation prefers charter flights. Prince Charles spent over £400,000 on a trip to Sri Lanka, then a tour of India. Charles employed, said the Guardian, 126.7 staff members, including 10.8 house managers and housekeepers, 5.3 chefs and kitchen porters and 21.3 gardeners and estate workers. “He also funds the official activities of William, Kate and Harry, which saw his ‘other expenditure’ bill rise by £800,000 to £2.9m.”
The Royal Family costs money, they live in luxury, and the public funds it. And so when Harry is pictured at all those hard-scrabble Brazilian projects, when he thanks the people of Brazil for their warmth and hospitality, he is not only working as an ambassador for them, but for the relevance of his own family and birthright, and the continued, publicly-funded Royal bloodline.
The rebranding of Harry into cheeky but respectable, the tyke who grew up but who still retains an air of fun, is masterful, but yet another salvo in the PR campaign for the continuation of the monarchy. Key for Harry will be to avoid the kinds of embarrassing scandals that could derail him, like being seen to be disrespectful to women, or doing something as stupid as wearing that Nazi uniform.
Getting drunk and naked in Vegas was brushed off as youthful hijinx, but captured later in his life, with more responsibility, and maybe even a long-term partner or wife at his side, and it will look shabbier. One wonders how closely the new image of Harry accords with the real Harry, and if there is a disconnect, how that can be managed without incurring nightmare headlines?
Right now, the runes are in Harry’s favor. His father invites little public warmth—he just doesn’t connect with the public, and many view the reign of Charles with a kind of grim sense of endurance he himself has shown for his many years as heir to the Royals’ only real hardass pro, the Queen.
William invites more warmth than his father, but even with the winsome Kate at his side it’s inconceivable that the public will endure a purely decorative Royal Family in future years, whoever is smiling benignly at its apex. If it is to survive, if it still wants to somehow win over the taxpayers to carry on paying for its charter and first class flights, its palaces and those palaces’ refurbishments, its servants and 5.3 chefs, it needs more of Harry’s charm, warmth and wit. It needs Harry. King Harry.