“Did they really line up five virgins to welcome Prince Harry to Nepal?” a friend texted me this week, “Seems like asking for trouble on the part of the parents.”
My friend’s joke gets right to the heart of the intractable tensions occasioned by the ongoing attempts to rebrand Prince Harry as a man of duty.
Yes, he takes his duty seriously, arguably more seriously than his brother, but Harry is so deeply associated in the public mind with birds, booze, and billiards games taking place naked in Las Vegas that he will always struggle to shake off the Party Prince image.
The problem, of course, is that good reputations are created in drops but bad ones are made by the bucket.
And Harry did enormous damage to his reputation when he was still, really, just a big kid; turning up to a mate’s fancy dress party in a Nazi outfit, calling a Pakistani squaddie a ‘Paki,’ and smoking a shisha pipe on a friend’s yacht.
Of course, all those incidents pale into insignificance in comparison to those photos of him in the altogether with a bevy of blond babes in Vegas.
Harry’s fans write of these faux pas as evidence of nothing more than youthful idiocy and high spirits, and sending Harry off on a five-day trip to Nepal (the jaunt draws to a close on Wednesday) is, in fact, the perfect gig for the young Prince.
He always shines on these foreign tours; the locals love him, the press coverage he gets is incomparable to anything any other member of the Royal Family (with the exception of Prince George) could expect, and Harry himself gives a sporting impression of a man enjoying the experience. He certainly behaves himself impeccably.
He hates photographers as much as his brother, but on foreign soil he becomes willing to give them the shots they need, as we saw in Jamaica where he danced to Bob Marley in the townships and pulled a Usain Bolt victory pose after winning a race against the great athlete.
In Nepal, he has pretended to be a tiger walking past a camera trap and today (Tuesday) he enthusiastically joined in with the festival of Holi, smearing red pigment all over his face.
Harry’s program also has been built intelligently to reflect his unique personality and charms. It’s hard, for example, to imagine any other royal happily bivvying down in the hut of a rural family, but this is exactly what Harry did, spending the night as the guest of Mangali Tamang, the 86-year-old widow of a former Gurkha rifleman.
Harry described the experience of sleeping under the same roof as the Nepalese family as “peaceful, actually. Lots of dogs barking, but it didn’t seem to bother them.”
The prince’s trip is all about celebrating 200 years of relations between Nepal and Britain, and given that there are still about 3,500 Nepalese soldiers in the British army in the Gurkha regiments, and Harry fought alongside several Gurkhas in Afghanistan, it’s an important relationship to nurture.
His tour comes as the country is rebuilding after last year’s devastating earthquake, which killed more than 8,000 people.
Undoubtedly Harry is an enormous asset to the country when he is on duty, and it seems at last that he is beginning to accept that being a senior member of the Royal Family means that he is only able to let his hair down and fool around when privacy is totally guaranteed.
As long as he can resist the temptation to play the clown in public, there is no reason why Harry shouldn’t do so behind closed doors and well away from cameras.
Worryingly, however, there is still a part of Harry that seems addicted to the risk of partying in public.
There was, for example, one foolish incident late last year when he allowed himself to be photographed in a photo booth at a promotional party for a vodka brand wearing a pair of oversized sunglasses.
The pictures largely escaped any serious media analysis despite the fact that they were posted on Instagram, but they do hint to the fact that Harry can’t quite bring himself to accept that he can’t just muck about in pubs, clubs and at parties like he used to.
Rumors have also reached the Royalist that Harry and a group of mates including the Van Cutsems and Tom Straubenzee have taken to going out to clubs such as Bunga Bunga in Battersea as a group wearing masks, only removing them when they get to a secure VIP area.
Again, one can easily see how Harry’s understandable desire to put one over the press could create unnecessary trouble for him instead.
The boring truth is that being a man of duty is rather dull. It’s not a position that masked revellers should consider applying for.
Harry knows this deep down, but he has also no doubt seen how the Royal life has turned his father from rather a fun 20-something into a rather tedious, arrogant 60-something.
But what’s the alternative? Prince Charles’s naughty little brother is more a warning than an inspiration—I think we’d all agree it is better to be a Prince Charles than a Prince Andrew any day.