A side story to the upcoming Prince William nuptials: Meet the new and improved Prince Harry.
Can’t believe it? Last summer, around the time of the World Cup, the heir to the British throne and his younger brother traveled to Botswana, Lesotho, and South Africa. They visited homeless shelters, played football with the locals, and met with children benefiting from Harry’s charity Sentebale, which gives aid to orphans in Lesotho.
Gallery: Prince Harry
As far as Prince William goes, the tone of the trip was in keeping with his image. He’s long had a reputation for being fairly well behaved, with a touch of his father’s sense of remove.
But the behavior of his younger brother caught people more off-guard. Since he’s been old enough to have a persona, Harry’s been the more unpredictable one, a bit of a rabble rouser, the guy who was called out for smoking weed and sparring with paparazzi. The time he wore a Nazi uniform to a costume party was arguably the worst royal PR debacle of the post-Diana era.
In the last couple of years, the younger prince has receded from view somewhat. In that time, he went into the army, served in Afghanistan, and saw death firsthand. (Last weekend, he attended the memorial of a comrade from his unit, where he was visibly choked up.) When his superiors determined that having him on the ground was too risky, that he was a high-profile target for terrorists, he transferred to the Army air corps, a long and arduous program, where he’s been a model student.
The result, say longtime observers, is a young man dramatically more mature, humbled by experience, and at the same time deeply aware of the reach he can have as an ambassador to the world. “This was a fantastic chance to show William what Sentebale is all about—the vulnerable children,” the newly minted Harry said last summer. “I'm just happy to have him here with me.”
Referring to the Africa trip, Katie Nicholl, one of the reporters who went on the Africa trip and the author of the new book William and Harry: Behind the Palace Wall, says, “It was amazing to watch them interact. There was a chemistry between the two of them, and a real support between the pair. And I think they are so close because they’re probably the only two men on earth, apart from perhaps their father, who can actually understand what it’s like in that goldfish bowl of royalty. They lost their mother at a young age and it’s kept them incredibly close.”
And now, as William ticks one big thing off his checklist of things to do on the way to becoming king, his brother is emerging quietly as the best man par excellence.
“I am delighted that my brother has popped the question,” Harry said in a short statement Tuesday. “It means I get a sister, which I’ve always wanted.”
“This was a fantastic chance to show William what Sentebale is all about,” the newly minted Harry said last summer. “I'm just happy to have him here with me.”
Where was he when he gave his remarks? Off training with the air corps, naturally, where he’s learning to fly an Apache helicopter.
• William & Kate: Photos, News, and MoreThere are rumors that the army might soon redeploy the prince to Afghanistan, which he’s said would please him. “I would love to go back, I really would,” he said recently. “As long as my military career allows it and politically it’s allowed, I will serve my country as any other soldier… At the end of the day, you train for war, it’s as simple as that… You train for a reason.”
Thankfully, there’s no fiancée waiting for him back at home, although not everyone is abandoning hope he might reconcile with his ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy, whom he began dating in 2004 and broke up with last summer.
Wherever he winds up, both in terms of his career and his romantic life, it’s clear that it will be close to William, at least in spirit.
Jacob Bernstein is a senior reporter at The Daily Beast. Previously, he was a features writer at WWD and W Magazine. He has also written for New York magazine, Paper, and The Huffington Post.