With just two weeks to go before his milestone 30th birthday, Prince Harry was spotted this week on his rich friend Ben Goldsmith’s yacht near St. Tropez in the company of his rumored new girlfriend, Camilla Thurlow, a charity worker employed by the anti-landmine foundation the Halo Trust, the organization with which Harry’s mother Diana was so famously involved.
Summering in a luxurious gin-palace on the glittering ocean with a 25-year-old society beauty is exactly the kind of summer activity which is much enjoyed by his uncle, Prince Andrew, the Queen’s second son (and ex-husband of the ever-hirable Fergie).
But there have been no yachts for Andrew this summer. Indeed, at the very moment that Harry was gazing out on the Med from behind his mirrored Oakleys, Andrew was sitting down with CNBC, giving an interview in which he attempted, not for the first time it must be said, to recast himself as an homme serieux.
It’s a reputation Andrew has always sought for himself, but never really attained thanks to an ongoing litany of oafish, spoilt or petulant behavior. Indeed, more realistic men might have considered the prospect of acquiring such a persona lost for good when, in 2011, Prince Andrew was forced to step down from his job as U.K. trade ambassador following a damaging scandal over his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire money-manager who was sentenced to 18 months in jail in 2008 after admitting to soliciting an underage girl for prostitution.
Epstein was alleged to have used his fleet of private aircraft to send underage girls around the world for sex, and a photograph surfaced of Andrew with his arm around the waist of one of these girls, 17-year-old Virginia Roberts (there is no suggestion Andrew had any sexual involvement with the girl).
But in his quest for gravitas, Andrew is no quitter.
In the interview, Prince Andrew spoke about his youthful military service, his friendly and grown-up relationship with his ex-wife, and the big new project he’s working on with Will.i.am which aims to promote digital innovation amongst teenagers and young adults.
But much as Andrew might see himself as a serious philanthropist, the trouble is that others don’t share his viewpoint. The British public just can’t be disabused of the notion that he has spent much of the last decade—in fact much of his life altogether—as little more than a pampered Playboy.
His love affairs are not detailed extensively by the British press in the post-Leveson age, but that doesn’t mean they don’t provide plenty of gossip in society drawing rooms and and at aristocratic dinner tables. He is known to have had relationships with numerous beautiful and well-connected women since his marriage to Sarah Ferguson foundered.
Since the separation, Andrew has embarked with gusto on the Lothario lifestyle he enjoyed before his marriage, having reportedly dated a number of women, including Denise Martell, a former Playboy model from Los Angeles, who claimed to have had a three-day fling with Andrew in the course of which he allowed her to tuck him into bed wearing, somewhat confusingly, boxer shorts.
Other reported girlfriends have included PR girls Aurelia Cecil and Caroline Stanbury, and the businesswoman Amanda Staveley, whom he reportedly came close to marrying. In an interview with the Financial Times, Stavely refused to confirm or deny that she had “turned her back” on a marriage proposal, saying only that Andrew was a “very considerate boyfriend” and a “very special man.”
Prince Harry has similar problems, and, if he were wise, he would look on Andrew as Scrooge looked on the cautionary ghost of Christmas future.
For not so long ago, Prince Andrew occupied the role Harry has in the popular imagination right now; the mischief-making spare heir, the fun-loving party boy of the royal family, the heroic ex-serviceman.
The danger for Harry is that the narrative of his life now seems to be inexorably unfolding into a carbon copy of Andrew’s due to the same deadly combination; a lack of purpose and a surfeit of women and song.
Like Andrew, Harry has always struggled to truly find a purpose, and, like Andrew, one of the few times he really felt at home and in his element has been when he has been on active military service. Andrew fought bravely in the Falklands war and he was in the Royal Navy for 22 years.
In his recent interview with CNBC he told his interviewer, “It’s not particularly nice being shot at and I can attest to that and you just look at life in a subtly different way and you try and achieve more. I was very lucky to come back without having been shot down and it was just one of those occasions.”
Andrew said he felt, “completely invincible” afterwards but added, “I realize the error of my ways now and I think that’s more foolish.”
It’s hard now to remember the rapture with which Prince Andrew was greeted when he returned from the Falklands in August 1982. The Falklands war was, of course, a moment of national celebration in Britain, and arguably the last definitively clear-cut military victory in British history, so it was perhaps no surprise that Andrew was swept up on the tide of national pride and joy.
Prince Andrew greeted his mother, the Queen, on the quayside in the UK on his return from active service clasping a rose between his teeth. He then jumped into womanizing with gusto—his doomed relationship with Koo Stark was probably the most famous of his flings—a habit that has proved hard to give up.
Andrew’s experience of the military is very similar to Prince Harry’s. Friends of the Royals say that serving in Afghanistan, where Harry served two tours of duty, was a life-changing experience for him.
Despite his gung-ho interviews for the BBC, in which he foolishly compared flying an Apache helicopter to playing Xbox or PlayStation, and talked about killing Taliban with an unwise enthusiasm (and which he now bitterly regrets), friends say that Harry was genuinely changed and humbled by the experience.
His Apache regiment commanding officer recently told the Daily Mail, “He was happy and he could just get on with the job with no intrusion.”
However, off the record, military chiefs haven’t always been so happy with Harry, and the accusations of petulance—reminiscent of the complaints made about Andrew—have continued to surface. Rumors have circulated that Harry was only sent back to Afghanistan as a helicopter gunner after, “throwing his toys out of the pram,” and demanding to be allowed back on active service. A source told the Telegraph that his subsequent comments, and the way he derided the other squaddies at Helmand for, “gawping” at him, went down badly after all the effort that had been made.
“My choice would have been back out on the ground with my regiment,” he said in one interview, “For me it’s not that normal because I go into the cookhouse and everyone has a good old gawp, and that’s one thing that I dislike about being here.”
A senior army officer, told The Sunday Telegraph: “When Harry was hauled home from Afghanistan last time, he threw his toys out of the pram and more or less said that if couldn’t return to Helmand, he would leave the Army.
“No one wanted Harry to leave in a huff so, with his approval, a career path was mapped out which would allow him to return to Helmand. A lot of people worked with Harry in helping him get into the Army Air Corps, where he has proved a great success.
“Now he seems to be saying that he only became a pilot so he could return to Afghanistan. He should think a little bit less about himself and perhaps a bit more about those who have helped him. He needs to wise up and accept that he is not a soldier but an Army officer—he is not ‘one of the boys’ and never will be.”
Real life can be difficult for the best army men, and royals are no different. Without the mindless routines, remorseless drills and strict discipline, many vets struggle to readjust to the liberties of the civilian life.
So then, the question for Harry becomes, much as it was for Prince Andrew, can he find a role outside the barracks, in the public/private hinterlands that he now stalks?
He is certainly doing better than Andrew—who took on a nebulous role as an advocate for British business for which he earned the sobriquet ‘Airmiles Andy’—on this front. Harry’s desk job in London organizing ceremonial events for the Army may have been dismissed by wags as being ‘party planner in chief’ for the British military, and, while there is a grain of truth to the joke, it is only a grain.
His new role, particularly helping to organize the Invictus games, a Paralympics style event for wounded serviceman based on the American Warrior Games, is something that he is enormously proud of. Harry may want to be just an ordinary soldier but his curse is that his superiors will always want him more in a ceremonial than an active role. He is trying to make the best of it.
The point of departure between Harry and Prince Andrew, however, is alcohol.
Prince Andrew, whatever his other vices may be, does not drink. There’s an issue with alcohol in the Windsor family, not often spoken about, going back many generations. Princess Margaret—another Royal sibling who struggled with lack of purpose—was a habitual, heavy drinker.
The chef Gordon Ramsay once complained that on a visit to his award-winning restaurant, “She started with Scotch and went on drinking for three hours. The ashtray had to be changed every three minutes. I find it hard to believe that she could have tasted the pudding.”
She gave up drinking entirely in the last years of her life, after burning her feet while getting into a hot bath in Mustique while her senses were numbed, although it’s not clear if she ever received any specific treatment to help her do this.
Andrew’s abstemious nature—he takes water with his meals and one cup of coffee a day, after which its hot water with lemon zest and ginger—has probably been his saving grace.
Harry doesn’t share this monkish attitude with his uncle, and it’s always the booze that gets him into trouble.
This summer he made a bit of a fool of himself when he was photographed dancing with his shirt off at a music festival after one too many sherbets, and got stuck into a ‘12-hour drinking session’ according to one report.
Harry turns 30 on September 15th. His friends, family and advisers can only hope that the next decade of his life is somewhat more purpose-driven than the tumultuous one he leaves behind. And if not? Well, he could always ask Prince Andrew how things work out for the spare heir who loses his way.