Prince Harry has never made any secret of his dislike for the media. It boiled over early last year in interviews he gave towards the end of his posting to Afghanistan. What the papers wrote about him was “always rubbish,” he said, adding: “I don’t think there’s any such thing as a private life any more.” So Harry is probably gritting his teeth at the moment. As he turns 30 on 15 September we’re at it again, speculating about his life, private and public. What is to become of the prince who’s been called The Spare Apparent?
Harry was once asked if he had ever thought about his brother Prince William abdicating and admitted it was “a bit of a worry”. Since then, the birth of his nephew Prince George of Cambridge has relegated him from third to fourth in the line of succession to the throne and guaranteed that, barring an extra- ordinary set of circumstances, or appalling tragedy, he will remain in his “spare” part for the rest of his life.
Family history, however, does suggest that the spare should not rule out the unexpected. Harry’s great-grandfather Albert, Duke of York, became George VI on the abdication of his brother David, and back in the 18th century, William Henry, third son of George III, had little reason to suppose he would become King.
He joined the Royal Navy at 13 and was once arrested after a drunken brawl in Gibraltar. But his two older brothers predeceased him and he became King, as William IV, at 64. By that time William had fathered ten illegitimate chil- dren with the actress Dorothea Jordan.
Like William Henry, and more recently his uncle Prince Andrew, Prince Harry has turned to the military to bring purpose to his life. For those of us who follow Harry’s public appearances it’s clear that he’s most comfortable in the presence of service personnel.
My guess is that though he’s “flying” a desk as a staff officer in London rather than his preferred helicopter, he won’t be leaving the Army any time soon. At a First World War commemoration in Kent recently he’s reported to have said he wants to remain a soldier – “the best job in the world” – until retirement age.
Royal duties? Yes, plenty. The Queen was delighted at the way he represented her on a Diamond Jubilee tour of the Caribbean and he is enormously popular abroad, especially in America. Pictures of him naked in Las Vegas before his posting to Afghanistan seem only to have enhanced his reputation as one of the guys.
Harry, of course, felt his treatment by the disapproving British newspapers over Las Vegas was unfair, although he admitted his behaviour was “too much Army and not enough Prince”. Despite that, he seems to be mellowing and putting behind him a resentment caused by media treatment of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.
When he met war veterans at the anniversary of the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy this year he readily agreed to my interview request and even thanked me for being there. And at the presentation of Britain’s team for the Invictus Games he said that media support “really does make a difference”. It was a far cry from the Prince who, in the past, seemed determined to show the cameras his back, who snapped at journalists who found him unloading sandbags after the winter floods. Princess Margaret, younger sister and “spare” to the Queen, once remarked that as the sibling of a popular monarch she was “the focus of the most creative malice, the evil sister”. Harry attracts little malice, but remains the source of endless fascination, not least about his private life.
On that score, I’ll respect what I’m sure would be his birthday wish: spare me the speculation.
Harry at 30 is on ITV tonight at 8.00pm