PATRIOTIC, ebullient, confident and most definitely unstuffy, was ever a modern Royal more designed to impress America than Prince Harry? His official solo trip across the Atlantic marks a turning point, not only in how we regard our “clown prince”, but how the rest of the world sees him too. As Americans never tire of telling us, what they think today influences what everyone else thinks tomorrow. And a foreign tour which takes in the White House, Arlington military cemetery, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and touring Manhattan on a double decker bus with David Cameron is not just any foreign tour. This one will go down in history.
Let’s be honest. Harry has had it pretty easy up to now. There have been far fewer expectations placed upon him than on his older brother, who knows what his role as heir to the heir to the throne entails, and generally behaves impeccably under its demands. For Harry though, it has been difficult to establish exactly what he is “for”. Left to his own 28-year-old devices and without the stern eye of his grandmother watching him, he would no doubt live like any other young bachelor of certain means; relishing his macho Army job, holidaying at every opportunity and partying hard.
There must be times when he wishes that this could be so, and none more so than the last time he was in the States. No wonder this latest trip has been dubbed “the Rehab Tour” by American wags. Can it really only be eight months since the Queen’s grandson was caught naked on camera in a Las Vegas hotel room playing strip billiards with a bevy of girls?
Whether you’re a fan of the Royals or not, you’ve got to argue that what Prince Harry has pulled off this week, from touching Michelle Obama with his comments on motherhood to winning a stuffed elephant for a little girl at a funfair on the Hurricane Sandy-ravaged Jersey shore, represents an achievement.
We can only speculate at the reasons why he was in America at the same time as the Prime Minister, but comparisons between the impressions made by these two old Etonians require no underlining from me.
You may argue that Cameron was there to work, to meet not only with President Obama to discuss international affairs and Europe, but also to promote Britain and British trade. You may then ask what Prince Harry was actually there to do, except to promote himself? And to an extent, that is true. The key to pulling off successful Royal image-building, as his eccentric father knows only too well, is to paper over previous embarrassments and faux pas with enough positive stuff to make people either forget or disregard what has gone before.
So into the past go stories of Harry wearing a Nazi armband for a party and swallowing a live goldfish for a dare, to the forefront comes the photograph he posed for with the family of red-headed cousins who had lost their vacation home to the hurricane. Whether devised by accident or design, that’s the kind of democratic thing they like in America.
In this, Harry is his mother’s son, aristocratic by birth, instinctive by nature. Like his mother, he can’t help but be himself, and with that come those flashes of weakness and vulnerability which underpin his appeal.
Nothing moves fast in the House of Windsor, but it is clear that a shift is occurring; the Queen, now 87, is scaling back her commitments abroad. While the chances of HRH abdicating are understood to be extremely slim, it is becoming apparent that the rest of the family must now step up to the plate.
As more responsibilities fall to the Prince of Wales, it stands to reason that his own sons have to help out too.
If ever there was a time to remind the younger Royals that they are members of a family firm with an international reputation to maintain, this is it. He might have always been the fancy-free younger son, but Prince Harry is being made to realise that his particular brand of public appeal could make him one of the firm’s greatest exports.
In this, his trip to America has been a clear indicator of his potential. Not only did he raise the spirits of wounded soldiers at the Warrior Games and the victims of Hurricane Sandy, but most importantly of all, Prince Harry has raised his own game too.