This is what makes Harry ‘The People’s Prince’
As former royal editor of The Sun newspaper in London, Duncan Larcombe watched as Prince Harry went from a child touched by tragedy to a party boy in the tabloids to a hero for wounded veterans. Here, the author of “Prince Harry: The Inside Story,” explains how, ahead of Harry’s Saturday wedding to American actress Meghan Markle, Princess Diana’s second child became “The People’s Prince.”
Ever since 12-year-old Prince Harry walked behind his mother’s coffin in 1997, head bowed, the British public has been able to forgive him for just about anything.
The first time I noticed this was in January 2005, when he was 20 and I was the royal editor of The Sun in London. I took a call from a young guy who claimed to have pictures of Prince William at a party dressed in a gorilla suit. He wanted to sell them to The Sun, but when we met to look through the prints, there was no way of knowing whether or not it was William in the outfit.
The disappointed tipster then asked if we would be interested in a picture of his brother, Prince Harry. At that moment, he pulled out a single photograph showing the third-in-line to the British throne, dressed as a World War II Nazi soldier, complete with the hated swastika on his left arm.
To this day, I wonder whether Harry would have gotten away with his costume if William’s head had been popping out of that gorilla suit.
When we ran the exclusive of Harry the following day, it went round the world.
The prince issued an immediate apology and his entire team was braced for the fallout. In the Israeli parliament, the foreign minister lambasted the prince, while politicians back home in England questioned if he was a fit character to serve in the British army. The fury at first seemed to have damaged him forever.
The public reaction was far different. Our paper took calls from readers demanding we leave him alone, accusing us of picking on a prince who was simply young and naive.
That is not to say people weren’t horrified to see a member of the royals dressed as a Nazi. But there was a fondness for Harry that instinctively meant people leaped to his defense. In reality, it was a stupid mistake, not a statement intended to make light of the Holocaust.
If that sort of outfit had been worn by an aspiring politician, their career would have been in tatters, and rightly so. But it was clear Harry had the public support in a way that we simply don’t see with most celebrities.
To this day, it is one of the only stories Harry never makes light of and, apart from a fleeting reference and another apology during an interview to mark his 21st birthday, the scandal over the Nazi costume has been confined to the past.Reuters
And while Harry is truly apologetic for the slip-up, he also maintained his sense of humor about it. A few weeks after the Nazi story, I met Harry during a ski trip in Switzerland. He wasn’t bitter about the story and, in fact, he even jokingly took his revenge. At one point, he followed me into a nightclub restroom and took great delight in photographing me as I answered the call of nature. He fell about laughing as I jokingly branded him “paparazzi scum.” But his point was made — light-heartedly, Harry was signaling to me what it would be like to be him. That was a lesson I have never forgotten.
I have covered Prince Harry’s life since he was at school. I know him well and have a tremendous respect for the person I’ve seen him become — from a grief-stricken child, to rebellious and angry teenager, to the jewel in the crown of the British royal family.
After the queen, he is by far the most popular and loved member of his family. Over the years, Harry has been on front pages for the wrong reasons — punching a photographer, experimenting with drugs, visiting strip bars and even turning stripper himself in Las Vegas.
But with every gaffe, Harry’s popularity has grown. The more he messed up, the more the public felt he was one of us, the People’s Prince.
Think of Harry, and most people remember that grief-stricken little boy at his mother’s funeral. The agony of watching such a tragic spectacle cemented a sense of public fondness for Diana’s youngest son. Added to that, his natural cheekiness and magnificent gift with people mean Harry touches the public’s heart in a way the rest of the royals cannot.
In 2005, he started training to be an officer in the army. Images of Harry in his military fatigues while undertaking the grueling 44-week cadet course at Sandhurst Military Academy went round the world.
But soon after he celebrated completing the course with fellow cadets, he was embarrassed yet again by another Sun front page. Strippers had tipped us off about his unscheduled visit to a lap-dance club with friends. Once again, Harry had let his judgment slip.
I later found out that Harry hated going to the club and sat most of the time with his hands tucked under his legs. He didn’t pay for a private dance and blushed as the women on stage danced naked.
But the damage was done and the Party Prince headlines were back.
It’s true to say that Harry enjoys a drink just like so many of us. But he also has a deeper side. Quietly in the background, Harry would visit Africa and make a lifelong commitment to the forgotten generation of young AIDS orphans in Lesotho. And as an officer in the British army, he was desperate to serve his country in Iraq and Afghanistan as a “normal” committed soldier.
When news of his imminent deployment to Iraq leaked out, he was told it was too dangerous for him to fight, and he was forced to stay at home. Harry was furious and threatened to quit the army unless he could get to the front line. As we know, that led to a secret pact with the press and, in 2008, he fought the Taliban in the badlands of Afghanistan.
After 10 weeks, the media blackout was broken and he was immediately flown home. Once again, this was a heartbreak for Harry, having to leave his fellow soldiers to see out their tour of duty.
But it was on the flight home that Harry encountered two men who had been severely wounded in battle. When he faced the waiting press, who were hailing him a hero and “One of Our Boys,” Harry declared the real heroes to be the two wounded men returning to Britain with missing limbs and the mental scars of war.
This led to Harry’s lifelong commitment to veterans, a cause that spurred him to launch the Invictus Games for wounded allied troops to compete in sporting events. As a result, Harry is particularly cherished by our brave servicemen and women. He has shined a light on the need to give them support — not sympathy.
Yes, Harry dislikes the press, and for good and understandable reasons. But he is a realist and willingly engages in laughter and jokes, mostly at our expense.
Harry’s friends tell me his fiancée, Meghan Markle, has changed him in ways he so desperately needed. He is now more open about the loss of his mother and has spoken publicly about how bottling up his emotions for 20 years after her death led him to seek sessions with a shrink.
The young man who is about to marry so publicly is ready for the next stage of his life. Meghan may have learned the trade of being an actress, but she is now about to take on the biggest role of her life, at Harry’s side on the world stage.
Their main job will be to continue to engage and appeal to generations young and old so that when the queen dies or abdicates through ill health, Prince Charles will become a popular king.
The early signs are that the “Markle Sparkle” has breathed a new life into the royals. Her beaming smile and willingness to embrace royal life is proving popular in the UK and across The Pond.
Unlike Harry’s other girlfriends — of which there have been many — Meghan is famous in her own right. She is used to being photographed on the red carpet and is respected in Britain for the fact she is an independent success with a career she can be proud of.
No one cares that she is a divorcee, and while you will always get a small number of bigots who object to her mixed-race heritage, those voices are being drowned out by the majority of people who have already taken to Meghan.
On their wedding day, I think we can expect some surprises as this “modern couple” rip up the rule book on what we would usually expect from a royal wedding.
Harry has always enjoyed more freedom than his older brother, Prince William. With no burden of being a future king, Harry has been able to be himself and, in so doing, has found fans who would never normally consider themselves supporters of the royals.
And with Harry at her side, Meghan also will be embraced by the British public. She, too, will be viewed as part of a golden new double act taking the royal family into the 21st century.