Stephen McGinty: Harry’s livin’ devil may care
The prince’s latest highly-publicised episode in Las Vegas shouldn’t really surprise us as he’s living the playboy role when he can – but the call of duty is never that far away, writes Stephen McGinty
PRINCE Harry and I have little in common but we have both been fleeced at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. He, in his high-roller penthouse apartment by a foxy minx who appears to have snapped him naked in the perfectly respectable pursuit of strip pool – it is, after all, Sin City – and me at the poker tables by an 86-year-old emphysema sufferer whose wheelchair was equipped with two large oxygen tanks but whose hands were filled with a steady supply of Marlboro and aces.
It cost me $120 but the price paid by the spare to the heir to the throne of Great Britain would appear to be a little higher.
The fact is that by inviting a group of young women to go and party with him in a private suite of the luxury Las Vegas hotel, Prince Harry of Wales was simply carrying on the long tradition of the playboy prince, an important historical role handed down, like a battered black book containing the numbers of all the most eligible ladies in Belgravia, from one generation of royals to the next.
Let us take Harry’s ancestor, Albert Edward, son of Queen Victoria and the future Edward VII, who had he placed a single notch on his bedpost for each conquest, it would have been whittled to kindling.
While the newspapers of the day would never dream of reporting such behaviour, one edition, or so it is said, did carry the single line: “There is nothing whatever between the Prince of Wales and Lillie Langtry”.
The next day, in exactly the same spot, appeared the line: “Not even a sheet.”
Then there is Harry’s great grand uncle, Edward, the Duke of Windsor, whose affairs with married women culminated with his obsession with Wallis Simpson for whom he abandoned the throne.
Even his own father, Prince Charles was encouraged by his mentor, the late Lord Mountbatten, to go abroad to sow his wild oats before settling down with the virginal Diana, and then let’s not forget Harry’s uncle, “Randy Andy”.
So, if we accept the historical precedent for such behaviour among male members of the Royal Family, the next question is what, exactly, did Prince Harry do wrong?
Let us rewind and examine the evidence piece by piece. He is an extremely wealthy young man who is set to inherit a further £10 million from his mother’s estate when, in two years, he reaches the age of 30.
He went on holiday with friends to Las Vegas, a popular spot with the young British tourist intent on hi-jinks and due to his global celebrity found himself surrounded by attractive young women looking for fun.
Now, if he was married, he would be guilty of shaming his wife. If he was in a long-term relationship, he would be viewed as a cad, as are many men who hope that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Yet the fact remains that he is an exceedingly rich, single young man who flies military helicopters for a living.
Is anyone remotely surprised that in his time off he gets drunk and frolics with young women? No.
So, once again, what did he do wrong? Well, there is an argument to be made that if the main reason for your celebrity and wealth is that you are a member of the Royal Family whose sole role is to represent the United Kingdom then you have a particular marque to manage, an image that should be protected at all costs.
For example, if you are a member of the Royal Family of Great Britain it is not a good idea to be caught on video referring to a fellow soldier as a “paki”. It is also inappropriate to dress as a Nazi.
A painful lesson was learned by Harry on this very point a few years ago. But on that occasion he chose to attend a public fancy dress party in just such an outfit.
Now, granted, in this latest case he did choose to plunge headfirst into a game of strip pool, (in fact, according to newspaper reports while the game was suggested by another guest, Harry’s response was: “let’s f***ing do it”) but the difference is he was in his own room and should have expected a degree of privacy, yes?
Well, if you open your private suite to a party with a bunch of strangers, no matter how fit and scantily dressed, how much privacy can you genuinely expect in this modern age?
A member of the public who went to Vegas, got drunk and woke up to find naked pictures of himself on someone else’s Facebook page would probably take it on the chin.
What he appears to have done wrong is not a matter of behaviour, for, as we have established, his behaviour is perfectly within his character, a character that many people in Britain appear to like, the less serious cheeky chappie, but a clear breach of public relations.
If he wants to have a strip pool party, he is perfectly entitled to have a strip pool party, but, it can be argued, it is his responsibility to ensure that he partakes of a strip pool party in such company as will keep what exactly he does with his cue and balls secret.
I admit to being torn about the role of his two armed close protection officers from the Metropolitan Police. Many are insisting that they should have ensured that all camera phones were collected before the party started but this is to cast them in the role of a “Tanya”, a Sloane-y blonde PR executive and not a highly trained officer expected to throw themselves in the path of a bullet or blow the head off an al-Qaeda assassin.
Then again, on what many people, including their colleagues in close protection who spend days trudging around behind Camilla and Charles on royal visits to Gwent, would consider a fabulous jolly, perhaps that is exactly what they should be doing while waiting for any future attack.
According to one of the partygoers, the pair made only cursory attempts to stop pictures being taken telling revellers “Awww, come on… no photos”.
But as Bernard Hogan-Howe, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said yesterday: “Royal protection officers are there to protect him for security reasons, they are not there to regulate his life.”
The next question we come to is whether or not the Sun was correct to print the pictures of Harry, or should it have instead abided by the Press Complaints Commission and its ruling that an individual in a private residence has a reasonable expectation of privacy?
It is certainly a difficult issue and, in a strange paradox, the Sun was perhaps the only paper capable of disagreeing with the PCC. The Murdoch press is now so mired in the sleaze and phone-hacking scandal of its sister paper, the News of the World, that it no longer has anything left to lose and so can act in such a contrary manner.
My concern is that we cannot return to the 1930s when the rest of the world, particularly American and European newspapers, was reporting on Simpson’s affair with the heir to the throne while the British public were kept in the dark.
Defenders of the decision not to print the picture can argue that we are not in this position because the story is being reported, but then why, if it is a story that most directly affects the British public on the grounds that Harry is expected to represent us, are we the only nation not showing the pictures that, critics claim illustrates that he is a disgrace?
On what other story would the media rely on the British public to go off and check out foreign news media in a bid to get, if you will pardon the pun, the whole picture?
So what next? The British public will, I believe, shrug its shoulders and agree that “boys will be boys” and think no more or no less of Harry.
It will have done nothing to endear him to republicans but nor will it have dented the ardour of his most loyal fans.
For what the public dislikes most is hypocrisy: those who act one way in public and another in private and if Harry’s actions have demonstrated anything it is not hypocrisy but the consistency of the playboy prince.
Meanwhile, Clarence House will wring its hands and hold meetings about what to do about his image: do nothing, let him sheepishly joke it off during the next round of hand-shaking.
For the real answer to the trouble with Harry is to despatch him from one desert to another, from the baking heat of Nevada and the neon lights of Las Vegas, to the baking heat of Helmand and the dim lights of Camp Bastion.
He earned the respect of many by serving his country on the front line and, maybe this time, he will return older, wiser and, (as I now am about wheezing pensioners with high hands) more cautious about the explosive dangers of nude cue games and camera phones.
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