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Miscellaneous: 1 Mar 2008
Prince Harry: Sacrifice for Queen and country
Even those of us who hold rather mixed views about monarchy in general and Prince Harry in particular watched Cornet Wales's television interview from Afghanistan on Thursday evening slack-jawed.
|Prince Harry has acknowledged that his time in Afghanistan will make him a target for terrorists in the UK.|
Prince Harry has acknowledged that his time in Afghanistan will make him a target for terrorists in the UK.
He chatted about his "Dad", letters from brother William and about his proud mother "looking down, having a giggle about the stupid things I've been doing, like going left when I should have gone right".
True, the interviewer referred to the Queen as "grandma" and the young officer then pointedly called her "my grandmother", but a young Prince Edward would have called mama "Her Majesty" and probably genuflected, too.
Prince Harry managed to convey affection and respect for the Queen's position, and her judgment, without sounding fawning.
"Her knowledge of the army is amazing for a grandmother," he said, before adding, "I suppose it's slightly her job."
His inarticulacy was rather endearing – he seemed like any twenty-something bloke.
At the same time, he was hugely conscious of what he was saying and how it might reflect on his family, commanding officers and fellow soldiers. Yet all of this came across as more than spin.
A young man who cheerfully sits in a building riddled with mortar holes tends to tell it straight, and he did.
Here was the nightclub habitué talking about being a "bullet magnet" rather than a babe magnet and acknowledging that his time in Afghanistan would make him a target for terrorists in the UK.
"Now that you come to think about it, it's quite worrying," he said ruefully.
All in all, it was a triumph, even if those who are predicting that this celebratory wall-to-wall coverage of the 23-year-old Household Cavalry officer and his frontline exploits will result in queues at recruitment halls exaggerate the stardust a royal can sprinkle these days.
If some spoilt celebrity such as Lewis Hamilton or Wayne Rooney signed up, then maybe; but not a Windsor.
None of this, though, takes anything from Prince Harry's professional dedication and uncomplaining demeanour.
For years, those of us who write about the Firm have been told quietly that in private, Harry is hugely engaging, with enough of Diana's magic touch to be potentially one of the Royal Family's greatest assets.
This week, for the first time, we saw that for ourselves, and in the Prince's eye it was possible to detect a flicker of the man he might become.
The little boy who broke female hearts when he walked behind his mother's coffin has, for so many years, been without a role or purpose.
He had a less than starry school career at Eton (a D in his Geography A-level and allegations of cheating in Art); there was also a skirmish with drugs, drunken antics outside nightclubs and bar bills that regularly ran into thousands of pounds.
Sandhurst seems to have suited him – his passion for soldiering was evident from childhood – but then he was denied the chance to go with his men to Iraq last year. His bitter disappointment was common knowledge.
When the Luftwaffe bombed Buckingham Palace, Prince Harry's great grandmother, the late Queen Elizabeth, announced that she could now look the East End in the eye.
Now, after 10 weeks in Afghanistan, Harry can look any other serving soldier in the eye.
For a prince whose life has necessarily been about status, he seems to have found himself while disguised as a nobody, denied a shower for four days at a time; or rather, as a courageous, unshaven young guy, known to the pilots he would call in to attack enemy positions as "Widow Six Seven".
He has seen what his peers have seen, shared the freezing cold nights, boiling days, bland rations – and the fear. And what was evident from the television interviews was that he relished every moment.
His comment about army life – it "could be the best thing in the world and the best job you could ever, ever wish for. It has got so much to offer."– was totally believable.
Yet just as Prince Harry's reputation soars to uncharted heights, he must be contemplating a hard choice: what next?
Army sources indicate that the top brass are unlikely to send him into the front line again. The feeling is that he got away with it this time, but a return match might tempt fate.
So will this be viewed as his high water mark, akin to the Duke of York returning from the Falklands with a red rose between his teeth watched by an adoring nation, only to retire to the golf course and a lifetime of ridicule as "Air Miles Andy"? Or will Harry find some new mission, perhaps away from the Armed Forces?
He is not overly qualified for civvy street, nor does he have the mentality to embrace that kind of life.
The slogan on the baseball cap he was seen wearing out in Taliban country encapsulated a straightforward approach to work, and to life: "We do bad things to bad people."
Yet the third in line to the throne possesses a rare ability to relate to ordinary people that is not always obvious in his father or his uncles. This could make him a powerful force for good, perhaps as a charity campaigner, like his late mother, and as an ambassador for his country.
More easily still, he could slip back into a life of frivolity with his very blonde girlfriend, Chelsy.
Undoubtedly, there will be more pictures of a hammered Harry tottering out of Mahiki or Boujis and scuffling with the paparazzi.
Such coverage would be problematic, but some might also be uneasy about the recent media adulation – among them the families of those who will not be coming back from Afghanistan.
For those coping with loss, there is little media attention, and few mentions of the hell that is Helmund province. All most families have to cradle is a body bag, cold-shouldered by an indifferent nation.
I've met those who have served in Afghanistan and families who have lost men there, and though their strength is profoundly humbling, it does upset them that the nation that some accuse of having sleepwalked into war is sleepwalking through it, as well.
A photograph was recently published of a parade of soldiers returned from Afghanistan, showing citizens walking by, quite indifferent.
When I wrote that this was shaming, several soldiers contacted me: "At last someone is saying this. Why are the public so heartless?"
We might not agree with the mission in Afghanistan, but it is not about to end any time soon.
If coverage of Prince Harry's involvement has shaken the nation out of if its bored indifference towards it, then he will have served his country with greater distinction than he is ever likely to realise.
He did his duty in the ground war, but his real contribution could prove to be in the media war, confronting us in our living rooms about the sacrifices being made for Queen and country.
Jasper Gerard, The Telegraph (UK)
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