Prince Harry may be a captain, but he is no marvel …Prince’s derring-do is PR gold for the British army, but it also shows why he is self-confessedly not cut out to be a prince
The MoD is hard put to conceal its delight each time it deploys its chief asset to its forward operating base in Afghanistan. Prince Harry, or simply Captain Wales, is gold dust in PR terms. Which other captain in which other army could generate so many thousands of words of copy, before stimulating further comment around the world? The tradeoff works both ways. Which other member of the royal family has the prince’s ability to connect with the nation? Army, monarchy, country – it’s all burnished on the badge that this royal has pinned to his flying helmet «Go Ugly Early». Crass populism? Maybe. And to release this just before you announce 5,300 army job cuts? It works every time.
Or does it? The most revealing words were the ones the prince devoted to himself. It’s obvious which of three «me»s this 28-year-old would rather be – the army one. It’s equally obvious which one he least wants to be – the prince. He thinks the latter is the antithesis of the former. He says, in terms, he feels too much of a soldier to be a good prince. There may be much truth in this. To suggest, as he does, that the military and the monarchy are not a match made in heaven seems to run counter to all our collective mythology as a warrior nation. While the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales and Duke of York have all served, no future monarch has seen active wartime military service since Prince Albert.
In reality the two institutions have always kept each other at several arms’ length and the relationship between them is really only ceremonial. Armies need figureheads as much as they do leaders, and the crown is as potent a national symbol as any. It’s equally obvious that the Taliban, to which this British soldier has given scant thought (he is the foreigner in their land), are not his main enemies. He thinks the media are. If the only way the prince can escape their all-invasive presence and dissolve into normal life is by living as a soldier in a desert camp in Afghanistan, it’s pretty clear that Harry will have real problems just being a royal. Membership of The Firm is for life. Even if he wanted to, he could not really resign.
This prince is not the first to realise that he is unsuited to a role to which he was born. One can sympathise with the man who boils every time he reads the byzantine confections written about him. Who he is and how he is portrayed may indeed be two different things. It’s still in his power to change that. As a royal, he could continue his military involvement by campaigning for the cause of injured servicemen, by doing something real for lives which are permanently disfigured by war and which the MoD all too glibly discard. That would be a life’s work. Flashman princes dicing with death are the stuff of comics.