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Harry soldiers on fighting playboy prince tag

18 april 2011, 15:07
Photo courtesy of mirror.co.uk
Photo courtesy of mirror.co.uk
Prince Harry has worked hard to shake off his wildchild image -- and his newfound maturity will be tested to the limit when he acts as best man at his brother Prince William's wedding, AFP reports.

After highly-publicised indiscretions, William's younger brother now takes his responsibilities seriously and became the first royal in more than 25 years to serve in a war zone.

Third in line to the throne, 26-year-old Harry has a difficult path to tread.

Though William is on course to become king one day, Prince Charles' second son has his every move scrutinised nonetheless -- and Harry has erred spectacularly.

At the age of 17 he admitted having smoked cannabis and was soon a regular fixture at London nightclubs, with alcohol, cigarettes, aristocratic beauties and a scuffle outside with paparazzi the common tale.

His mischievous antics were viewed largely with amused affection until he went to a fancy dress party in 2005 wearing a mock Nazi uniform, triggering horrified front-page headlines worldwide.

That incident threatened to stop his entry into the army but he knuckled down to his military duties and served as a front-line officer in Afghanistan for 10 weeks until a media blackout was broken in 2008.

Serving in Afghanistan revitalised his reputation, but the following year he was dragged back down when a video he made in 2006 emerged, showed him using the derogatory term "Paki" about a fellow soldier.

Since then, the prince has immersed himself in military and charity work, gradually improving his profile, and this month he was promoted to the rank of captain after completing five years' service.

"Harry has changed public perceptions of himself," said Richard Palmer, the Daily Express newspaper's royal reporter.

"He was a bit of a wildchild when he was younger. Like a lot of young people, he regularly let off steam getting hammered in nightclubs," he told AFP.

"But although he still likes a drink and a smoke, he seems to have become so much more mature.

"People who work for him credit the army for that."

Katie Nicholl, author of a book on William and Kate, "The Making of a Royal Romance", said going to Afghanistan made the public take Harry far more seriously.

"He earned a huge amount of respect for doing that," Nicholl, The Mail on Sunday newspaper's royal correspondent, told AFP.

"It really was a turning point in his military career and in his life also. Harry really has grown up. You don't see him falling out of nightclubs and disgracing himself."

There was never malice in his youthful misadventures, said Nicholl.

"I don't think Harry ever set out to cause deliberate offence," she said.

"It was naivety and bad judgement. You just have to wonder why William or someone didn't just pull him to one side."

William's stag do could have proved a disaster for Harry as its organiser, laden with opportunities to lapse into old ways.

But he outfoxed the press by holding it on a private estate.

Harry's best chance of getting a proper stint back on the front line is in a helicopter, so he began retraining in early 2009 and qualified last month to fly the Apache attack helicopter, a job which just two percent of trainee pilots can do.

"There's no other reason for training to be an Apache pilot other than to serve in Afghanistan. It would be a scandal and a waste of public money if he doesn't go," Palmer said.

Duncan Larcombe, The Sun newspaper's royal editor, said it should be seen as Harry's greatest achievement.

"He is not academic, flopped at school and never made it to university like his brother," he wrote.

Getting the Apache badge is "not bad for a lad famous for partying and getting in drunken scrapes.

"Harry has silenced his critics, proved himself as an exceptional pilot -- and now deserves a chance to return to Afghanistan."

Nicholl said Harry has "turned a corner" in the public's eyes.

"He's proved there's much more to him than just being a hooray Henry and the military career is probably the best thing he's ever done," she said.

The royal wedding has triggered speculation as to whether Harry will propose to Chelsy Davy, the daughter of a Zimbabwe safari operator and his on-off girlfriend since 2004.

However, royal watchers think it unlikely.

"The gossip you hear is that she just wouldn't relish that life. Everything points to her wanting a career as a lawyer," Palmer said.

Nicholl added: "These two are so tempestuous you can't predict that they'll be together several years down the line.

"I don't think Harry's in any hurry."

By Robin Millard

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