At the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, the audience in Olympic Stadium was called to stand for the arrival of Prince Henry of Wales, representing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Harry’s central role in the Closing Ceremonies marked the apogee of an extraordinary year for Queen’s grandson that saw him assume the duties of a senior member of the royal family.
In March, 2012, Harry completed a successful tour of Belize, the Bahamas and Jamaica on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, in honour of the Diamond Jubilee. The Prince infused the well known format of the royal tour and walkabout with his own personal style, joining the dancing during street parties, and racing Olympic champion Usain Bolt. In Jamaica, the Prince diffused what might have been a tense diplomatic situation by embracing Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, who had previously expressed support for the appointment of a Jamaican born Head of State.
Following the Jubilee tour of the Caribbean, Harry visited Brazil as an ambassador for British trade and the London Olympics, promoting youth athletics and discussing the transition from the 2012 to 2016 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro. Once again, Harry succeeded within a complicated diplomatic climate as South American attitudes toward the United Kingdom are coloured by Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands.
In May, Prince Harry traveled to Washington D.C. to receive the 2012 Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership Award from the Atlantic Council, on behalf of himself and his brother, Prince William for their patronage of charities that assist injured members of the British and American armed forces. This award drew worldwide public attention to Harry’s charity work including his patronage of the Walking With The Wounded, and support for The Soldiers’ Charity and Help For Heroes.
The Prince returned to the United Kingdom to celebrate his grandmother’s Diamond Jubilee then threw himself into the role of Olympic Ambassador during the London Games, which culminated in his central role at the Closing Ceremonies. If 2011 was the year of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with their magnificent wedding and successful tour of Canada, 2012 has been the year Prince Harry assumed the profile and duties of a senior member of the royal family.
The public approval that Harry currently enjoys because of his success representing Queen Elizabeth II and philanthropic work contrasts with his past reputation as a “party prince” with poor judgement. Although Harry received widespread public sympathy when his mother, Princess Diana, died when he was only twelve years old, he attracted criticism in his late teens and early twenties.
Harry engaged in charity work in Lesotho during his gap year visit to Africa but the press focused on his altercations with photographers outside nightclubs and his poor choice of fancy dress costume. Carol Sarler, a Daily Express columnist, wrote in 2004 that Prince Harry was a “horrible young man” and a “national disgrace” in column that received a personal rebuttal from the Prince of Wales. Prince Harry’s diplomatic and philanthropic work in 2012 demonstrates that he has learned from his past lapses in judgment and is eager to take his place as a prominent working member of the royal family.
Harry’s evolution from Party Prince to the Queen’s representative is important to the future of the royal family because he is currently a direct heir to the throne. The intense speculation about when (not if) the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will have children ignores the numerous historical precedents for second sons and their children ultimately becoming monarchs. King Henry VIII, King Charles I, King George V and King George VI were all originally second sons of reigning monarchs or their heirs.
The eight years of childlessness experienced by Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako of Japan before the 2001 birth of their only child, Princess Aiko, demonstrates that even in the 21st century, royal succession can be unpredictable. Aiko is not eligible to become Empress under the current Japanese law of succession, which is restricted to male dynasts. While the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are childless, Prince Harry should be viewed as a potential successor to the thrones of the United Kingdom and the other fifteen commonwealth nations.
In the event that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have children of their own, Prince Harry’s abilities as a diplomat and philanthropist will still be essential to the success of the monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II’s cousins, the Duke of Kent and Gloucester and Princess Alexandra perform an extensive program of royal duties but it is unlikely that the younger generation of the royal extended family will have the same public profile. In a smaller working royal family, Harry will be expected to assume a wide range of royal tours and charitable patronages.
Prince Harry’s successes in 2012 as the Queen’s representative and a respected philanthropist will be of lasting benefit to the monarchy. In the event that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge do not have children of their own, Harry’s increased profile as a working member of the royalty will reassure the public that he will be a successful future monarch. If the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge continue the direct royal line, Harry’s activities will support subsequent monarchs within a streamlined working royal family.