At the age of only twenty-eight, Prince Henry “Harry” of Wales, the younger son of the Prince of Wales and the late Diana, Princess of Wales has experienced a remarkable series of transformations in the popular imagination. At the age of twelve, he was the focus of public sympathy along his elder brother William as the two Princes walked behind their mother’s coffin to her funeral at Westminster Abbey. By the time he reached his gap year between Eton and Sandhurst, however, Harry was chastised in the press for his poor judgement compared to his seemingly more responsible brother. From his experimentation with marijuana to his inappropriate choice of Hallowe’en costume, Harry seemed to be a “party prince” alone without understanding of his responsibilities as a member of the royal family.
Harry’s reputation changed once more in recent years when he completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan and represented the queen on a highly successful trip to Belize, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Brazil. The Prince also served as an Olympic ambassador, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh by promoting youth athletics. As Harry undertook royal duties, charitable work and active military service, even his “party prince” moments, such as his notorious game of strip billiards in Las Vegas, were treated indulgently by the public. In Harry: The People’s Prince, Chris Hutchins, author of Diana’s Nightmare – The Family and Fergie Confidential explains how the military was making of Harry, transforming him from Party Prince to People’s Prince.
The sections of Harry: The People’s Prince concerning Harry’s military service are the strongest chapters of the book. Hutchins combines the Prince’s extensive and occasionally controversial interviews about Afghanistan with quotes from his fellow soldiers and royal observers, giving a sense of Harry’s commitment to his military duties and daily life during his tours of duty. Hutchins also discusses Harry’s relationship with Chelsy Davy in more detail than previous works, revealing the full extent of her influence over key years in Harry’s life. Chelsy even edited Harry’s best man speech at Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton in 2011, removing jokes that might offend the Queen.
Unfortunately, these informative, interesting chapters do not appear until the second half of the book. In the same manner as Penny Junor in her recent biography of Prince William, Hutchins devotes far too much space to the breakdown of the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales. These marital difficulties have been analyzed extensively in other works and Hutchins contributes little to the reader’s understanding of his subject by reexamining them in minute detail in Harry: The People’s Prince.
Hutchins also omits vital historical context that is essential to understanding Harry’s military service and place in the royal family. The author focuses on the Prince’s admiration for military figures that he encountered during his childhood, such as Diana’s lover, James Hewitt (who was certainly not Harry’s father), with only passing mentions of Harry’s interest in “Granny’s soldiers.” The centuries old tradition of military service in the royal family would have as much if not more influence on Harry’s decision to attend Sandhurst than his childhood role models.
British monarchs led troops into battle until the mid eighteenth century and military service has long been accepted avenue for channeling the energies of a “party prince.” Readers of Harry: The People’s Prince should also read a work about royalty at war, such as Charles Carlton’s Royal Warriors: A Military History of the British Monarchy, to get a better sense of Harry’s place in the long tradition of royalty in the military.
The conclusion to Harry: The People’s Prince also displays an absence of historical context. Hutchins argues that the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child in July, 2013 will allow Harry the freedom to move to Africa, devote his energies to his Lesotho charity, Sentebale, and possibly rekindle his relationship with Chelsy Davy. The arrival of a niece or nephew certainly reduces the chances that Harry will one day become King, in the manner of other famous royal second sons such as Henry VIII, Charles I, George V or George VI.
The experiences of other younger royal children in recent decades, however, demonstrates that a lower place in line of succession does not result in freedom from royal duty. Princess Margaret faced pressure to end her relationship with the divorced Peter Townsend even after the births of her nephew and niece, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. All four of Queen Elizabeth II’s children perform extensive royal engagements both within the United Kingdom and throughout the commonwealth.
Harry’s very popularity may preclude a life of comparative obscurity abroad. Queen Elizabeth II, the Prince of Wales and Prince William will need “The People’s Prince” to continue his rapport with the public throughout all sixteen commonwealth realms. Harry: The People’s Prince is an interesting biography of a popular prince that would be improved by greater historical context for his military exploits and future, and less attention to the well known story of the Prince and Princess of Wales’ divorce.