Pictures of Prince Harry stumbling around after his first demob weekend in months summed up one half of the myth that is the 3rd in line to the throne. So the documentary 'Prince Harry: Frontline Afghanistan' was a timely reminder of the counterpart ingredients that make him so fascinating to the baying media he evidently despises.
Two things became very clear from the BBC3 hour on Harry’s life for the last four and a half months, serving as a co-pilot gunner on the Afghanistan frontline.
Prince Harry has been serving on the front line in Afghanistan for four and a half months
The royal press machine has always stuck valiantly to the script that William and Harry are just two normal young men juggling modern careers with the expectations of their ancient bloodline. Well, Harry may not be ‘normal’ when he’s touring the Caribbean for his grandmother, or falling out of a nightclub and straight into a waiting car, but here he clearly was. His bed was a tiny bunk, his home a sandy tent thousands of miles away from home, his duties included being ‘the brew bitch’ – taking his turn at the tea urn for his fellow soldiers – and making the best of a boring day like EVERY other twenty-something on a Sunday, ie computer games and rude words.
The other aspect of note was his undisputed excellence at his job. Those same St James’s apparatchiks can control many a public message - has anyone ever seen the Duchess of Cornwall with a cigarette? - but even they can't get hard military men to wax lyrical on demand about the worthiness of a comrade. Nor can just anybody pick up the keys to a £45m Apache chopper. It's clear Harry is the real deal.
Prince Harry stresses he works just like any other soldier
However, just because he's good at it and he loves it, doesn't necessarily mean he should do it. This programme did little to settle the controversies around high-profile senior royals serving in war zones… the amount of money that goes into training an officer who then has to keep being left behind for security reasons, the value of Harry as a target endangering himself and those around him, the endless hours senior brass have spent hammering out this compromise which means he gets to serve but from the relative safety of the air, and the deeper question of how fitting it is, in this day and age, that one of our most famous faces on show to the world is effectively an ambassador for warfare.
Harry talks in terms of serving his country, but is also matter of fact about the killing it requires, "If there's people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we'll take them out of the game, I suppose," he was quoted as saying last week. The ‘I suppose’ is worrying.
Richard Bacon was too busy wobbling his bottom lip in reverence to delve too deeply into all of this, and he seemed caught up instead by the wave of glamour that inevitably pervades a good-looking royal staying off the polo field and out of Bouji's long enough to "look after the men down there". Somebody as Labrador-enthusiastic as poor Bacon didn't have a hope of maintaining a detached journalist's perspective.
When Harry’s interview slamming the media had to be curtailed abruptly because he was called to serve – literally yanking his microphone off in his chair to run to his Apache while the cameras rolled – well, you couldn’t make it up. The only thing needed to complete the image is some evidence of a big night out to celebrate his return to London, that he plays as hard as he fights... and he delivers.
It's royal prince meets Jilly Cooper polo hero meets Top Gun. Prince Harry’s father may wish him to behave “more like a royal” but he’d be a fool to follow that advice. Not when there's a myth in the making…