Wild about Harry

Prince Harry of Wales will be playing at the Greenwich Polo Club May 15 – the culmination of a week of sporting and charitable events across the colonies – and already the press is ramping things up.

“No naked billiards in Sin City for Prince Harry this time,” the Daily News declared in its March 26 roundup of the princely doings.

Ah yes, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas – unless you’re Prince Harry. Then every little naked romp with today’s fetching female is documented and dissected. Of course, it doesn’t help that Harry’s faux pas tend to be considerably larger than having a wad of chewing gum stuck to your shoe.

We know Prince Harry, don’t we? “The spare,” as the press labeled him – somewhat unkindly – before he was even born. “The naughty one,” as he was described by the woman who loved and knew him best – his late, lamented mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.

He has certainly done his best to live up to that reputation. There’ve been the youthful indiscretions – the drinking, the pot-smoking, the skirt-chasing – and those actions that are so wrong-headed as to defy youthful indiscretion, like wearing a Nazi uniform to a 2005 costume party. (“Royal Nazi: Prince Harry in swastika shock,” the saintly New York Post screamed.) It was particularly mystifying when you consider how much his own people – even his own family – endured at the hands of Hitler.

“It was a poor choice of costume, and I apologize,” he said.

One thing about Harry: He’s always contrite.

After playing strip billiards in Vegas, he acknowledged: “I’ve let my family down.” To say nothing of his pants.

But here’s the thing, too: As many times as Harry has apologized that’s as many times as his family and public have forgiven him. For there’s something about Harry, isn’t there? The classic baby bro, a chunk of charm and a ton of trouble, the mischievous Hermes to big brother William’s self-possessed Apollo.

It couldn’t have been easy, could it? The adored parents always at loggerheads, the family battleground spilling across the pages of the tabloids. The protective older brother – as much a best friend as a sibling – yet still the more favored, particularly now that he’s met his match in the winning Catherine. (If only Harry would take up with her kid sis Pippa. There’s a fun pair for you.)

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? We see Harry in memory still – a ginger-haired little boy hurling himself into his beloved mother’s arms, then walking bravely in her funeral cortege, his head down, his fists clenched so tightly, biographer Christopher Andersen wrote, that his palms bled where his nails dug into them.

That’s Harry, too – the airman who served three tours in Afghanistan, the everyday bloke who’s as comfortable with elderly relatives as he is with the homeless, the sporting philanthropist who understands that there’s no point in talking the talk unless you’re prepared to walk the walk.

In Greenwich, he’ll be playing for something called the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup, named for the charity he founded with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho to help children there who face the challenges of poverty and HIV/AIDS. Sentebale means “forget me not.” Prince Harry hasn’t. To see him cuddling these children is to see the spirit of his mother shine through him.

We are strangely marvelous creatures, aren’t we? Our qualities are neither good nor bad but context makes them so. The very passion, risk-taking, wild-heartedness – but heartedness nonetheless – that drives Harry to dally with the ladies or race Ryan Lochte in a pool is the same lust for life that spurs him to lay it all on the line on the dusty plains of Africa and Afghanistan.

For those of us who were the Prince Williams in our families – with fond memories of the Prince Harrys in our own lives – Diana’s “naughty one” is like a Mediterranean vacation, albeit with a hefty bar tab.

As for those who think otherwise, Prince Harry isn’t the first man about town who might finish in a more serious place than where he started. (Sts. Augustine and Francis of Assisi, anyone?)

Once upon a time, there was another Prince Harry – goofball, layabout, drunkard, womanizer, associate of degenerates – or at least that’s how Shakespeare portrays him.

This Harry became Henry V, one of England’s greatest kings.

So there’s hope for Prince Harry – and all of us.

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