It wasn’t that long ago that Prince Harry (aka His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales) was deemed a write-off. After losing his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, at just 12 years old in 1997, a cheeky, relatively buoyant childhood in the public eye became laden with burden. At 17, Harry’s party boy ways became evident, the beginning of a decade or so of scandalous behaviour that would bring the monarchy into disrepute.
But much has changed since then. Harry, at 32, along with big brother Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, has become an unlikely saviour of the royal family, following in the footsteps of his ancestors (see SBS documentary The Royals Who Rescued the Monarchy) and dedicating his life to social activism just like his mother. He’s arguably now the most approachable royal since Diana.
Here we chart how he went from disgraced party prince to beloved, upstanding royal.
Private school party boy
“When I was at school, I wanted to be the bad boy," Prince Harry once said. Boy, did he live up to that promise.
At the prestigious Eton College, Harry gained a reputation as a hard partier. Things came to a head in 2002 when he was 17. It came to light that the young prince had engaged in underage drinking and smoked cannabis while he had free rein of his family’s Highgrove estate. His disappointed father, Charles, Prince of Wales, then bundled his son off to a drug rehab centre – for a day.
That Nazi costume
In a what-was-he-thinking moment that became public in 2005, Harry decided to don a Nazi uniform replete with swastika armband and wear it to a friend’s fancy dress party. The photographic evidence was splashed on the front page of The Sun with the headline “Harry the Nazi". To add salt to the wound, it only strengthened the stigma of the Windsors' historical Nazi connections. What’s more, just weeks after the party, his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II was due to lead Holocaust memorial ceremonies. Ouch.
That naked Las Vegas romp
It was as recently as 2012 that Harry was still making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Partying in Las Vegas, the prince was snapped drunkenly cavorting naked with some young women he’d just met during a game of “strip billiards” in his VIP suite.
Embarrassingly, the royal family was forced to confirm that yes, the naked party boy in the photos was the prince, but they had no luck in their attempt to scuttle the publishing of the evidence.
Harry would later admit to Man of the World magazine that his misstep “was probably a classic case of me being too much army and not enough prince”. Quite.
Harry’s time in the army had also led to an unguarded moment that landed him in hot water when video footage surfaced in 2009. Harry could be heard calling a fellow soldier "our little Paki friend" and joking that another looked like a “raghead”.
In the inevitable public apology that followed, St James Palace referred to “Paki” as a term used by the Prince “without any malice and as a nickname about a highly popular member of his platoon. There is no question that Prince Harry was in any way seeking to insult his friend."
But it seems Harry had inherited more than a touch of his grandfather Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh’s chronic foot-in-mouth disease with reports of an unfortunate exchange with comedian Stephen K Amos where Harry told him he didn’t “sound like a black chap”.
Tour of duty
Transgressions aside, Harry’s time in the military – he’s a trained Apache helicopter pilot and spent 10 years in the British armed forces including two tours of Afghanistan – was undoubtedly a turning point for the prince that gave him discipline and developed his social conscience as he witnessed the horrors of war first-hand. He has admitted to killing insurgents in Afghanistan.
“I saw some horrendous things," he has said. "The tragic injuries and deaths of local people from roadside bombs, some of whom were children; coalition forces lying in the battlefield. To see young lads – much younger than me – wrapped in plastic and missing limbs with hundreds of tubes coming out of them was something I never prepared myself for."
An apparent “close confidant of the prince” was reported as saying his “genuine compassion and understanding of the issues at hand, drawn from his own very personal experiences” has informed his advocacy work and fundraising efforts for injured returned servicemen.
It’s in his charitable works that Harry has really come into his own, reflecting the deeply humanitarian approach of his mother.
The prince has become a passionate, compassionate and charming advocate for social causes. He founded The Invictus Games, the Paralympic-style tournament for armed service men and women with physical and mental injuries, works to stamp out rhino poaching and founded the charity Sentebale, which looks after children affected by extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS in Botswana and Lesotho.
Most recently, he spearheaded the high-profile Heads Together campaign for mental health awareness along with brother William and sister-in-law Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
“It’s something my mother believed in,” he said of social activism in an interview with The Telegraph journalist Bryony Gordon for her podcast, Mad World, earlier this year.
“If you are in a position of privilege, if you can put your name to something that you genuinely believe in, you can smash any stigma you want and you can encourage anybody to do anything.”
Watch The Royals Who Rescued the Monarchy at SBS On Demand: