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Prince Harry, the spare to the heir

world Updated: Apr 23, 2011 22:33 IST
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Around midnight at the cheeky tiki Mahiki nightclub, where Prince Harry likes to hangs out, the bottle service crew all agree on the appeal of their resident royal.

"He's much more attractive than Will," says Phoetini Kountouris. "He's a bad boy, but he's a prince."

The third in line to the throne is getting singler and cuter, while Prince William is getting bald. And what a big month Harry has had!

First, the expedition — a North Pole charity adventure, in which the prince trekked over ice floes like some Arctic Indiana Jones, wearing a heroically bright orange immersion suit.

Second, the promotion. After five years in the Army Air Corps, this week he attained the rank of captain and earned his solo flying wings.

On April 29, he will serve as best man in the wedding of the decade. That's his most accustomed role: William's little brother. The guy next to the future king. The spare. Unfortunate title. And one that could be the key to his liberation.

The strange plight of the spare to the heir: The older they get, the more obsolete they become. Order of secession gives preference to the eldest male child, then his children, then his children's children, leaving younger siblings spiraling further from the throne.

William is the one who is about to be married. Harry is the one who is about to be jostled. In the old days, the spares were dispatched abroad for strategic marital alliances. The modern role is more nebulous. "In Britain, the only constitutional role is that of the monarch," says Christopher Warwick, Princess Margaret's friend and biographer.

In a country that sometimes debates the point of its sovereign, it's even harder to grapple with the point of the sovereign's kid brother.

Take the much-hyped "younger sibling syndrome," then exacerbate it with crown jewels. Rarely is sibling-rivalry so ritualised. William and Harry "were brought up with very different expectations," says Penny Junor, who wrote books on both Charles and Diana and is familiar with the family. "William has been told from a very early age that one day he would shoulder this responsibility. He must always be good mannered, must always keep his nose clean."

If Harry were a normal guy, the misdeeds that defined his young adult life would probably be psychoanalysed away by birth order and as a desperate attempt to separate himself from his older brother.

(You know, of course, the misdeeds in reference: The costume party? With the swastika armband? His defenders argued that the party was supposed to be private, that he was betrayed by a friend with a camera. His detractors argued that he was wearing a swastika.)

Even his on/off gal pal of choice, Chelsy Davy, is the outward polar opposite of his brother's choice. The public might embrace a commoner queen like Kate Middleton, but would they accept Chelsy Davy, an heiress/law student from Zimbabwe with bleached hair who always looks like she's heading off to a party thrown by Delta Delta Delta?

Of course, if you're having a dinner party, Chelsy Davy is going to be a far more entertaining choice than Kate. Harry, too.

Monarchs? Boring. The spare? Fascinating! An endless source of intrigue and fodder. Because they don't have to be the official face of England, they are allowed to have personalities. And unique positions in the family allow them to subtly influence royal culture.

Before Princess Margaret divorced her photographer husband, Anthony Snowdon, divorce was unprecedented in the modern royal family. Her split set a precedent that the queen would never have been allowed to set herself. Now three of the queen's children, including Charles, have divorced their spouses. "She made it possible," says Warwick, "to say, 'My marriage isn't working, and I'm going to just admit that it's over.'"

More recently, Harry was the one to deploy to Afghanistan alongside other British troops in 2008. "William couldn't go to the war," says Katie Nicholl, who has reported on the royal brothers for years. A future king "wouldn't be able to fight on the front line."

William has never come across as more likable or relatable than when he has given joint interviews with his brother, when they tease like brothers do in a way that cannot be coached.

Maybe the official role of the spare is to be the bridge to the king.

Prince Harry has never displayed the vaguest hint of jealousy toward his older brother and has talked fondly of his future sister-in-law. As the dust settles from this familial shift, Harry will begin what is either a slow decline or a grand coming into his own. One hopes for an ascent.

Meanwhile, Harry appears happy with his role as best-man.

He has, after all, been preparing for this his entire life.

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