The Clown Prince

Booze, babes, brawls -- is Harry following a princely precedent?

LONDON, March 30, 2007 — -- Prince Henry Charles Albert David Windsor is best known to many of us as Prince Harry. As third in line to the British throne, the prince has made headlines over his impending military trip to Iraq, but lately, the prince has been in the news for different reasons. These include booze, babes and brawls.

"Our princes have been doing this since time immemorial," said Robert Lacey, royal historian, who believes that an ever-growing media is to blame for highlighting this behavior. "What is different is not the stumbling out drunkenly in the small hours. It's having photographers there to record it.

'The Biggest Selling Royal'

"Harry, you could say he's acting in the very finest and oldest of British traditions in doing this. It's the rats of the press, the vermin, who are sneaking up and displaying this to people at breakfast."

Duncan Larcombe is one of those rats. He is a royal correspondent for The Sun. "Whenever we write a story on Prince Harry," said Larcombe, "our paper sells extra copies. He is the biggest-selling royal for us."

It seems that Harry is, in fact, just doing his job by being bad. "In a way, it's an anthropological, sociological function," said Lacey. "There's this wonderful model family, which we're all supposed to admire, and we do admire. But in our hearts there's envy. And that needs a focus."

'Falling Over Drunk Isn't the Most Unpleasant Thing to Do'

Lacey believes Harry provides this focus. He's the spare to the heir, which means he takes the pressure off William, the future king. In short, he's bad, so William looks good.

The clown prince is a part of British culture. The BBC even made a series, "Blackadder III," about a fictional Prince George. But there's an occupational hazard when the prince appears to go too far -- caught smoking dope and wearing a Nazi uniform to a costume party.

"Falling over drunk isn't the most unpleasant thing to do," said Larcombe. "It's perhaps not what your grandmother would want you to behave like. But he's not going out stabbing people with knives or clubbing people to death."

The Latest in a Long Line

It doesn't really matter how the spare behaves. But when a wayward prince becomes king, then problems can arise. George III, who lost the colonies, is a prime example. The title of his recent biopic -- "The Madness of King George" -- gives a clue as to why.

Prince Edward is another example. He became king and threw it all away to marry an American divorcee. "All through the 20s and the 30s, he was in and out of night clubs," said Lacey. "His younger brother George, duke of Kent, we know had cocaine problems."

This spring, Prince Harry will serve in Iraq. Perhaps this is a chance for reinvention -- battlefield heroics, not barroom brawls.