Uncovering The Real Harry

31st October 2014

Ahead of Chorleywood LitFest, 10 to 16 November, Kathy Walton talks to Penny Junor about her new book.

“There’s no manual on being second in line to the throne, let alone fifth after the birth of the next royal baby. Harry is royal, but he does it in his own way.” So says Penny Junor of the red-headed ‘spare’ who is the subject of her latest royal biography: 'Prince Harry: brother, soldier, son'.

As a veteran of royal biographies (she has previously written books on Charles, Diana and William), Junor was hardly unfamiliar with Harry’s back story and confesses that she approached this book with “less enthusiasm” then the others, but that Harry emerges much better than she had thought. “I’d heard bad stories during his teenage years when he was in a pretty bad way, behaving loutishly, being boorish, but now, any sense of entitlement has gone. I now respect and admire him enormously.”

It is a surprising thing to say about a man who until recently was better known for falling out of night clubs than for playing the dutiful royal, but Junor says that two years of research have made her think again about the Queen’s most wayward grandchild.

“He is a really serious guy with a real commitment to the causes he cares about, such as wounded servicemen and women who served in Afghanistan. He wants them to have a meaningful life beyond their injury and for their employers to value them as well trained and disciplined.”

Junor describes Harry as having inherited his mother’s “fantastic empathy with children”, a quality she saw in spades when she accompanied him to the African kingdom of Lesotho to launch his Sentebale charity for children there.

“He cares passionately about children, he is magnificent, completely unselfconscious with them. Charles and William are also very good at talking to people, but there is a slight awkwardness, while Harry gets right in there. There’s no hint of His Royal Highness about him, just great humility and no arrogance.”

This will come as news to those who see Harry as a good-time chap who gets hideously drunk and hangs around with the less savoury members of the upper classes, a side to him that Junor admits is one he needs to shake off.

“He was a damaged child who grew up in a very difficult household, so he really connects with those who’ve been damaged physically and emotionally, such as the children in Africa,” she says in the prince’s defence.

“Admittedly, he grew up with lots of moneyed, over-privileged Hooray Henry types who were not the brightest. He’s very loyal to them, but they are perhaps not the best friends for him and there is a danger of him being tainted by this kind of wealth, when there is so much more to him.”

As a teenager, Harry struggled academically (Junor says he is almost certainly dyslexic) and found it hard to make friends at Eton, a legacy perhaps of his chaotic childhood. For a time, there was a very real possibility that he might turn his back on royal life and walk away.

Even now, Junor says “life could go any which way for Harry, though the chances of him vanishing completely are now slim.”

She cites his trek to the South Pole with disabled former soldiers as an example of how he has matured, as well as his outstanding ability as an Apache helicopter pilot, which has “knocked out” those who have seen him in the cockpit.

According to Junor, Harry has Prince Charles’s self-deprecating sense of humour – and his eyes. (She’s quick to rebut speculation as to Harry’s parentage, saying that Diana’s affair with James Hewitt didn’t start until Harry was two).

And what of his girlfriends? Will he marry Cressida Bonas, his current on-off squeeze? Junor is not sure. “Cressida is a lovely girl and Harry has lots in common with her. Whoever he marries will be different, less conservative than Kate, a bit off the wall and independent, very sparky and possibly a bit bohemian.”

As the less intelligent, less handsome younger brother of a man who knows what the future holds for him, Harry will have to plough his own furrow, but Junor is confident he will always support the Queen, Charles and William.

“To spend a lifetime having doors opened for you can be pretty tedious and Harry will do things differently,” she says. “I hope he will be judged on his triumph at the Invictus Games for example, but he must stop being a playboy, which after 30, starts to be a little bit seedy…”

Penny Junor will be talking about ‘Prince Harry: brother, soldier, son’ (pub. Hodder & Stoughton, price £20) on Sunday 16 November at 5pm in Chorleywood Memorial Hall.

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