Royal Wedding: why Australia’s still wild about Harry

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

WHEN Prince Harry made his whirlwind visit to Sydney last year, 97-year-old Daphne Dunne waited in her wheelchair for hours in soaking rain in the hope of saying a quick hello.

Her patience was rewarded when the prince spotted her among hundreds of fans on the shores of Circular Quay and popped over for a quick hug.

“Oh, it’s you!” Harry said, thrilled to see the war widow again after having originally met her in sunnier circumstances outside the Sydney Opera House two years earlier.

MORE: Your guide to watching the Royal Wedding on TV in Perth.

After a quick chat and adjusting her umbrella and a blanket she had over her legs the prince was off to continue his royal duties promoting the Invictus Games, the Paralympic-style, multi-sporting event he set up for wounded and sick defence veterans.

“He’s an absolute gem,” Ms Dunne told AAP afterwards.

Many Australians agree with the war widow’s sentiments.

For more than three decades we’ve watched him grow up in the glare of the public spotlight and evolve from the party prince who courted controversy into a dedicated young soldier and charity worker.

Harry has always attracted big crowds on his four visits to Australia, his first as a 19-year-old in 2003 when he worked on the Tooloombilla cattle station in southern Queensland for three months.

The property at the time was owned by Annie and Noel Hill who were friends of Harry’s mother, Diana, Princess of Wales and was organised as part of the prince’s gap year after he graduated from Eton.

Harry has followed in Diana’s footsteps with his humanitarian work, which is expected to become a bigger part of his life after he marries American actress and activist Meghan Markle on Saturday.

While it’s not yet known which, if any, Australians have scored an invitation to the wedding at Windsor Castle, the couple have requested donations to seven charities in lieu of gifts.

Harry’s brother Prince William and wife Catherine did the same for their 2011 wedding, with Australia donating $25,000 to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

The 33-year-old’s whirlwind romance with the former Suits star began in July 2016, a year after he wrapped up a decade’s service with the British Army, to focus on working with charities and stepping up his royal duties on behalf of the Queen.

Among the causes closest to his heart is Sentebale, the children’s charity he co-founded in the southern African country of Lesotho with Prince Seeiso in 2006, along with the Invictus Games, and the mental health charity Heads Together he co-founded with brother Prince William and Catherine.

Many Australian war veterans believe Harry has made a big difference to their lives thanks to the Invictus Games, which come to Sydney in October.

Jamie Tanner, a former army corporal from Ballina in northern NSW who served in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, caught up with Harry when he was in Sydney last June for an update on preparations for the 2018 games.

“Harry being here is hugely important, not just for us as athletes but also for the general population to see how much input someone like him has in educating people about the issues that veterans face,” said the 34-year-old who plays wheelchair tennis, rugby and basketball.

While Harry’s support for charities helps them generate valuable publicity and donations, the prince isn’t always so keen on being in the spotlight and has spoken about how he longs for “an ordinary life”.

During his 20s, Harry earned a reputation as a royal wild child.

As a teenager he’d dabbled in underage drinking and smoking marijuana and partied alongside his aristocratic mates at London nightclubs, where he hated being snapped by paparazzi and occasionally ended up in scuffles.

He issued public apologies after being photographed wearing a Nazi uniform to a party in 2005 and again four years later when a home video emerged of him referring to Pakistani soldier serving with his platoon as a “Paki”.

More scandal erupted in 2012 when photos emerged of Harry playing “strip billiards” at a private party in Las Vegas.

It took years to rehabilitate his public image.

His decade-long service with the British Army helped.

He earned sympathy when an Australian women’s magazine ignored a global media blackout and published details in early 2008 about his secret mission fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The British media had kept his presence in Afghanistan secret for two months before his cover was blown and Harry was forced to return to England for safety reasons.

Five years later after winding up a four-month tour of Afghanistan, where he piloted an Apache helicopter and killed insurgents, Harry admitted he’d sometimes let himself down with his past wild behaviour.

He chose to end his decade of service with the British Army by spending a month with Australian Defence Force troops in Darwin, Perth and Sydney in 2015.

Harry described his decision to leave the army as “really tough” and talked about being at a crossroads in his life.

In the three years since, Harry seems to have found his feet with his charity work and whirlwind romance with Markle, completing his transformation from wild child to respectable royal.

– AAP

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