Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Hard luck, Harry. I know just how you are feeling

The world is full of sad and frightening news events. Israel may be at war with Iran within the next few weeks. Some commentators are predicting that the euro will collapse in the autumn.

Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass-killer, gets 21 years for murdering 77 people - about three months for each victim - and expresses regret that he didn't kill more. In New York, a gunman kills a former co-worker at the Empire State Building.

But, ah, some comic relief to alleviate the dark scenes of human misery: Captain Harry Wales, as he is known in the Army air corps, is photographed with a group of floozies partying in Las Vegas and he is in the nude. Shock, horror.

Harry will be reprimanded by his Army superiors for this episode and he has already been chided by Prince Charles. He is said to be 'very contrite'.

I know just how he feels: you wake up one morning with an almighty hangover and the alarming recollection of what you got up to the night before dawns on your horrific consciousness.

But there is one difference - for now - between Harry and the rest of erring humanity: those we have partied with during a folie de jeunesse, as the French so tactfully call such episodes, have not usually taken photographs and sold on the incriminating snaps to a globalised media.

He's not the first soldier to be drunk and imprudent - nor the first guy to lose the run of himself in Las Vegas. But the price he pays for being who he is means that no sins or misdemeanours will ever be committed in private.

He is the beneficiary of certain privileges, but privilege never comes free: it has to be paid for one way or another.

Was The Sun right to publish the 'Dirty Harry' pictures? It was perfectly entitled to do so - if the editor judged that the pictures were a valid news story.

Buckingham Palace made it clear that it didn't like the situation, but it didn't make any legal move to restrain any newspaper from publication, so talk of censorship is not relevant.

As for the moral import: when I was at convent school the reprimand most dear to Mother Superior's heart was: "Most disedifying." And there are those who, like our nuns of old, feel that Harry's conduct is unedifying and unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman.

But there is a sympathy vote for Harry, too, which I share. He did, after all, grow up motherless; and his high spirits have often been a source of general jollity.

If he was a little reckless with his Vegas partying, he may deserve a rap across the knuckles. But it is not exactly the worst offence in the world.

Compare his misdemeanour with the vices of King Edward VII, who reigned from 1901 to 1910.

Bertie, as he was known, couldn't keep out of the beds of other men's wives, kept a brothel in Paris and drank, smoked and ate like a glutton.

And yet, this self-indulgent libertine was a good king: he was tolerant of the views of others, including republicans, was devoid of religious prejudice, promoted healthcare and was conciliatory about Ireland.

Yet Edward VII wouldn't have survived five minutes in the age of the internet and the mobile phone, while Henry of Wales will have to live with such surveillance for the rest of his life.

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