Playboy prince Harry matures on tour

2012-03-13 07:30

London - Prince Harry's first solo overseas tour in the Caribbean and Brazil has helped bury his reputation as the British royal family's enfant terrible - and showcase his sense of fun.

Harry's week-long tour to mark his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee year has been widely praised in Britain for its relaxed maturity.

The positive coverage was in sharp contrast to the headlines the youngest son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana generated for admitting smoking marijuana aged 17 and wearing a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party in 2005.

'My date for tonight'

Now 27, Harry was an unknown quantity on the global stage, but royal author Penny Junor said the trip - carefully designed to play to the sport-loving prince's strengths - had been a huge success.

"I think he has played a blinder on this tour and he's shown a lot of people who thought of him as not much more than a party prince that he can and will be a real asset to the royal family," Junor told AFP.

No one was surprised when the third in line to the throne had fun in Jamaica with the fastest man in the world, 100m world record holder Usain Bolt.

But many commentators noted Harry's deft handling of a potentially tricky diplomatic situation by striking up a rapport with Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

Simpson Miller has said she wants Jamaica to be a republic, while remaining in the Commonwealth, meaning that the queen would no longer be the head of state.

Yet when the prime minister slipped her arm through Harry's as they posed for photographs, it was clear the prince had managed to ease any awkwardness. "My date for tonight," he joked to journalists.

PHOTOS: Prince Harry races usain Bolt

The encounter with Bolt at his training track in Kingston was more natural territory for the prince.

When Bolt turned his back briefly to show Harry how to use the starting blocks, the royal dashed off, reaching the finishing line with his arms aloft before cheekily turning around and shouting "Come on!" at the sprinter.

After Jamaica, the prince moved on to Brazil, where he was treated to a 30-minute helicopter tour of Rio de Janeiro's tourist attractions.

Harry later strolled along Ipanema beach and tried his hand at samba dancing, before launching a campaign to promote Britain from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

Junor said a trip in which Harry used humour and displays of his own dancing was "a riskier sort of diplomacy than that which the family has traditionally employed, and perhaps easier for him as third in line".

"But fundamentally, he is an extrovert, and this style comes easily to him, while most of the family are rather shy - I think it only works if you are true to your character," she added.

Newfound image

Harry said he was "choked up" by the warmth of the welcome he received, especially in the Commonwealth countries.

"I personally had no idea how much warmth there was towards the queen, to me that's been very humbling, and I was actually choked up seeing the way they're celebrating her 60 years," he said.

In a sign of how determined the palace is to guard his newfound image, royal officials complained swiftly to a newspaper in Belize when it wrongly accused him of being drunk at a street party on the first stop of the tour.

They also decided to tone down his activities in Jamaica out of respect for six British soldiers killed in a massive explosion in Afghanistan.

Just as Harry - a captain with the Army Air Corps - appears to have broken new ground as a diplomat, one of his next foreign destinations may well be Afghanistan.

After training for 18 months as an Apache attack helicopter pilot, the prince has made clear his intention to return to Afghanistan. He was hastily withdrawn from his first tour of duty in 2008 when a media blackout was broken.