Even by the generous standards of European vacations, Prince Harry’s absence from public life this summer has been a lengthy affair.
The young royal has vanished from the British official and society circuit (sometimes the two are indistinguishable) for the past two months, and has instead spent the summer in Africa working on an ambitious conservation initiative.
He had been working as a helicopter pilot on the “500 elephants” project in Malawi, which is relocating hundreds of elephants from unsafe areas to a wildlife reserve in the center of the country.
However, he has now apparently left Malawi. A small notice in yesterday’s ‘Court Circular’—the anachronistic list still published every day by the Times and The Telegraph that accounts, with a bare bones lack of detail, the movements of the British royal family—announced that he had been received by the President of Botswana.
In May it was announced the work of his Sentebale charity, which supports HIV positive youngsters in Africa, will be expanded to Botswana, and it is assumed that this was the main topic of discussion at Harry’s meeting.
This was his first publicly listed official engagement in several weeks.
The royal press corps were told in July that he had left the U.K. for Malawi for the summer, and would be working on the elephant conservation project.
There have been a couple of reports of Harry flying helicopters, darting elephants, and engaging in sing-songs round the campfire with fellow workers.
Other than these few pieces, radio silence has been the order of the day. The working assumption is that Harry is making a TV documentary for the charity Tusk Trust, of which he is patron.
Harry’s love of Africa is well known, and the amazing ability the continent has to hide and disappear even a prince of the realm such as Harry is a significant contributory factor in that passion. In the few pictures that have emerged of Harry in Africa this summer, the young royal looks like any other white, Western NGO worker, getting on with life in a baseball cap and T-shirt.
Why so little news? Well, it would be a foolish journalist who attempted to sneak into Harry’s presence in Africa—where most people, including those protecting him, are armed to the teeth.
In Africa, royalty and other VIPs sort out their own security, and more is generally considered more. Keeping a huge perimeter around your asset is remarkably easy.
Harry’s supporters bristle when you describe his African adventure as a holiday, but there is little doubt that on many levels it certainly is a vacation.
There is no suggestion, for example, that the prince is being paid for his work on the elephant project.
And Harry’s real ‘job’, as a fully-subsidized member of the British Royal family, is all about being visible and public facing.
The problem with what Harry has chosen to do with his summer 2016 is that it exposes just how little enthusiasm Harry really has for the life of very visible public service to which he is supposed to be committed. Few can blame him, but ribbon-cutting doesn’t seem to be a line of work that brings Harry great pleasure or satisfaction.
Harry is certainly capable of turning on the charm, but he never leaves the press in much doubt of the extent to which he loathes them.
It’s a reaction that is completely understandable. Press attention may not have directly killed his mother, but it was certainly a significant factor in those tragic events. Press attention has made it impossible for him to develop a mature relationship with a girl.
Press attention ruins his normal London life, every single day.
He’d much rather be out of the public eye, in the army or in Africa, engaged in a private project, surrounded by a ring of heavily armed security guards.
There is of course one easy fix to all this, which is for Harry to stand down and resume life as a private citizen.
But Harry is not ready to renounce his birthright, his position in line to the throne, his HRH status or his share of the vast public funding his family receives—and, it should be noted, the British public certainly don’t want him to do that, by and large. He is one of the most popular members of the family.
Instead Harry seems to be trying to figure out if he can re-invent a role for himself as a new kind of part time royal—six months on, three months off.
There’s little doubt that Harry was wall-to-wall busy, and unprecedentedly open and available to the press, giving multiple interviews in the run-up to the Warrior Games in May.
He is going to be highly visible again at the end of October when he sets off on a royal tour of the Caribbean, which was announced last weekend and is expected to be one of the highest profile royal tours of recent years.
But whether or not that means he can simply disappear from view for three months in between, and expect everyone to be cool with that, remains to be seen.
Representatives for the prince declined to offer The Daily Beast any insight into when he might be returning back to the U.K. However, it is widely expected that Harry will be back in the U.K. at some point over the next week or so.
Because even for British princes, holidays have to come to an end, eventually.