So, Prince Harry has arrived in Namibia, southern Africa, where he will spend the next three months working as a wildlife ranger.
Undoubtedly, Harry is doing worthwhile and valuable work—courtiers are briefing that he will be “at the sharp end” of wildlife protection, shadowing vets involved in treating animals that have survived poaching attacks—and there can be little question of his commitment to the cause of ecological conservation.
His presence in Africa will help save endangered animals’ lives, if not directly, then through the funds he can generate for a charity like Tusk Trust or the Zoological Society of London, which is a partner in The Duke of Cambridge’s United for Wildlife coalition.
While this is arguably a shrewder idea then spending the next three months getting twisted all over Europe and partying shirtless at music festivals in the English countryside, Harry’s decision to spend the next three months in Africa, just weeks after leaving his full-time job in the army, doesn’t have particularly great optics.
Is this the same manchild who just a few weeks ago was telling an interviewer how he wants to get a long-term partner and (presumably) have kids?
As friends of the Prince have noted to the Royalist before, Harry talks a good game about his desire to settle down, but seems unwilling to put in the spadework to lay the foundations of stability.
“For me, it’s three months of hard grafting, working with animals,” Harry has said of the African adventure. “To actually get the chance to embed myself with the top vet in southern Africa, travel with him for three weeks and every job he gets called up to do. That’s like my dream.”
Indeed it may well be, but there is a significant cohort of the British population who pay his wages that will sigh with resigned disbelief and, let’s be frank, jealousy at the news that Harry is to spend the next three months of his charmed life buzzing around in helicopters above the African savannah.
In many ways Harry is the classic aristocratic second son. Unburdened by responsibilities and duty—Harry performed just 91 public engagements last year, compared to the 393 undertaken by his grandmother—he gets to do more or less exactly what he wants.
But while his profile and position as a royal means he literally can go anywhere and do anything, whether that’s walking to the South Pole or living in Africa (sources say Harry has chosen much of the itinerary himself), that same position—and the public funding his family receives—also means he has to account for his time.
He has to explain himself, sell himself, and at least try to make the case that having Prince Harry on its books makes sense for the Great British Public.
As such, there’s never a great time for Harry to set off on spiffing adventure, but Harry’s departure for African skies has come at a moment when the royals usually tend to be doing their best to project that hard-working, good-value image—just days after the royal accounts were published ($4.6 million was spent on William, Kate, and Harry, excluding their massive security costs).
There always seems to be a sense with Harry that soon, very soon, everything is going to calm down.
On his return home from Africa, for example, it is being well flagged that he will be taking up a volunteer role with the Personnel Recovery Unit of London District, continuing his work with soldiers wounded or injured in service.
This is not to say that Harry won’t be doing good work in Africa. He will. It should not be forgotten that his brother has succeeded in putting the fight against the illegal wildlife trade on the agenda of the presidents of both the United States and China in the past year.
But by taking off on what can well be perceived as a three-month jolly, Harry has handed the media a stick with which to beat him.