Hannah McKay - WPA Pool/Getty Images
Hannah McKay - WPA Pool/Getty Images
When pictures of him cavorting in Las Vegas were first published, it sent his female admirers into a frenzy and the Royal Family into crisis mode.
He'd been on a boys' trip to Sin City, eager to let off some steam. After spending the afternoon gallivanting in a pool with margaritas and bikini-clad women on tap, Harry and his mates retreated back to room 2401 at the Wynn Hotel to continue the revelry (a seven thousand dollar a night suite that comes complete with its own butler, private lift, massage table and, of course, a billiards table). Harry was the life and soul of the party, with one attendee later claiming he was giving "random naked hugs" and playing air guitar. Then he indulged in that infamous game of strip billiards, leading to arguably one of the most embarrassing moments the Royal Family has had to deal with in modern times.
Harry had got himself into hot water before. At the age of 17, he admitted to smoking pot and underage drinking and in 2005 he was pictured wearing a Nazi uniform to a costume party (just weeks before Holocaust Memorial Day). But any previous gaffes were quickly overshadowed by that pic of Harry cupping his crown jewels.
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While here in the United States, some of us were left wondering where our invite to the party was. For the establishment back in the UK, it was acutely embarrassing and a subdued Harry was forced to flee back to his homeland and face the music.
2012 was meant to be a year of global celebration for the family and not global disrepute. London had just played host to a hugely successful Olympic games and The Queen had marked her diamond jubilee. Media focus on Harry's wild antics was the last thing the establishment wanted.
"The person who took the dimmest view of all was The Queen," says a royal insider. "She made it abundantly clear that nothing like that would ever happen again. When you get a direct chastising from granny you know it's serious. It was undoubtedly a turning point."
The fall out provided a huge wake up call for Harry and raised questions about his future. He could no longer deny his public duty as brother to the future King of the Commonwealth, Prince William. And it was apparent, the polite agreement that had once existed between the brothers and the press to guarantee privacy, after the death of Princess Diana, was now null and void.
At 27, it was time for Harry to live up to his role and reinvent himself. He needed to rebuild his public image before he ran the risk of causing lasting damage to his family.
Two weeks after his naked body caused an international scandal, Harry flew to Afghanistan and went back to work as an Apache helicopter pilot. He deleted his social media account (he used to operate under the name, Spike Wells) and for four months took up residence in a modified shipping container. Army life grounded Harry and gave him an opportunity to reevaluate how he could balance being a senior member of the Royal Family with having a private life. That fall, William and Kate Middleton announced they were about to have their first child. And with Harry set to become an uncle, it was important for him to prove to the world he was more than just the ‘Party Prince.'
The following January, he spoke candidly about his Vegas antics, admitting, "At the end of the day I probably let myself down, I let my family down, I let other people down….It was probably a classic example of me probably being too much Army and not enough prince. It's a simple case of that."
In May 2014, he returned back to US shores on an official visit. Despite some sniggers amongst royal watchers, his visit was a huge success, his infectious personality and charm managing to supersede any awkwardness.
While many thought Prince Harry 2.0 would follow the same path as his brother and involve getting married and having children, Harry had other ideas. Instead his reinvention followed his mom's example and he made philanthropy his priority, putting his love of the army to good use. In 2014, two years after Vegas, Harry launched the Invictus Games, an international Paralympic-style competition to help wounded and sick service men and women.
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"He is not the boy we saw in the Vegas debacle," says a Royal source. "He is so much more grown up now. The Invictus Games changed everything for him, but also his own charity Sentebale and lately the mental health charity, Heads Together. He is devoted to making a difference."
But working hard and finding a purpose hasn't stopped Harry from still wanting to play hard as well. The Vegas incident provided a tipping point for Harry but it didn't cure his wild streak completely. As a friend explains, "He can no longer go out to clubs and be seen out in public behaving wildly but there are still parties. Nowadays, Harry keeps his circle of friends tight-knit and they tend to get together at stately homes and other private places. The truth is most of his party pals have settled down now. When his close friend, Guy Pelly, got married, that was a real nail in the coffin, although his best pal, Thomas van Straubenzee, the Duke of Northumberland's son, has become single recently so he's been a single bachelor pal for Harry to hang out with."
Friends insist the world's most eligible Royal bachelor does want to settle down himself one day. The delay has simply been in finding the right person, a search that has proved to be incredibly difficult. The two women Harry's ever loved, Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas, have ultimately not worked out because of his role as a Prince. "People call Chelsy his ‘Camilla' and hope one day they'll eventually be together as she was the great love of Harry's life," says a source. "They are still very close, but she finds it difficult to deal with everything that comes with dating a Royal. She has no desire to be in the Royal Family. And Cressida feels the same. William had ten years to give Kate a taste of what his life was like, and to build the trust they now have. It is hard for Harry to introduce someone new at this point, he can hardly go on Tinder to meet a woman."
It's a thoroughly modern princely dilemma.
Like all of us, Prince Harry has had his ups and downs, we've watched him both struggle and triumph. Four years on from his raunchiest scandal, he's proved he can use those mistakes for the better. As he approaches his 32nd birthday next month, he has been able to find more balance and purpose than ever before. Vegas might have been an unwelcome embarrassment, but it provided the motivation he needed to become the Prince he is today.
To hear more about the reinvention of Prince Harry, watch E! News tonight at 7 and 11 p.m.