Prince Harry will have to delve into his “wild years” in his memoir or risk the book being seen as a “whitewash” and lacking credibility, friends and royal observers have told The Daily Beast.
“Harry was known for being pretty wild back in the day,” one old friend, who has not spoken to the prince for several years but knew him and his then-girlfriend Chelsy Davy when they were fixtures on London’s clubbing and party scene, told The Daily Beast, “If he doesn’t go into those wild years in some detail, the book will just come over as a massive whitewash—at least to those who knew him.”
Another source who was familiar with Harry’s set told The Daily Beast that Harry “was a lot of fun” and that one of his tricks included ordering a private car service in order to give his security guards the slip. On one occasion, the source said, Harry bolted to a waiting car with two female friends before joking to the stunned driver, “If you see a policeman, run them over!”
Such tales of Harry’s excess, and different anecdotes surrounding it, were bread-and-butter high society gossip in certain circles of British society for over a decade, beginning from when Harry was a teenager and his dad installed Club H, a subterranean drinking den at his country house, Highgrove (it was the house, not Harry, which provided the eponymous H).
Harry had been caught by the newspapers smoking pot in the garden of a local pub. Charles took him to a rehab in the hope of showing him the reality of drug addiction, but also sought, via Club H, to protect him from media coverage of what, it could be argued, was still then fairly standard schoolboy experimentation.
The Daily Beast understands that Charles was inspired to create Club H by Tap, the bar at Eton College, where William and Harry went to school, which allows boys at the school to drink beer or hard cider once they are over the age of 16. (The legal age for drinking in a public bar in the U.K. is 18, but a private club is allowed to serve its members at a younger age.)
However stories of hard-partying continued to circulate throughout Harry’s schooldays and into his post-school, pre-job “gap” year, much of which was spent in Southern Africa and South America, often in the company of his equally hedonistic then-girlfriend Chelsy Davy (whom he dated from the early 2000s to 2010) and a hard-partying crew that coalesced around the couple.
Much of Harry’s extracurricular entertainment remained strictly the purview of dinner party gossips and insiders, because he was protected by a fiercely loyal group of friends and courtiers who understood that much of his drinking antics were the troubled behavior of a young man who had lost their mother in traumatic circumstances just a few years earlier.
However, the newspapers could hardly avoid reporting the 2004 incident in which, inebriated, Harry tumbled out of a London nightclub, Panagea, at 3:15 a.m. on a weeknight.
There were conflicting versions of what happened next. The palace said he had been hit on the head by a photographer in the melee and instinctively reacted, pushing one of the photographers. An alternative account came from photographer Chris Uncle, who told The Guardian, “Prince Harry looked like he was inside the car and we were all still taking pictures. Then suddenly he burst out of the car and lunged towards me as I was still taking pictures. He lashed out and then deliberately pushed my camera into my face. The base of the camera struck me and cut my bottom lip.”
In January 2005, for reasons that will also require thorough excavation in his book if the memoir is to live up to the promise Harry made when announcing the book—that he would cover, “the highs and lows, the mistakes, the lessons learned”—Harry attended the “native and colonial” themed 21st birthday party of his friend Harry Meades, dressed as a Nazi.
After the picture of Harry with a swastika armband appeared in the Sun, Harry issued the briefest and most perfunctory of apologies: “I am very sorry if I caused any offense or embarrassment to anyone. It was a poor choice of costume and I apologize.”
The next few years were ones of very public and often drunken chaos for Harry. His enrollment in the British Army in April 2006 certainly helped keep him out of the public eye for weeks at a time, but there was another tussle with photographers outside a nightclub in 2007. That same year Harry, 23, was filmed snorting the high-proof Austrian spirit Stroh in Namibia. The tape was leaked to the now-shuttered News of the World.
A pervasive narrative set in of the party prince and his London friends as the idle, debauched rich. During this period, Harry operated a secret Facebook account under the name of Spike Wells. (Spike was a childhood nickname and Wells was rumored to be a gentle piss-take of Charles’ pronunciation of “Wales” as in “Prince of Wales.”)
There have long been rumors that some news journalists knew about the account but kept it quiet to better monitor Harry’s party lifestyle. Harry did not know he was also being illegally surveilled by news organizations that would later admit to hacking his and other people’s voicemail messages.
It all came to a head, of course, with the 2012 photos which showed him playing billiards, naked, in a Las Vegas hotel room. His friend, Arthur Landon, had, on an earlier stop on the same trip, at Necker Island, the private retreat owned by Richard Branson in the Caribbean, posted what he apparently thought was a hilarious photo of someone unidentified, but who happened to be wearing the same shorts as Harry, passed out on the sand. Landon complained that the publication of the naked billiards photos had put “a real dampener” on the lads’ trip to Nevada.
Harry said, “It was probably a classic example of me probably being too much Army and not enough prince. It’s a simple case of that. But I was in a private area and there should be a certain amount of privacy that one should expect.
“Yes people might look at it, going, it was letting off steam, it’s all understandable now you’re going out to Afghanistan. Well, the papers knew that I was going out to Afghanistan anyway, so the way I was treated by them I don’t think is acceptable.”
The affair didn’t put a dampener on Harry’s hedonism. In 2014 he was seen with shirt off, dancing at a rave.
Harry only finally calmed down when he met Meghan Markle in the summer of 2016. He is now understood to hardly drink at all. His office declined to comment on the issue for this article, or say whether his book would cover the excessive drinking of his youth.
“I certainly wouldn’t have had the awareness when I was going wild. It’s like why am I actually doing this? In the moment it’s like, ‘This is fun. I’m in my twenties—it’s what you’re supposed to do.’”
— Prince Harry
In a number of interviews, Harry has used much of the language of recovery without explicitly stating his own position vis-a-vis alcohol and drugs.
In an interview with podcast host Dax Shepard, Harry, while ostensibly discussing the host’s drug and alcohol use, said: “For you it was your upbringing and everything that happened to you—the trauma, pain and suffering. All of a sudden you find yourself doing a shit load of drugs and partying hard. Look how many other people do that as well. They wouldn’t have the awareness at the time. I certainly wouldn’t have had the awareness when I was going wild. It’s like why am I actually doing this? In the moment it’s like, ‘This is fun. I’m in my twenties—it’s what you’re supposed to do.’”
Duncan Larcombe, the former royal editor for the Sun who covered Harry from 2005-2015, told The Daily Beast: “I covered Harry in his darkest days as an adult. I really saw the full trauma of having been a 12-year-old who lost his mother hit him in later life. He self-medicated a lot; he has told us that, he has been honest about his drinking and how he relied on it at times in his life.
“I am not so sure he will be sticking machetes in the backs of individual royals in his book. He did that on Oprah and it just ended up making him look bitter and twisted. But if he is going to keep the book largely focused on his own journey, he does need to acknowledge—and try and make sense of—those dark, boozy years for it to have any credibility.”