Was Harry serving the Army - or vice-versa?

Last updated at 22:35 29 February 2008

We're more used to him propping up the bar at Boujis nightclub, so the sight of Prince Harry in his camouflage combats patrolling in Afghanistan was as sobering and unfamiliar for us as it must have been for him.

For those who dismissed him as a petulant playboy, this was a very different Prince indeed. And according to him, this was the real Harry.

Ordering air strikes, operating machine-guns and watching the horizon for enemy movement, he certainly looked the epitome of a dedicated, modern soldier.

Larking with the lads, boasting he hadn't washed for four days, he is clearly desperate to be one of the boys - Our Boys - on the frontline.

We should admire his courage and commitment in fighting for Queen and country. And indeed his mere presence in Afghanistan reminds us of the debt we owe all our troops.

But while saluting him, aren't we also entitled to ask what cost the Army may yet pay? There can be no denying that his mere presence in Afghanistan has made it a more dangerous place.

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Dream: Prince Harry said his deployment meant all his wishes had come true. But at what cost?

The wrath of the Taliban will be merciless, as it seeks revenge for the Army's perceived PR coup, while Al Qaeda is likely to redouble its determination to strike at Britain.

So why was Harry sent there? Because he caused such a stink when he was stopped from serving in Iraq that he threatened to quit the Army.

But isn't it a soldier's job to take orders? And isn't it a soldier's duty to accept the judgment of his superiors who make the ultimate decisions about troop safety, and who - some months ago - had grave reservations about sending him into combat?

In a war stretched of resources, where funding cuts for vital equipment have led to the deaths of soldiers, one has to question whether sending a crack SAS squad as bodyguards to ferry a prince in and out of Helmand can ever be justified.

We may never know the true cost of fulfilling the Prince's dream, in terms of manpower to protect him, constant surveillance to keep him safe and months of top-level planning to get him there in secret.

But I have every sympathy with the mothers of the 11,000 British men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq who may well be asking themselves today why their sons and daughters are not afforded the same protection, or why their offspring's lives were put in jeopardy to fulfil one young boy's dreams?

I repeat - no one can fault Prince Harry for his courage. But wouldn't it have been equally brave - and even more noble - to have sacrificed his personal ambitions for his comrades' safety. That would have shown true wisdom and maturity.

As he flies home to shelter and celebration, we can surely be forgiven for wondering whether Prince Harry is serving the Army, or the Army is serving Prince Harry.

PRINCE HARRY'S job in Afghanistan was to make split-second decisions differentiating between friend and foe, as he called in allied air strikes.

Which must have been a bit of a worry given that when he's taking pot shots at Sandringham, he can't even tell the difference between a hen harrier and a pheasant. Allegedly.

Keep Tiger home

Tiger Lily, the daughter Bob Geldof adopted after her parents Paula Yates and Michael Hutchence died, is up for a leading role in a Hollywood movie.

Given that the corrosive effects of fame played such a large part in her parents' untimely deaths, is that really a sensible move for a vulnerable 11-year-old?

Perhaps the tragedies in her early life have made her emotionally resilient, but surely, Sir Bob, it's far too early to be testing that theory.

As a keen supporter of human rights, Cherie Booth QC is doubtless taking an avid interest in the campaign to pardon posthumously the spiritualist and medium Helen Duncan, who was accused of spying offences during World War II.

Those wondering about the connection may like to know that Duncan was the last witch to be jailed in Britain. I make no further comment.

All shook up on immigration

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne claims that his new points system for assessing those moving to Britain from outside the EU is the biggest "shake-up" in immigration in a generation.

Surely that distinction goes to the unplanned 800,000 people who have arrived from Eastern Europe in the past few years, thanks to his government's open-door policy, many of whom are now living in council homes and collecting benefits.

Not so much a shake-up, Mr Byrne, as a shakedown of decent hard-working Brits who are now paying the price of your government's incompetence and dishonesty.


The latest attempt by Hillary Clinton's supporters to smear Barack Obama by releasing pictures of him dressed head to toe in Muslim clothing is a dangerous strategy.

May I suggest that Barack fights back by suggesting that Mrs Clinton should have adopted traditional Muslim dress a long time ago? "Hillary for the Hijab" is bound to be a vote-winner.


According to a survey this week, 42 per cent of women regard the surgically enhanced, multi-millionairess pop singer Victoria Beckham as an unrealistic role model for ordinary mothers.

So far, so sane. But by my reckoning, that leaves 58 per cent who think the pampered pouter is a praiseworthy icon. Truly mindboggling.

MasterChef's perfected a recipe

WONDERFUL to see woolly-haired James Nathan take the MasterChef 2008 title. More wonderful still that judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace managed to conduct the final without screaming abuse at the contestants.

MasterChef has become hugely popular because it's about the food, the recipes and the creativity, not the increasingly out-of-control egos of the presenters - and yes, I do mean you, Gordon Ramsay.

FRESH from condemning Radio 4's Women's Hour as too "middleclass", the programme's newest presenter, Jane Garvey, treated us to a combative debate this week on women's pay, refereeing a row between Sarah Veal, head of equality at the TUC, and employment lawyer Andrea Nicholls.

We were then offered a report on the trials and tribulations of Iranian transsexuals. Meanwhile, Jenni Murray chose to devote her entire show to British women's complex and sometimes ambivalent attitudes to motherhood - one of the most important subjects of our times.

Middle-class or not, give me Jenni any day.

Westminster Noticeboard

MICHAEL PORTILLO'S documentary on Margaret Thatcher was an excruciating exercise in self-justification.

It turned out not to be about the former PM at all, but all about one man's ego - his own. The increasingly effete Portillo failed to interview Tories who do not support his drippingly-wet world view.

It was truly his Bette Midler Moment - "that's enough about me, let's talk about you... what do you think about me?" Well, pet, not much that's fit to print in a family newspaper.

LONDON Mayoral front-runner Boris Johnson is investigated for the "theft" of Saddam Hussein's deputy's cigar case and suspicion falls on dirty tricks from Ken Livingstone supporters.

The story was run with pictures of Boris smoking a big cigar. In a city of millions of smokers where lighting up has been criminalised, it made Baghdad Boris look like a popular folk hero.

Perhaps it wasn't the work of the Ken camp after all.

JOHN PRESCOTT'S son David wants to stand for his father's Hull East seat next year.

Other would-be candidates include George McNamara, nephew of Hull's other famous MP Kevin McNamara, and Prezza's secretary, Della Georgiason (that's the one he didn't sleep with).

First Labour gave us all-women shortlists, then all-ethnic ones. Now it's all-nepotism lists!

Off with their heads!

NETWORK Rail is fined £14 million for the chaos it caused travellers over Christmas on the same day its chairman, Ian McAllister, is knighted for "services to transport".

No doubt we can now look forward to the day soon when the former boss of Northern Rock, Adam Applegarth, is ennobled for "services to bank queues".

FORMER Home Secretary David Blunkett is to star in a reality TV show called Banged Up With Blunkett. Given his track record with the ladies, isn't that a rather unfortunate title?

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