Let’s say you are a prince, a royal duke to boot. You’ve had a few topsy-turvy, hurly-burly years. Your family has largely stopped speaking to you, you have saddled yourself with a $14.5 million mortgage and you live 8500 km away from the nearest packet of pork scratchings.
You need a minibreak, a getaway, yes another one, because those jaunts to Portugal, the Caribbean and the Grand Prix in Texas over the last two months weren’t quite enough. So, you head to Las Vegas with your duchess wife for some downtime, maybe a frozen daiquiri or three, to briefly try and forget your stalled careers.
Your brother, the taller one, the one with all the jumpers and President Joe Biden’s personal mobile number, manages to ruin it by simply riding an escalator with a certain degree of dignified aplomb.
(Back One goes to One’s California estate that very same night for a disconsolate açai bowl and a good spot of wallowing, or so I’m assuming.)
This is what played out overnight on Sunday night and Monday morning, AEDT, with Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex making his grand return to Sin City right as Prince William was in Singapore delivering a masterclass in statesmanship and the eternal lure or royalty.
The last time that the duke was in Vegas, it was, of course, that infamous 2012 holiday that saw him get tanked and get his goolies out while trying to impress some girls with his pool cue prowess.
This time around the duke kept his pants on, as far as has been reported, with the Sussexes flying, via private jet from Santa Barbara, to Vegas along with Cameron Diaz, Benji Madden and Zoe Saldana to take in the final show of Katy Perry’s Vegas residency.
If that 2012 trip ended up being a deeply debasing spectacle that saw the playboy princeling make an absolute cake of himself, then this time around, despite him remaining firmly zipped up, still falls into the debasing basket too.
The photos and videos of Harry from the evening are quite something to behold – here is one of King Charles’ sons sitting in a Vegas VIP section like a cashed up divorcee from Sarasota on gals weekend, a tableau that was about as devoid of gravitas as Princess Margaret trying to navigate the stairs after her fifth Gin Rickey.
If this image was not testament enough to how dramatically Harry’s life and standing has changed, 14,000km and a handful of hours earlier, Prince William and a contingent of the British press had landed in Singapore.
While most of us try to exit airports as fast as we can tote our suitcases and replenished Hendricks stocks, the prince got right down to it, undertaking his first event inside the airport at the HSBC Rain Vortex. The reception he received there by crowds would have done a hardcore Belieber back in the day or One Direction-er proud, with the 41-year-old being greeted by a cheering horde.
We’re not just talking a bit of politely enthusiastic noise for the heir’s arrival mind but a voluble, exuberant uproar that philanthropic work trips and even the royal family don’t normally attract. According to the Telegraph, “the applause to [William’s] entrance on the balcony overlooking the Rain Vortex waterfall had been so thunderous that his remarks to the accompanying state official were drowned out.”
The prince also ended up “laden with so many gifts an aide had to step in and lend a hand”.
Talk about two paths in the wood, or more accurately, two princes on startlingly divergent paths.
As Harry was stuck mouthing the words to California Gurls, I’m guessing, the internet was being flooded with photos and social media posts showing William effortlessly assuming the mantle his brother seems to have wanted: To be hailed as a global statesman, met by rapturous, cheering masses, as he dashes hither and yon to help save the world from the climate apocalypse.
Or to put it another way, William has ended up becoming the very spit of the figure that Harry has fought, unsuccessfully, to be.
In 2019, the duke flew to Amsterdam to launch his eco-travel project Travelyst, an initiative that four years on, I have no idea what exactly it does. In 2021, the Sussexes’ Archewell committed to reaching net zero by 2-30. Last year, Harry travelled to Africa to highlight conservation work and gave a speech at the UN saying, “our world is on fire”.
For some strange reason, this has not amounted to the duke having become a trailblazing voice, renowned for his work on the climate crisis.
What has emerged is that while the world is, unequivocally, “on fire,” the duke takes private jets to Vegas for a Saturday night jolly and wonders why the UN hasn’t called back, it’s his brother who is busy trying to hold the hose and douse the flames.
The Prince of Wales, over the last couple of years, has emerged as a galvanising figure in the environmental fight, thanks to his $95 million Earthshot Prize.
Earthshot Council member Cate Blanchett has described the solutions being funded by the Prize as “wildly exciting” and “truly game-changing”. Robert Irwin, who will present a Prize at the awards labelled William as “a real voice for change” and who is “at the forefront of conservation,” while speaking to the Telegraph.
Meanwhile, it’s not just all earnest hard work, weak cups of tea and celebrity plaudits in Wales-land, with William having somehow become a huge crowd-puller of late.
In September, 700 people, according to the New York Times, turned up and waited in the sun to catch a glimpse of him during a visit to a Big Apple fire station; a recent trip made by William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Rothesay (as they are known in Scotland) to the Highlands saw surprisingly large crowds line the street and now, today, we have his Beatlemania Singapore reception.
The irony here is that only a few years ago, all of this – the kudos, the public adulation and the nearly $100 million to dispense – looked destined to be exactly what Harry would end up with and yet today, it’s William who has earned it all.
Looking at Monday’s Vegas shots, the question is, is this what Harry does with his life now? If Slipping further into the gloop of celebrity-dom? Having to permanently keep his best smart casual blazer permanently pressed in case Cameron Diaz wants to go out for sushi and wondering why the UN hasn’t asked him to come back?
William’s Singapore trip only makes Harry’s post-palace philanthropic career look that much more lacking and hollow.
The argument can be made that a night out in Vegas and tequila slammers on board a Gulfstream easily trumps gladhanding the public at an airport but it’s not as if it sounds like the Sussexes’ had that brilliant of a night.
According to TMZ, the duke and duchess’ evening was “low-key” and saw “[Prince Harry] just kinda sitting there minding his own biz, somewhat aloof. Even when [the Sussexes] were seen standing up with the others … the couple just sorta stood there.”
And if ever there was a perfect image that sums up where the Duke of Sussex seems to have found himself on this side of Megxit, of Spare and of Harry & Meghan, it’s ‘just sorta standing there’.
Lucky his brother William is off doing something about putting out that “fire” he was so worried about.
Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.