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Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 17:06 GMT
Shifting strategy on rogue Royals
Prince Harry, centre, at Eton
Prince Harry will hope to return to Eton and privacy
By the BBC's Peter Hunt

How times have changed.

In the 1960s, when Prince Charles was just 14, he was himself caught up in an under-age drinking episode.

It pales into insignificance when compared with his youngest son's recent antics.

The Prince of Wales had been on a school trip to Scotland when he had a drink of cherry brandy in a public bar.

Prince Charles
Prince Charles was caught under-age drinking in the 1960s
The incident attracted significant attention and Buckingham Palace initially denied it had ever happened, before eventually being forced to admit the truth.

Little wonder then that Prince Charles has said the mere mention of cherry brandy makes him wince.

Decades later and the media strategy is very different - not least because this is a less reverential age.

Once Prince Charles' officials learnt of media interest in the recreational activities of his son, Prince Harry, they launched a damage limitation exercise aimed at putting the best possible gloss on a difficult situation.

They acknowledged Prince Harry had, in the past, experimented with cannabis and drunk excessively.

Philosophical prince

But they insisted he had now learnt his lesson.

Prince Charles is said to be calm and philosophical and just wanted to do the best for his son.

So far, so good. The press coverage has not been very critical.

The News of the World , which broke the story, has spoken of Prince Charles as a "courageous, wise and loving dad".

They go on to say that he has emerged as a modern king in the making.

Protection officers

There are inconvenient questions, such as why Prince Harry was left to his own devices at home at the age of 16.

Commentators could also question why personal protection officers do not appear to have been aware their charge was acting illegally.

Neither of these issues have really surfaced.

Prince Charles, once caricatured as someone who talked to plants, emerges from this as a modern father struggling with an errant teenage son.

But there are potential pitfalls with this strategy.

Lurid tales

Having made the basic facts public, it will be difficult for aides to batten down the hatches.

They will have to brace themselves for several more days of lurid tales of quite what Prince Harry got up to when stoned and drunk.

And if it emerges that his under-age drinking was not just a summertime phase, then potentially more searching questions may be asked.

Having responded in such an initially public way about Prince Harry's behaviour, the hope is clearly that in a day or two he will be able to get on with his life in private, at Eton.

In part, that may depend on how Prince Harry chooses to conduct himself in the future.

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