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Prince Harry 'longing to see' family

RAW VISION: Prince Harry has returned to the UK after a 20-week deployment in Afghanistan.

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"Grief is the price we pay for love,'' Queen Elizabeth said in her message to New Yorkers after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Next time she chats to her grandson, she might add: ''Discretion is the price we pay for privilege.''

Never in her 86 years has the Queen been a fraction as indiscreet as Prince Harry was in his interview to mark the end of his tour of duty in Afghanistan this week. Much of his charm comes from his open, laddish approach to life - it was striking that, after his exploits in Las Vegas last year, hundreds of soldiers rushed to support him, emulating his naked pose. And he himself admits in the interview that he isn't the brightest soldier, dreading his written military tests just as he hated school exams.

But this time, in his cavalier approach to killing the enemy, the take-me-as-you-find-me attitude has let him down. ''Take a life to save a life,'' he said, before making an unfortunate comparison between his skill as an Apache helicopter gunner and his talent for computer games: ''It's a joy for me because I'm one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think that I'm probably quite useful.''

Britain's Prince Harry

Take me as I am ... Prince Harry must learn to distinguish between his his private life as soldier and public life as larrikin royal. Photo: Reuters

The unfair thing for the prince is that his remarks wouldn't be unusual or outrageous in the mouth of one normal soldier talking to another. Whenever I've met young soldiers, they are always itching to get to the front line. And among themselves they talk openly - often in a jokey, slangy way - about combat. Who are we, back home in comfort and safety, to criticise them for their gallows humour and bravado?

Of course soldiers kill people - that's what we expect them to do. I'd have thought army recruiting officers would even be secretly delighted at the thrills and spills of military life as revealed by Prince Harry, as he rushed to his helicopter, hand on pistol, sunglasses in position. But, once the TV cameras turn up, it's time to stop the officers' mess banter, and draw a veil over the bloody facts of military life. Harry is not good at drawing veils over things, even if he is intensely admirable for putting his life at risk in the service of his country and his grandmother.

But, still, he isn't like other soldiers, much as he'd like to be. He acknowledged as much in the interview, when he turned to his behaviour in Las Vegas. ''It was probably a classic example of me probably being too much army, and not enough prince,'' he said.

Whether he likes it or not, Harry has to play that official prince role, and accept the compromises that go with it. The privilege and position of royalty - even if you are in the hazy, grey zone as the spare, not the heir, a role clumsily handled by both Princess Margaret and Prince Andrew - require compromises. Harry's grandmother understands that implicitly, and has never put a foot wrong. His father may occasionally chafe at the restrictions, but he essentially accepts the obligations of royal blood - and he is constantly reminding his younger son of them.

Royal service isn't a pick-and-mix game. You can't just pull out the plums - the money, the girls, the servants, the palaces, the private jets - you have to do the dreary bits, too. And the biggest royal compromise of all is the need to keep your controversial views to yourself. Prince Charles hasn't always understood this, either.

Harry's late mother fostered an emotional, let-it-all-hang-out approach in her sons; in her younger son, particularly. That openness has tremendous benefits and explains much of Harry's Prince Hal, Jack-the-lad appeal. Throughout much of the interview, he showed a winning lack of stuffiness, talking openly about his helicopter's ''travel johns'' - portable loos - and his inability to make a bed.

Harry is a natural army officer through and through, not a VIP doing an imitation of one, and you can see how frustrating it is for him not to live the natural officer life.

He is still young - only 28 - and the roistering Prince Hal days can, in theory, go on forever: succession disasters notwithstanding, he will never become King Henry IX. But it'll soon be time to put away childish things. What now looks like hot blood and instinctive reactions will be petulant oafishness in 10 years.

To maintain his popularity, and a proper role, the loose-tongued Spencer emotion will, sometimes, have to give way to the stiff Windsor upper lip.

Telegraph, London

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