But soft, the prince is here, not the tall, married one but the tall, single one, popping into Washington for less than 24 hours before returning to his British post of Apache helicopter pilot/indelible bachelor.
The last time the British were in town, in March, we held a state dinner and presented them with guest George Clooney. In turn, they have sent us Prince Harry. Special relationships are built on such cultural exchanges.
And how did he look? Slightly more sturdy, equally as studly as one would expect.
And how did he sound? Surprisingly deep-voiced — easy chuckle, applied liberally.
(Additional pressing questions: Is he back with Chelsy Davy? Who knows. Does he know how to charm an audience? He knows. Can you marry him? No.)
The purpose of Harry’s visit was to accept a humanitarian award from the Atlantic Council for his work with wounded service members. The Atlantic Council is one of those terribly important Washington think tanks, busy promoting U.S. and European leadership on international issues and holding galas to recognize distinction in the field. This being Washington, where you can’t so much as swipe your Metro card without bumping into somebody’s undersecretary, it’s easy to play hooky from events like this; they happen all the time.
However, the Atlantic Council has been growing in visibility — it had U2’s Bono two years ago and Vice President Biden last year — and Harry is something of a get. It is an honor to be able to honor him.
“We thought it was an enormously positive message that a person of the highest privilege imaginable” has chosen a career path in the military, said Fred Kempe, president and chief executive of the Atlantic Council, in an interview. Prince Harry has “taken the lessons of the battlefield” and developed philanthropic interests based on his personal experiences.
His Royal Highness’s first visit to Washington began with an afternoon reception at the residence of British Ambassador Peter Westmacott, where the prince met with teams of British and American athletes from the Warrior Games, a competitive paralympic event for wounded or sick veterans. He strode onto the lawn at a quarter-to-4 — navy suit, striped tie — and stopped to speak at length with members of the military in uniform. “We had 16,” he could be heard explaining to a few, which resulted in much laughter from the group.
Sixteen what? Sixteen who? Impossible to tell. The nonmilitary guests were too polite to eavesdrop, which the breeze made it difficult to do anyway, even if they had tried, which they most certainly did not. They occupied themselves by eating cucumber sandwiches while pretending not to stare.
The ambassador gave a speech, and then second lady Jill Biden gave a speech, honoring the sacrifice and contributions of British and American soldiers. “I’m sinking!” Biden exclaimed, because high heels really were inadvisable after this rain we’ve been having.
His Royal Highness made no speech but participated in the planting of a maple tree, in celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. He obligingly scooped shovelfuls of dirt around the tree and then obligingly pretended to get a stomach cramp from the exertion, which everyone applauded, and you thought: Now I get it. He really is astoundingly good at this royal thing. He really has mastered the art of standing, smiling, nodding, as if he didn’t have anything better to do than chat.
“Were you all kept in the corner on purpose?” he joked with one cluster of people — cheeky! — before moving along.
“That counts, right?” A woman in a floral dress wanted to make sure that this encounter counted as Meeting a Prince. “That counts?”
A few hours later, he had been sculpted into a tuxedo for the Atlantic Council dinner, stepping past throngs of admirers (How did they know he was here? Oh, Twitter.) and into the Ritz-Carlton. Basement ballroom, clanking forks, gorgeous tables.
The other recipients of the evening were U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who was honored for international leadership; violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, who was honored for artistic leadership; Unilever chief executive Paul Polman — business leadership; and all the enlisted men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, for their distinguished military leadership. Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the senior noncommissioned officer in the U.S. military, accepted the award from Atlantic Council Chairman Chuck Hagel and spoke of the “robust strength” and “grit” of his fellow enlisted men.
Mutter’s award was presented by her former husband, composer Andre Previn. She accepted musically, with a rendition of Gershwin. Ban’s award was presented by Henry Kissinger. The secretary general called attention to the turmoil in Syria, receiving applause for saying, “There can be no compromise on issues of justice or human rights.”
Harry’s award — only the second time that a humanitarian award has been given by the council (Bono was the other) — was presented by Gen. Colin Powell, who delightedly reminded the audience that the prince had another title: Capt. Harry Wales.
“The average age has dropped 25 years” at the dinner because of the captain’s presence, Powell said, also noting: “We have a record number of young, single women.”
In truth, the audience looked fairly distinguished, fairly salt-and-pepper and the grown-ups clapped as hard as the young ’uns when the prince delivered a moving acceptance speech on behalf of the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry, which assists wounded servicemen with reintegration into civilian life.
“British and American forces train together, fight together and, tragically, some are wounded and some die together,” said Harry, calling for continued cooperation between the countries’ armed forces and reminding the audience that a warrior’s struggle does not end when he or she leaves the battlefield.
“I obviously don’t feel I’ve done nearly enough to deserve this,” he said. The audience, obviously, disagreed.