Hurrah for Harry!

Third in line to the throne, young Prince Harry has started to make his mark on the nation's consciousness in more ways than one...

If you ask a British 17-year-old what their dearest wish is, one of the most frequent answers you will receive is: "to pass my driving test"! This should make Prince Harry, the Prince of Wales' youngest son and third in line to the British throne, a very happy boy. The prince passed his combined practical and theory test at the end of 2001 and now has a provisional driving licence. This allows him to drive a car, provided there is an adult who can drive sitting in the passenger seat, until he is 18, when he will receive a full driving licence. As a reward for his efforts, his father presented him not with a Rolls Royce or a Bentley, the luxury car which the Queen favours, but with an old Ford Escort car rather the worse for wear. However, he is likely to be given a new car for his eighteenth birthday, as his elder brother William was.

It didn't need an event like this, however, to put a smile on Harry's face. The prince is known for his playful sense of humour, and his easygoing character has made him popular with his peers and adults alike. As Hello!, Britain's leading glossy on the lives of the world's celebrities recently wrote: "Ever since Prince Harry was a toddler, there's been an impish side to his character that has charmed everyone around him."

Harry's love of jokes was demonstrated once again just before Christmas, when the prince bought a feathery thong at Selfridges, one of London's most prestigious department stores. Although the prince declined to say whom the present was for, it was apparently not the first time that he had bought such an item at the store. A member of staff revealed that Harry had bought a thong with a different design the year before!

But Harry has not lived the charmed life you might expect from a member of the British royal family with all the privileges and comforts this brings. He was only 12 years old when his mother, Princess Diana, was killed in a car crash, leaving him and his elder brother, Prince William, bereft not only of a parent but also of a friend.

The Princess of Wales had been determined that her sons live as normal a life as possible and not be confined to the hothouse atmosphere of St. James's Palace, Prince Charles' official London residence, and the threesome were often spotted eating hamburgers at McDonald's or at the cinema. Photos taken of the young prince at his mother's funeral procession show how sorely he was missing her.

Princess Diana, despite being born into the aristocracy herself, had the common touch, which Prince Charles is considered by many to be lacking. Although she delighted in expensive jewellery and fashionable clothes, in a world she gained entrance to through her position, wealth and elegance, she became increasingly concerned with humanitarian issues and the problems faced by ordinary people throughout the world. At the time of her death in 1997, she had taken the plight of landmine victims particularly to heart, and her very last public trip abroad was to visit landmine survivors in Bosnia.

It seems that Harry has been able to put the family tragedy behind him. Shortly before the first anniversary of Princess Diana's death he travelled to France with the Prince of Wales to see a football game in the 1998 World Cup. Although, unlike most fans, the then 13-year-old was wearing a suit and tie for the event and watched the game from a VIP box, he leapt to his feet and cheered with the other 20,000 England fans when the team scored its winning second goal against Colombia.

Neither does the prince only enjoy spectator sports. He is said by fellow pupils at Eton school to be a daredevil on the sports field, and he loves both skiing and abseiling, hardly the safest of occupations.

However, Harry's madcap exploits have unfortunately not been limited to the field of outdoor sports. It was recently made public that he had been barred from a pub near the royal residence in Highgrove in the county of Gloucestershire, where he often spends his school holidays without any other members of his family present. Not only did he become involved in a scuffle after a long evening of drinking and pool playing, but he also swore at a pub employee. Such behaviour is in complete contradiction to the royal code which, although tacit, has for centuries set an example to ordinary British people in both manners and morals. Harry has also confessed to having smoked cannabis at parties.

Nonetheless, the rumours currently making the rounds concerning Harry's decadent behaviour may say more about the British newspapers' desire to increase their circulation and the public's insatiable appetite for stories about the Royal Family than the prince's character. Much of what is written about the family's younger members needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt. Even though he did confess to smoking cannabis at parties, he can hardly be accused of setting a bad example to the nation's youth, many of whom admit to having tried it before they finish their school years.

Although Harry was known as a shy youngster, as he has matured he has become far more outgoing than Prince William. While the latter obviously disliked the media attention which accompanied him as he attended his first lecture at St Andrew's University last year, Harry has no such qualms. Less academic than his brother, he is also less shy and retiring, and seems to enjoy the freedom that not being directly in line to the throne gives him.

As Queen Elizabeth, Harry's grandmother, prepares to celebrate her Golden Jubilee, she will surely have been displeased by yet another scandal threatening to engulf her family. But maybe she should be glad to know that, just as Princess Diana wished, Harry has turned out to be a normal teenager after all, having to face the music at home after acting badly - even if home is a palace!