Prince Harry given delirious reception as US tour begins in Senate
John McCain on hand to shepherd prince through screaming throng more suited to infamous celebrity than dignified royalty
Emma Brockes in Washington; guardian.co.uk, Thursday 9 May 2013 18.29 EDTt
It wasn't the entrance of a royal, but of a celebrity. In the high marble atrium of a US Senate building, a scream went up. It sounded like teenagers, but this was a government building at 3.45pm: the noise was in fact from Senate staffers, five deep down the corridors and along the top balcony, phones held aloft, clutching their suit jackets to contain their excitement. Prince Harry dipped his head and took an awkward step forward. More screams from the balcony.
This is the prince's first visit to the US since his adventures in Las Vegas last year, when he was photographed at the sharp end of a game of strip billiards. The seven-day tour, which opened in Washington DC and will take in Colorado, New Jersey and New York before ending in a charity polo match in Connecticut next Wednesday, is impeccably worthwhile, arranged around meetings with charities and good causes. But anticipation has naturally focused on the other stuff.
Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, joked to journalists last month that when, next week, he acts as the prince's chaperone on a tour of a town devastated by Hurricane Sandy: "Nobody's going to get naked, OK? I think I can assure the people of New Jersey that. Much to their relief."
The prince's bad behaviour has only increased affection for him in the US. If William commands affable respect, like his father, and Kate – who is on the cover of People magazine this week under the headline "Kate's Baby Bump Diary! (Her 10 Best Maternity Looks)" is admired as glamorous but rather distant – Harry is his mother's son: of the people.
An hour before he arrived at the Senate, a giddy staffer ran around exclaiming, "Have you seen it in there? There's like one guy in there, and the rest are all women! I've never seen so many women!" There were, indeed, many women, over-dressed for a workday in a variety of pastel cardigans over cocktail dresses and three-inch heels. "Clear them out," said a stern female colleague.
When he appeared, Prince Harry looked stunningly, gleamingly, almost belligerently appropriate, in a navy blue suit and white shirt. He was accompanied by Senator John McCain, half a head shorter and in a state of some bafflement. Together, they toured a photo exhibition of mine-clearance programmes in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, put together by the Halo Trust, a favourite charity of Princess Diana.
The prince stood, hands clasped behind his back, head bowed as if humbled by what he was hearing, with high colour in his cheeks and surprisingly prominent ears. McCain grinned like a shark.
In the middle of the room, two mannequins dressed in landmine clearance outfits nodded to Diana's iconographic photoshoot in Angola, in the late 1990s, and added pathos to the event – although not for long. Every few minutes, more screams issued from behind the security line, causing Harry to frown and McCain to stare intently at a picture of a digger. It was exquisitely embarrassing.
Surprisingly, in this atmosphere, no one breached the protocol forbidding one to address the royals directly, not even the camera crews, one of whom beckoned silently at the prince with his hand, in a mimed version of the paparazzo's art. Harry ignored him and, turning, smiled fixedly at the cameras. McCain flexed his hands as if warming up to strangle someone.
When the visit ended, everyone flocked to the south windows, in a movement that might have tipped over the building, to watch the Prince disappear in a convoy of black SUVs, headed to the White House for an unannounced visit with Michelle Obama.
McCain rushed back up the corridor, waving his arms. "He's gone! He's gone!" he said, with a look on his face it wasn't possible to read. The carnival moved on.