By Lord Ashcroft, KCMG.

With the benefit of hindsight, Prince Harry’s decision to participate
in the non-Olympic sport of “strip billiards” was not his finest hour.

Yes, after a lifetime spent dodging the paparazzi, he should have
learnt to be on his guard around the clock against prying lenses. Yes, he
should have realised that, particularly when in the company of a group of strangers,
it only needs one person with a mobile phone to raise it for a split second to
cause him and the Royal Family several days of embarrassment and grief.

But let’s keep this incident in perspective and save our vitriol not
for the fun-loving, holidaying 27-year-old royal but for the opportunist
reveller – rightly described as “despicable” by one of Prince Harry’s friends –
who chose to betray him for a pocketful of US dollars.

I met Prince Harry when I explored ways of helping out with his once-troubled
African-based charity, Sentebale. I found him grounded and thoughtful: a young
man of whom his late mother, a charismatic woman I knew reasonably well, would rightly
have been hugely proud.

Furthermore, everything that I have seen of him from a distance I have
liked and admired. I have no doubt that he is a force for good both for the UK,
in general, and the Royal Family, in particular.

For a start, he is a courageous and loyal officer, who has served with
distinction and pride in the Army Air Corps. He could have come up with any
number of excuses for not serving on
the frontline, but instead he found any number of reasons why he should serve on the frontline.

During his tour of duty in Afghanistan, he neither asked for, nor received,
any favours and, to a man, his comrades were united in praise for his courage
and hard work. When his tour was unavoidably curtailed because of a media leak,
the Prince could barely hide his disappointment – and ever since he has tried
his hardest to return to Afghanistan for a second tour.

Prince Harry’s courage is matched by his skill: he not only qualified
as an Apache helicopter pilot after 18 months of rigorous training but, earlier
this year, he was awarded a prize for the best co-pilot gunner on his course.

Over the last decade, Prince Harry has also proved himself to be a
hard-working and committed member of the Royal Family, and he has worked
enthusiastically and with good grace for countless charities and good causes,
including the plight of sick and vulnerable children.

Unless there is an unforeseen tragedy, as third in line to the throne
Prince Harry will never be King, but he will always be there to pull his
weight, and to serve Queen and country to the best of his abilities.

Prince Harry at Olympics 2012One of Prince Harry’s finest attributes is that he never pretends to
be something he is not. He is, and never will, be either academic or studious,
but he is always sincere and the twinkle in his eye will never dim.
Furthermore, he is clearly a loyal and affectionate brother – and his abundant
charm is matched by his lack of pomposity.

Even without the guiding hand of his mother (who died 15 years ago
next week), Prince Harry has led a fulfilling, if not a blameless, life. Yet
even when the Prince has, like most of us, made the odd mistake, he has always
learned from his errors, which have been met with genuine remorse and

I am convinced that, even at 27 and for all his high jinks, Prince
Harry is still insecure and vulnerable: as he stood in for the Queen at the
closing ceremony of the Olympics, it was abundantly clear that this is not someone
who is naturally at ease, in a suit and tie, at official engagements.

Every young man or woman who lives in the public eye must be able to let
their hair down. Prince Harry is entitled to have some harmless fun and, if he
can be encouraged to keep more than his watch and necklace on during his next
spell of R&R, then all the better.

Over the past three days, senior members of the Royal Family and their
courtiers will, no doubt, have formed a long queue to remind Prince Harry of
his sense of responsibility and duty. 
Yet this is a young royal who has so many qualities than can never be
taught that I, for one, am going to forgive him his latest faux pas.

Anyone who saw Prince Harry jokingly “cheat” to win his “race” against
Usain Bolt in the Caribbean will have realised that he has inherited his
mother’s wicked sense of humour.

Indeed, if the late Diana, Princess of Wales is looking down on her
two boys from “above”, I have no doubt that she would find it hard not to
chuckle over her younger son’s latest indiscretion. Perhaps, she would even
share the view of several of my female friends that – judging from the
late-night photographs taken in a Las Vegas hotel suite – Prince Harry has been
blessed with a very nice bottom.