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Royal Wedding Redux: Who Will Harry Marry?

5 minute read
William Lee Adams / London

He’s the unguarded foil to his buttoned-up brother, and for years he’s been considered a playboy prince. But Prince Harry — he who wore a Nazi uniform to a costume party, he who called a Pakistani military comrade a “raghead” on camera — now finds himself Britain’s most eligible bachelor. As Prince William prepares to walk down the aisle on April 29, single women the world over are looking with renewed interest at his younger brother Prince Harry. And according to Judy Wade, the royal correspondent for British celebrity magazine Hello!, they might be pleasantly surprised by what they see. “Most of us royal hacks like him more than William,” she says. “As William grows balder and more nerdy with his old-fashioned spectacles, Harry gets more gorgeous.”

The younger prince has emerged as the more desirable brother for reasons far beyond his full head of hair and body toned through competitive polo. The limelight has the ability to dull any King-in-waiting. William must choose his words wisely, stick to the straight-and-narrow, and live his life knowing he will one day become the symbol of the nation. Harry, on the other hand, has had the freedom to rack up life experiences — serving on the frontlines of Afghanistan, trekking to the North Pole, and, yes, stumbling out of clubs in the early hours. It’s all helped make him the life of any Windsor family party. “He’s got all the perks without all the responsibilities,” says Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine. “He doesn’t have to knuckle down and produce an heir and a spare. He can play the field. I think life is still a very big adventure for Harry.”

(See Kate and Will’s 10-year courtship in photos.)

But will that adventure ever include a Mrs.? The leading — indeed the only — candidate is Chelsy Davy, a brainy blonde from Zimbabwe and the prince’s on-again, off-again girlfriend of seven years. The daughter of a multi-millionaire safari operator, she met Harry through mutual friends while he was touring southern Africa during his gap year. After completing her studies in economics at the University of Cape Town, she moved to London in early 2007. Their romance appeared to blossom: she accompanied Harry to the July 2007 Concert for Diana memorial event, and met the Queen the following summer at a wedding. But by September 2010, following multiple break-ups and reconciliations, the relationship seemed to have run its course. She returned to South Africa, and he resumed the role of “Dirty Harry.” As one tabloid headline read at the time: “Prince Harry puts Chelsy Davy split behind him as he emerges from nightclub at 5am with a number written on his hand.”

Seems that number wasn’t written in permanent ink. Shortly after William announced his engagement in November, rumors began circulating that Chelsy would accompany Harry to Westminster Abbey for the wedding. Then in early February, Chelsy ditched her job in Africa and returned to London to start a traineeship with a major law firm. Paparazzi snapped the two enjoying pizza in Soho just three days after she landed. But Chelsy, who grew up on a 1,300 square-mile safari park, enjoys her freedom — and she seems unwilling to trade that in for a man. “They are so good together, but she says she does not want to marry into the royal family,” Wade of Hello! says. “Chelsy has seen enough to understand that it is a life sentence in a golden cage.”

(See a photo history of previous Royal Weddings.)

But Harry has shown Chelsy — and all of Britain — that he’s more than the family he was born into. He’s not afraid to ruffle a few feathers in the name of personal freedom. In 2007, when military officials suggested that he stay at home while his regiment went off to war, he refused, saying that he wouldn’t “sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country.” He also defies Windsor culture by wearing his heart on his sleeve. It’s no wonder that it was Harry — not William — who delivered the tribute to their late mother at memorial service marking the tenth anniversary of her death. “She was quite simply the best mother in the world,” he said in a moving speech he wrote himself, his voice occasionally cracking, as his brother looked on. “She made us and so many other people happy. May this be the way that she is remembered.”

Sensitive, attractive, and unencumbered by the coming weight of the crown, Harry isn’t worried about his expiration date: in five-to-ten years’ time he’ll still have plenty to offer the women of Britain’s aristocracy. As for now, he has aspirations to chase. “I want to live in Africa and become a wildlife photographer,” he told children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Lesotho last year. No one doubts he has the pluck to do it. What’s unclear is whether Chelsy Davy — or any other woman — will be standing by his side.

See TIME’s complete coverage of the Royal Wedding.

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