Why does Prince Harry make Washington swoon?

Prince Harry, making a visit to the US, interrupted a congressional hearing without attending it. Even Michelle Obama sounded a tad breathless announcing his appearance at a White House Mother’s Day tea.

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    First lady Michelle Obama, introduces a surprise visit from Prince Harry at an event in honor of military mothers in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday.
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Yes, Prince Harry is wowing Washington. That’s pretty apparent only one day after the British royal (third in line to the throne!) showed up in D.C. for a round of visits to various serious locales.

Here’s how magnetic his effect has been: He’s interrupting congressional hearings without attending them.

It’s true. On Thursday, a Senate Armed Services subcommittee was in the midst of pondering the un-monarchical subject of ballistic missile defense when cheering and catcalls erupted outside the hearing in the halls of the Senate Russell Office Building. Harry was somewhere in the vicinity, sweeping past on his way to view an exhibit on land mines.

“I’m trying to think of something disparaging to say about our British cousins because I think the uproar out in the hall is because Prince Harry is in the Senate,” said Sen. Mark Udall (D) of Colorado.

The noise continued.

“Originally I thought it was because ... they were waiting for the results of our hearing, but I think that’s ... “ said Senator Udall, throwing up his hands, to general laughter.

For the record, most of the 500 or so people in the crowd lined up to watch Harry walk past consisted of female congressional aides. That is just a fact – don’t get on us for being predictable and/or jealous. Harry’s host and fellow military aviator Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona noticed this.

“I’ve never seen, in all the years I’ve been here, such an unbalanced gender crowd,” Senator McCain told Harry.

Harry, a captain in the British military who’s served two deployments in Afghanistan, had a similarly unsettling effect on a White House Mother’s Day tea hosted by first lady Michelle Obama and second lady Jill Biden.

His visit to the tea was something of a surprise, and Mrs. Obama sounded a tad breathless announcing his appearance. She also warned that not everyone would get to personally greet the prince, sounding like the world’s highest-ranking PR handler as she did so.

“So we are absolutely thrilled that he could be with us today, that he took the time. He just arrived in D.C. and only has a limited time with us because he has a very busy schedule,” said Mrs. Obama as the crowd snapped cellphone photos.

So we’ve got to ask, why does British royalty have this effect on otherwise blasé Washingtonians?

OK, he’s handsome, young, and rich. Point 1! What congressional staff letter opener who lives in a group house and eats frozen burritos wouldn’t dream of being swept away to a life of ease? Movie stars cause the same disturbance in the normally staid Capitol Hill force.

Royalty is exotic. That’s our second point. The United States has never had it, and it predates our own democracy. Thus it has mysterious status. Why else did rich US debutantes flock to England during the Gilded Age to snag a title?

But British royalty is also safe. Not that you can always trust them to behave with propriety in Las Vegas hotel rooms – Harry himself has proved that. But they lost the Revolutionary War and no longer threaten our democracy.

In the early years of the republic, there were fierce political fights over whether Alexander Hamilton, say, secretly wanted a king. It’s hard to imagine a royal visit going off well back then. The first British king to visit the US, George VI, didn’t show up until 1939.

Since then, the US has increasingly viewed the British royals as quaint. So Harry causes a stir in part because he’s a character in a show – “Downton Abbey” come to life.

Though we will say that Harry is doing his best to represent his nation with dignity. On Friday, he paid a solemn visit to Arlington National Cemetery and laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknowns and the section where vets from Iraq and Afghanistan are buried.

Over the weekend, he’ll be in Colorado Springs, Colo., for a visit to games that feature wounded or injured soldiers from the US and Britain. After that, it’s back to the East Coast, where among other things he’ll play in a polo match in Greenwich, Conn.


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