Pubdate: Mon, 21 Jan 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Andrea Gerlin


Shrugs Greeted Harry's Drinking. Alarms Came With The Hint Of Drugs.

LONDON - When Britons learned that teenage Prince Harry spent much of
last summer drinking and smoking marijuana while his father was away
from the family estate, they also learned that it wasn't the drinking
that got him in trouble.

"The first hint that something was seriously wrong came when a senior
member of [household] staff noticed a strong smell of cannabis and
alerted Prince Charles," said the tabloid News of the World, which
broke the story Jan. 13 under the headline "Harry's Drugs Shame."

But that was long after Harry, who turned 17 in September, had become
a fixture at the nearby Rattlebone Inn and also had regularly brought
home friends to party in his cellar retreat, which featured a well-
stocked bar.

Like President Bush's twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, whom
newspapers here hailed as martyrs when they were charged with underage
drinking and using fake identification cards last June, Harry is
utterly in sync with a generation of British drinkers younger than the
legal age of 18.

"Imagine telling Britain's teenagers that they cannot drink alcohol
until they are 21," mocked London's Daily Telegraph newspaper after
the 19-year-old Bush girls were busted. "There would be anarchy.
Snarling, howling, thirsty mobs would take to the streets. Country
pubs would buck the law. The separation of pint and state would be
invoked in lofty speeches about freedom and the menace of
teetotallers, from Hitler to Osama bin Laden."

"What he's been doing is no different from what people his age are
doing," said Helen Youngman, 17, a London student who aspires to be a

Oscar Duffy, another 17-year-old Londoner who says he and his friends
drink between two and 10 pints of beer apiece on weekend nights,
concurs: "It's just been blown out of proportion because the majority
of kids drink underage. It is pretty normal. It is what we do on weekends."

In fact, drinking is what a great many Britons do, young or not.
According to the British government's General Household Survey for
2000, Britons 16 and older drink an average of 12 units of alcohol - a
unit is 10 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 0.8 ounces of spirits -
each week. In contrast, the National Institutes of Health's Alcohol
Epidemiological Data System last year found that Americans older than
14 consume an average of 2.4 units a week.

The World Health Organization reported in 1999 that while adult
alcohol consumption declined in a majority of developed nations in the
final quarter of the 20th century - including a drop of almost 9.5
percent in the United States - in Britain it jumped 25.9 percent.

And with the minimum age set at 18, Britain's tradition of underage
drinking allows those habits to take hold early.

British children routinely accompany their parents to the local pub
from the time they are toddlers. Several years before they reach the
legal minimum drinking age, they begin downing their first pints.

In villages, pubs are such important social centers that post offices,
ATMs and small grocery shops are being relocated within them as part
of a national "Make the Pub the Hub" campaign that Prince Charles
himself has championed to revitalize the countryside.

While Harry may have made the pub more of a hub than his father
envisioned, few British parents forbid their underage teens to drink.
Many even sanction and finance their children's pub-going, believing
they will act responsibly. To Britons, America's stricter laws and
attitudes suggest an unhealthy puritanism and lack of trust.

In addition to which, Youngman said, "If your parents turned around
and said 'No, you're not going to the pub,' they're pretty much
cutting off your social life because that's all there is to do."

If London teenagers face boredom outside the pubs, consider the plight
of those in rural areas such as Gloucestershire, the location of
Charles' estate, Highgrove. It was there last summer that Harry, then
16 and enjoying his summer vacation from Eton College after finishing
his first major set of exams, indulged in heavy drinking and marijuana
smoking. He also marked his informal coming of age on the premises of
the local pub, as thousands of other British youths do every year.

"It's a rite of passage in this country, just to see when you can get
served a pint," Paul Gates, a manager at an accounting firm, said over
drinks last week at a London bar.

Gates said he was 16 or 17 and working a summer job in a cafe attached
to a pub when he learned how cavalierly some establishments ignored
the drinking-age law. At the end of the summer, he said, the cafe even
threw a party for him "and let me have run of the bar."

Like underage drinkers anywhere, British teens occasionally get
carried away. Prime Minister Tony Blair discovered that two summers
ago when his eldest son, Euan, then 16, was arrested for being "drunk
and incapable" after police found him at 1:30 a.m. lying face-down in
his own vomit in London's busy Leicester Square. He had spent the
night celebrating the end of his first major set of exams.

The elder Blair - occasionally seen lifting a pint of stout at a pub
in his northern constituency during election campaigns - made his only
comment about the matter during a newspaper interview last year just
before his reelection. He said the incident now seemed funny enough
that he could "laugh about it."

"I was very worried at the time," he said. "But now, looking back, it
was pretty hilarious."

Not to be outdone, Blair's unpopular former Conservative nemesis
William Hague sought to prove his street credibility by bragging to an
interviewer from GQ magazine that he occasionally drank on the job
when he was a student working for his family's beer-distribution firm.
Once, he boasted, he downed 14 pints in a day.

The same claim might have forced a U.S. politician to do some major
backtracking. But Hague merely became the laughing stock of Britain -
because no one believed him capable of the feat. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake