September 23, 2002 12:00 PM

Suzannah Harvey was flattered when Prince Harry asked her to take a stroll outside at the Beaufort Hunt Ball in Gloucestershire last November. Even more so when the pair shared a long chat and, Harvey claims, a kiss. But after a while, she wondered if Harry—being a royal and all—needed to get back to the party. “He suddenly looked really sad and said that no one would miss him,” says Harvey, a 24-year-old model. “He said, ‘I am not the important one.’ ”

For Prince Harry, who turns 18 on Sept. 15, adolescence has been a mixed bag. Blessed by all accounts with a roguish charm, he has still struggled to distinguish himself from a father who is destined to be king—Prince Charles, 53—and a brother, Prince William, 20, who generates rock-star fervor at every turn. Just 12 when his mother died, Harry was given a wide berth by the British press until last January, when reports surfaced that Charles had packed him off on a one-day visit to a rehab center after discovering he had been drinking and smoking pot. Then the gloves came off: “Harry at Drink and Drug Bash,” screamed a recent headline in News of the World.

Now, as he enters adulthood, Harry is making a concerted effort to put such headlines behind him and carve out a role for himself as a royal. Rather than commemorate his birthday with a flashy bash, he told palace aides, “I would like to do something with my mother’s charities.” Says one palace source: “There is a nice young man behind all those rotten stories.”

In the days before his birthday, Harry planned to accompany his father to London’s Sept. 11 ceremonies (William was traveling in Kenya) and visit a London children’s hospital that was a favorite of Di’s. Palace aides say that after receiving disappointing exam results this summer, he is “knuckling down” in his final year at Eton College—much to the disappointment of some royal watchers. “I certainly hope,” says royals author Robert Lacey, “that he won’t I calm down now that he’s 18!”

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