September 16, 2002 01:00 AM

As he promised, Britain’s Prince Harry celebrated his 18th birthday on Sunday by continuing the charity work that his late mother, Princess Diana, was unable to finish.

Showing a new maturity that greatly distanced him from the embarrassing press reports of last January, after he was caught drinking underage and smoking marijuana, the young royal told the British Press Association in an official interview that his mother had “more guts than anybody.” He also said that she inspired him to carve a role for himself battling little-known causes, the Associated Press reports.

Princess Diana was killed in a Paris car crash on Aug. 31, 1997, just two weeks before Harry’s 13th birthday.

“The way she got close to people and went for the sort of charities and organizations that everybody else was scared to go near, such as land mines in the Third World. She got involved in things that nobody had done before, AIDS, for example,” said Harry.

“I want to carry on the things that she didn’t quite finish. I have always wanted to, but was too young … Father (Prince Charles) is very happy about my plans and has encouraged me to take an interest in my mother’s work,” he added.

For his birthday, the palace released an official photograph of Harry taken by fashion lensman Mario Testino, who was Diana’s favorite photographer. In the pictures, Harry appears relaxed and confident.

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