In Her Majesty's Service, Britain's Prince Andrew Sails into the Falklands Fray

UPDATED 04/26/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/26/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT

The cheering crowds on shore were a sea of fluttering Union Jacks, the flags on the semaphore tower of the carrier Invincible signaled departure, and an impressive armada of 30-odd ships began to pull out of Portsmouth Harbor, bound for the Falkland Islands and the prospect of battle. It was a display of naval might more impressive than any England had seen since World War II—and nothing was more awe-inspiring than the sight of Her Majesty's most modern ship, the 19,500-ton aircraft carrier Invincible, resolutely leading the line. Among the 1,000 crew members, one man loomed larger than all the rest. The 22-year-old sublieutenant's given names are Andrew Albert Christian Edward, but he is, as the patch on his flying suit testifies, "HRH Prince Andrew." Until his sister-in-law, Princess Diana, gives birth this summer, he remains second in succession to the British throne.

Overshadowed all his life by his older brother, Charles, Prince Andrew is known to his countrymen, chiefly through the tabloid press, as a royal caricature called "Randy Andy." Long portrayed as a playboy, Andrew has actually devoted himself seriously to a profession. Like his great-grandfather, his grandfather and his father, Prince Philip, before him, Andrew has followed the family tradition of service at sea. In 1979 Andrew bypassed a university education to enroll in the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. Following his commission in 1981, he signed up for a 12-year hitch in Her Majesty's Navy. He is by all accounts a gifted and serious seaman. He placed first in his class at helicopter pilot school, and soon after graduation joined the Sea Kings, the navy's elite helicopter antisubmarine squadron. When the Invincible was called into battle on April 5, there was never any doubt that the Queen would send her second son off with his ship. "The Prince answered the call like any other serviceman," said a Buckingham Palace spokesman, "and left immediately."

Answering his country's call to duty will embellish Andrew's already considerable legend among his countrymen—most of it built on less august pursuits than defending the realm. Unlike his revered older brother, Andrew has long been a royal hellion with a taste for practical jokes and strenuous sports. As a boy, he once dumped detergent into the swimming pool at Windsor Castle, and he reportedly enjoyed slipping whoopee cushions under his mother's imperial seat. His taste in food is as plebeian as his sense of humor: He prefers the simple pleasures of cheeseburgers, French fries and pizza washed down with beer. Andrew relishes gliding, camping, soccer, rugby and sailing. During a brief stay at Lakefield College School in Ontario, he won respect for his gutsy style as a hockey player. "He was quite vicious," said a teammate, "but good players need to be." One officer at the naval college praised the Prince's ability to withstand the rigors of forced marches and 10-mile runs. "He's superfit," said Lt. Commander John Eglen, "and a lad who just thrives on physical exercise, however tough."

Fairly or not, the Prince is even more famous for his pursuit of less strenuous pleasures. He prefers the company of cover girls and beauty queens to the usual royal run of debutantes and daughters of noblemen. Both Fleet Street and U.S. tabloids eagerly follow the amorous adventures of the "love-'em-and-leave-'em Prince," printing rumors of romance with actress Tatum O'Neal, model Kim Deas and Carolyn Seaward, who was Miss United Kingdom of 1980. Women on several continents have shown a keen appreciation of the Prince's blue eyes, broad shoulders and boyish grin. During a royal stopover in Tanzania in 1979, two teenage girls greeted the Prince with a banner that read, "Hi, Andy, stop round for some coffee." The charming Prince sauntered over to his startled fans and politely declined the invitation. "I'm terribly sorry," he told them, "but I haven't the time."

As the five-year-old Invincible began its two-week, 8,000-mile trip toward a possible confrontation with Argentina, Prince Andrew's shipboard activities reflected both the serious and fun-loving sides of his nature. In antisubmarine search-and-destroy exercises, he piloted a Sea King, dropping depth charges that sent a column of spray 400 feet into the air. Back on board the carrier, he was invited to perform a less martial chore—hosting a planned talk show entitled "A Dose of Andrew" on the ship's closed-circuit television service. Lieutenant Nick Bradshaw, the show's producer, explained its format: "Prince Andrew will answer questions put to him by his shipmates, provided they are not too sensitive." As is their custom, of course, Andrew's shipmates will address him as "Sir" during the questioning. That bow to royal protocol underscores one inescapable fact. Despite his carefree demeanor, Andrew fills a serious role in English society—he is a kind of understudy to his older brother. "In this modern age," says one official of the royal court, "we cannot close our eyes to the fact that Prince Charles could have a fatal accident." The royal family and their advisers have prepared Andrew for that possibility. Should push come to shove in the windswept South Atlantic, Andrew will likely give a good example to his mates. Already he has shown his royal stuff, altering his nickname, albeit briefly, to "Handy Andy." In a training exercise off Scotland last fall, the Prince was flying a chopper when a wave swept a sailor off the deck of a submarine below. Following the orders of his flight instructor, Andrew kept the helicopter hovering in place for almost seven minutes while a crewman was lowered on a winch to rescue the sailor. A navy spokesman described the incident with characteristic understatement, but with obvious pride. "Andrew carried out this operation in the manner expected of a Royal Navy pilot," he said. "He was very cool."

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