Prince Harry was launched into a new leading role in the Royal Family when he took centre stage at the Olympic closing ceremony.
In his most important solo royal engagement yet, the third in line to the throne was selected as the figurehead for the spectacular farewell to the Games, which the Queen opened two weeks ago.
In a surprise move, the high-profile task of celebrating Britain's glory at London 2012 fell to the 27-year-old prince, accompanied only by his sister-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge. No senior royals were present in the stadium.
Harry, who made a succession of prominent appearances in the crowd at many of the history-making events of the competition, entered the stadium in a sober grey suit with a blue Olympic lapel pin and was introduced to the crowd as HRH Prince Henry of Wales.
The national anthem was then sung by a children's choir as the Union Jack was raised, Harry joining in lustily.
Kate, standing next to him, wore a £150 blue dress from last season's Whistles collection. She was seen in the same dress on June 5, during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert.
In a stirring written message, Harry said the Games had been 'extraordinary', and added: 'They will stay in the hearts and minds of people all over the world for a very long time to come.
'I congratulate all the athletes who have competed. They have shown us that there are few boundaries to human endeavour.'
The spirit of the Olympics, he said, represented 'a magnificent force for positive change'. The athletes had 'captured the imagination of the world'.
His appearance on behalf of the Queen also cemented his image in the public eye as a prince of the people, a down-to-earth ambassador for what has been widely acclaimed one of the best things to happen to Britain for decades.
Senior royals including the Queen and Prince Charles have made a point of leaving the Games to the younger members of the family, notably Prince William, Kate and Harry, who were official Team GB ambassadors.
Charles attended the men's cycling and badminton on the opening Saturday, before heading off to Scotland. Camilla stayed on in London for a few days to attend the eventing before joining him.
The Queen herself, who played a starring role in the opening ceremony in a James Bond sketch before appearing to parachute from a helicopter into the stadium, headed off to Balmoral the next day.
Yesterday, more than two weeks on, she said in a message that the efforts of the athletes of Great Britain and the Commonwealth had 'truly captured the public's imagination and earned their admiration'.
She added: 'The outstanding performance of Team GB, in achieving the greatest Olympic success since 1908, will, I am sure, have inspired a new generation of Olympians and reminded us all how sport unifies communities and nations.'
Prince Harry has been a frequent presence at the Games, enthusiastically cheering our rowers and other athletes, enjoying the beach volleyball and watching his cousin Zara Phillips win an equestrian team silver medal. His clear appreciation of Team GB's performance, and the image it promoted for the nation, earned praise and thanks from both athletes and organisers. of it would have been possible, he told us last night, without the work of everyone who helped to bring the Games in London to fruition.
So it was Harry who waved goodbye to them while his father and grandmother stood aside, the Queen leaving it to her grandson to take a place visible in history as the Games came to an end.
- Daily Mail