LONDON, Jan. 13 -- Now surely we've all faced this problem: We've been invited to a costume party at someone's country estate and nothing in the closet is quite right. What to wear? For Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, here's the answer that came to mind: dress up as a German soldier, complete with army uniform and Nazi armband.
Unfortunately for Harry, a redheaded 20-year-old with an ever-expanding reputation for bad judgment, someone at the party Saturday night took his photograph and sold it to the Sun, Britain's most carnivorous tabloid. The result was splashed across the front page of Thursday's paper: "Harry the Nazi," screamed the headline, superimposed upon a photo of Prince Charles's and the late Princess Diana's second son, sporting a cigarette, a drink and a swastika.
A man in front of Buckingham Palace looks at the front page of the Sun tabloid, which bought the notorious photo of the 20-year-old in costume.
(Bruno Vincent -- Getty Images)
The spin machine at Clarence House, Charles's official residence, shifted into high gear, immediately issuing a brief statement of contrition in Harry's name -- "I am very sorry if I have caused any offense or embarrassment to anyone. It was a poor choice of costume and I apologize" -- and spending the rest of the day anonymously briefing the British press about (a) how very, very stupid Harry had been and (b) how very, very crushed he felt.
Still, the apology wasn't enough to head off a storm of criticism. Politicians weighed in, starting with the leaders of two of Britain's main political parties, who called on Harry to appear personally and apologize more fully. A former armed forces minister, Doug Henderson, went further and demanded that Harry resign from Sandhurst, the elite military academy where he is scheduled to begin an officer training course later this year.
"After the revelations, I don't think this young man is suitable for Sandhurst," Henderson told reporters. "If it was anyone else the application wouldn't be considered."
Members of the Jewish community were stunned. Greville Janner, a member of the House of Lords and former president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, called Harry's behavior "stupid, thoughtless, tactless." The headline on a hastily penned editorial for Friday's weekly Jewish Chronicle reads: "Mind Boggling."
"People are genuinely surprised and offended," said the Chronicle's editor, Ned Temko. "The instinct always among the leadership of the Jewish community is 'Don't make a federal case out of it.' Some people will excuse him by saying he's just 20, but he is, after all, part of an institution seen as embodying what it is to be British."
Harry's timing was impeccably bad, coming exactly two weeks before Europe solemnly commemorates the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp in Poland by Soviet troops. Harry's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, has invited Holocaust survivors and British war veterans who helped liberate them to a reception at St. James's Palace, and she will attend a Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration at Westminster Hall. Harry's uncle Prince Edward will represent the queen at a memorial service at Auschwitz.
Temko said Harry's statement of contrition was sorely lacking. "It implied this was a wardrobe problem," he said. "Whatever further statement he makes, there has to be some reflection that a swastika armband isn't just a fashion item, that it symbolizes a lot more. One of the most dismaying aspects for Jews and non-Jews is that there seems to be an utter lack of awareness of the context of the Holocaust and the war."
This is hardly the first time that Harry has drawn public attention for boorish or outrageous behavior. Three years ago his father dispatched him to observe a drug rehabilitation center after he was caught smoking marijuana. There have been a number of instances of public intoxication, and last October he scuffled with a paparazzo outside a London nightclub. But two weeks ago he and his older brother, William, spent a day at a warehouse helping ship relief supplies to tsunami victims in southern Asia, bolstering the image their late mother had painstakingly cultivated as a caring royal.
Saturday's "fancy-dress" party was thrown by Olympic show jumper Richard Meade for his son Harry's 22nd birthday. The theme was "Native and Colonial," and Prince William reportedly showed up wearing a lion and leopard outfit that he made himself, complete with black leggings.
William is two years older than his brother and supposedly better equipped in the brains and judgment department. But it apparently did not occur to him to tell his brother to lose the Nazi regalia. Or if he did, Harry paid no heed.
Harry came to the party wearing an army jacket with a German flag on the arm, the Sun reported. When he took it off, the khaki shirt underneath included a Wehrmacht badge on the collar and the swastika armband. An anonymous partygoer told the Sun that people were shocked by the outfit. "What on Earth was Harry thinking?" one asked.
Some commentators were quick to blame Prince Charles, still seen by some royal watchers as the villain in the Charles-and-Di saga, which ended in a bitter divorce.
"I'm sorry -- the Prince of Wales, he's a humanitarian and he does some terrific work, but I don't think he has . . . the right discipline over his children, particularly Prince Harry," Dickie Arbiter, a former Buckingham Palace press officer, told Sky News.
But others pleaded for time and patience. They say Harry is a sensitive young man, scarred by his glamorous mother's death in a 1997 car crash, who is deeply affected by criticism and needs space to mature.
"Give him a break," said royal biographer Robert Lacey. "We all make mistakes when we're young -- the difference is our mistakes aren't photographed and sold to the Sun."
Lacey says it would be inappropriate for Harry to appear publicly for now or to attend one of the Holocaust memorial events. "He should lie low for a while. The sooner he gets to Sandhurst the better."
A palace official told Reuters that there were no plans for Prince Harry to attend the ceremonies. "It would be a distraction and a detraction from the importance of the occasion because it would become a different story in media terms," the official said.
But the Sun on Friday reported that Prince Charles, "incandescent with rage," has ordered both of his sons to make a private visit to Auschwitz. The tabloid quoted an unnamed royal source as saying, "There will be no publicity and they will go with a Jewish charity."