Prince Harry

Royal Mess

UPDATED 01/31/2005 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/31/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

Quick: You're third in line for the British throne and just got invited to a costume party tossed by pals—whatever is a chap to wear? If you're Prince Harry the answer apparently is to use Mein Kampf 'as a style bible: On Jan. 8, the 20-year-old Harry cemented a growing rep for poor judgment by showing up at the bash dressed like a Nazi soldier, complete with a swastika armband.

Unfortunately for Harry, a photo found its way to Britain's Sun newspaper—igniting a scandal just weeks before the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. "Shameful," declared Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in L.A., who joined a chorus of condemnation from Israeli and German politicians and members of Parliament, including one who called for Harry's acceptance to the Sandhurst military academy to be rescinded. "I am very sorry if I caused any offense," Harry said in a statement. "It was a poor choice of costume."

Harry chose the getup for the "natives and colonials" theme party as "a last-minute, desperate choice," says a friend. (Prince William, who came as a lion, was with Harry when he rented the uniform and is said to feel "regret" about not intervening, says a source close to the princes.) Why handlers let Harry out of the house dressed that way is another question. "Advisers were not hanging around telling them what to wear," says the source. Perhaps they will be in the future. Said to be angry upon hearing of the incident, Prince Charles is standing by his son. Despite calls for a televised apology, insiders doubt there will be a more public mea culpa. "Lessons will be learned," says a spokesman. "[But] anything that will be done will be done privately."

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