With a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, "Trouble Harry" looked cool and casual at Saturday's party at Harry Meade's place, the son of the three-time Olympic champion show jumper. There was only one problem with the image: His outfit didn't fit in terribly well with the magnificent, country-estate fete in Wiltshire. He was sporting a swastika badge on his arm. And it didn't take long before he got photographed.
Almost as noteworthy as the sand-colored shirt -- reminiscent of "Desert Fox" Erwin Rommel (Hitler's favorite general) -- with a Nazi Wehrmacht emblem on the collar, was the jacket Prince Charles's still-maturing son wore to the costume party. It had the black, red and gold flag of post-war Germany on the back. A German on the outside, a Nazi on the inside seemed to be the message. Very tasteful -- just like the costume party's theme: "colonials and natives."
The tabloid newspaper The Sun dished up the photo to more than 4 million Brits this morning, who shook their heads at the breakfast table as the paper watched its circulation soar. And of course, the partygoer the paper managed to interview was shocked. "What on earth was Harry thinking of?" the guest told the paper. "A senior royal dressing up as a Nazi for a laugh? If that is his idea of a joke, it went down like a lead balloon with many."
But the scene didn't seem to bother people much when it happened on Saturday night. Apparently, the party continued and grew quite lively after Harry's grand entrance. Harry's brother William came as a mix of a lion and a tiger complete with stuffed paws, and the girls dressed as Asian belly dancers. If these jeunesse doree of British money, sports and blue bloods who have since been running to the media were actually shocked, then it was at best highly concealed -- at least if you go by the pictures of lively revelry published so far.
In Harry's mind it must have just been another party trick, another provocation -- the equivalent of his recent fisticuffs in a London nightclub and his recent drinking episode which ended with him passed out on the streets of Buenos Aires. He just sees it as an empty-headed fashion statement.
As a result, the kind of apology we've become accustomed to from Harry also fell flat this time. "It was a poor choice of costume," he said. But it was actually a good deal worse. "Shocking and astounding," was the response from the editor in chief of Britain's Jewish Chronicle newspaper. Jewish victim's organizations are protesting and the country's been turned on its head. Only three weeks before the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where Prince Edward will represent the royal family in a memorial service, the Windsors are on the verge of an image meltdown.
"Perhaps Harry should also go there," the Sun's columnist writes, clearly concerned about rehabilitating the royal. The paper, of course, is laughing all the way to the bank as it collects on Harry's train wreck, just as it did from revelations about his mother, Lady Diana.
A wardrobe malfunction evokes uncomfortable royal memories
But Harry's wardrobe malfunction also managed to strike a sensitive nerve. The English aristocracy was not quite as anti-Nazi as modern-day England would like to believe.
During the war, of course, the royal family tried to present itself as a heroic example of resistance and refused to move to the countryside to escape German bombs. When Buckingham Palace was damaged in a bombing run, Queen Mum is famous for saying, "I'm almost glad we've been bombed. Now we can look [London's] East End in the face." The young Queen Elizabeth also helped out where she could.
News stands and The Sun are laughing their way to the bank over Harry's latest snafu.>But on the other hand, there was widespread sympathy and admiration among the English royals for Hitler. Edward VII was still praising the murderous dictator as late as 1937 -- a full three years after the harshly anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws were passed and when concentration camps already dotted the Reich -- and Lord Halifax, the English Foreign Secretary until 1940, called Hitler "the greatest of all Germans" and saw him as a valuable bulwark against communism. As late as 1940, Hitler still thought that England would stay neutral while he took over the rest of the European continent.
World War II, which became England's "greatest hour," retains a large place in England's conscience even today. Hardly an evening goes by in the UK without a television special on the war, Churchill's resistance, or on German war crimes. There are soap operas featuring dim-witted Nazis and heroic small-town Britons, and documentary series about Rommel and his daredevil lightening operations in Northern Africa. With such a menu, it isn't surprising that today's party-going youth -- with their paltry attention spans -- reach for such a tasteless costume.
It wasn't so very long ago that the editor in chief of the Daily Mirror, Richard Desmond, goose-stepped around in front of the board of the Daily Telegraph yelling "Sieg Heil" because his paper was to be sold to the German Springer Verlag publishing house -- a publisher that has reconciliation with the Jews written into its statutes.
The disgust in Britain over Harry's costume, in other words, is not free from hypocrisy. The tabloids Daily Mirror and Daily Mail even managed to find a second, equally shocking scandal to grace their front pages: Queen Elizabeth reportedly said during the reception of a 19-year-old social worker that London has no chance against Paris to land the Olympic Games in 2012.
Now that's a scandal!