Why we should give Prince Harry a break

by Stephen Tall on January 14, 2005

President George W. Bush has a neat line in rebuttal when questioned about the cocaine-fuelled booze-haze which characterised his pre-‘Born Again’ lifestyle: “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.” Pity poor Prince Harry, then, forced to live his young, irresponsible life in the present tense, and in the full glare of The Sun.

Wearing a Nazi uniform replete with swastika armband, even if it is to a private fancy dress party, is clearly not the smartest move for the third in line to the throne. But, beyond the inevitably bad PR, what did he do wrong? Well, that’s obvious: he displayed insensitivity to the millions who were killed or wounded, lost loved ones, or fought for the Allies against the fascist Nazi whose final solution was the eradication of the Jewish race.

But hold on a moment. Which musical comedy is currently playing to rave reviews at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London’s West End? It’s ‘The Producers’, of course, written by Mel Brooks (himself Jewish), the famous centrepiece of which is the song and dance routine ‘Springtime For Hitler’.

And which situation comedy is regularly cited as the best ever? ‘Fawlty Towers’, in which John Cleese created a goose-stepping, Nazi-saluting anti-hero who uttered the immortal catchphrase, ‘Don’t mention the war’. How is Prince Harry’s offence deeper or graver than that of Messrs Brooks or Cleese? Their artistic creations, after all, made their fortunes. His fancy dress has caused him nothing but grief.

The unfair reality is that Prince Harry is assumed (rightly or wrongly) to be ignorant of the historical truths about Nazi Germany. Michael Howard has, bizarrely and desperately, jumped on the passing bandwagon clamouring for Prince Harry to say sorry more publicly; as though an apology would be more sincere for having been extracted. Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, more sensibly, made clear that he did not want a lip-service mea culpa, but for Prince Harry to understand how he had given offence.

I am a republican; I am not anti-Royal Family. It seems to me a peculiar perversion of British society to retain an hereditary monarchy, and then to complain that some members are unsuited to the role. We place an intolerable public pressure on individuals who have not chosen an ill-defined life of public service, but instead had it thrust upon them. They should be released from the chains in which our sometimes pruriently intolerant tabloid society has shackled them, and left free to lead their own lives. It might also move Britain one step closer to becoming a fully meritocratic society.

I am well aware, though, that my republicanism is not shared by a vast swathe of my fellow subjects. So, until it is, can we all agree to take a vow of silence, and let this ordinary 20 year-old kid, who has endured his fair share of private tragedy, make his own way in the world without further self-righteous public flagellation?