The swaggering prince

Prince Harry was merely following British tradition when he donned a party costume, writes Ros Taylor. He just forgot to dress up

The British just love dressing up. We do it all the time. Geeky students borrow fishnet stockings and a basque for Rocky Horror Show tribute nights. Bridget Jones wore bunny ears and a fluffy tail to what she expected to be a Tarts and Vicars party.

Only a few weeks ago, the BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr, put on bike leathers and strutted across a stage to raise money for Children in Need. We have a rich tradition of cross-dressing, too: Harry's mother Diana and Sarah Ferguson once crashed a party dressed as policemen.

It's even considered OK, in Sloaney circles, to throw "Colonial and Native" parties like the one Harry was attending. Prince William wore a straw skirt for his 21st (the dress code for that party was "Out of Africa") and this time he reportedly turned up wearing a skin-tight black leotard and leopard-skin paws and a tail.

It's precisely because colonial Africa is a sensitive subject among Guardian readers and New Labour that this class of British society loves to revive it. The sexually uptight middle classes have their tarts and vicars; for the upper classes, it's Britain's colonial past that provides a bit of a frisson. It might have been terribly bad to pretend we owned half the world. But it was fun, wasn't it?

At first glance Harry's choice of costume in any case seems completely inappropriate to Britons brought up on a diet of Third Reich documentaries depicting stormtroopers marching through Europe. What have the Nazis got to do with Britain's colonies? Actually, his outfit displays the sensibilities of a prince who has gone to considerable trouble to fit the Colonial and Native theme. If he had wanted to look like a stereotypical Nazi, he would have worn a long trenchcoat. Instead, he's sought out the short-sleeved desert uniform of Rommel's Afrika Korps. Harry wasn't after comic effect. He went for authenticity.

The online auction site eBay has banned Nazi memorabilia, and the prince wouldn't have asked a palace dressmaker to run up the costume. Ordering the insignia from one of the nasty online outlets touting reproduction SS knuckledusters would have been ludicrous. It seems equally unlikely that his great-great uncle Edward's personal effects are lying around Clarence House. So he must have used a fancy dress supplier.

Predictably, the chairman of the British Costume Association said today that Nazi costume was a "grey area". "Most of our members would only supply this sort of thing to stage productions, not for parties and certainly not to a youngster." Tellingly, the most popular Nazi-influenced outfit appears to be the Freddie Starr version, involving wellies and white shorts decorated with a swastika. But that wasn't Harry's style.

You can get away with impersonating almost anyone if you do it with irony, however crude. When Aaron Barschak gatecrashed Prince William's birthday party wearing an Osama bin Laden beard and flipped up his robe to flash a pubic wig, it was shocking - but pretty funny, too, because Bin Laden himself would have been disgusted at the sight.

Harry's mistake was that he didn't do irony. He wore a costume, but he didn't dress up. When the invitation says "fancy dress", we want just that - something fancy, something naughty, something a little bit provocative, maybe. We want a sense of humour. The truly frightening thing about this particular royal gaffe is not that the prince has a perverted sense of humour. It's when you look at his swaggering demeanour in the photographs in today's Sun that it hits you: Harry apparently thinks he looks damned fine in Nazi costume.


Ros Taylor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Focus: Prince Harry at 21
He's cast as the royal wild child, the hellraiser with a short fuse. But, as David Smith reveals, at 21 Harry is coming of age in more ways than one.

David Smith

10, Sep, 2005 @11:43 PM

Article image
Prince William and Prince Harry join flood relief effort
Royals are spotted hauling sandbags in flood-hit village of Datchet, Berkshire

Robert Booth

14, Feb, 2014 @11:07 AM

Article image
Prince George: how Prince Harry will make his life fun

Pete Cashmore: The new royal baby's uncle has promised him some good times, but judging by what Prince Harry has got up to in the past, he won't be the typical babysitter. We wonder what he has in mind

Pete Cashmore

26, Jul, 2013 @1:49 PM

Article image
Prince William and Prince Harry are a gift to republicans | Tanya Gold

Tanya Gold: Queen Elizabeth is a problem for anti-monarchists. Her grandchildren will make our lives easier

Tanya Gold

23, Jun, 2013 @7:45 PM

Article image
Steve Bell: Prince Harry accused of shooting protected bird
Prince quizzed by police about shooting of rare birds

Steve Bell

01, Nov, 2007 @12:01 AM

Article image
Video: Prince Harry in Afghanistan
"It was a decision of mine to keep it as quiet as possible". Prince Harry talks about his secret deployment to Afghanistan

28, Feb, 2008 @9:10 AM

Article image
Prince William picks Prince Harry as best man at royal wedding
Kate Middleton opts for younger sister Philippa as maid of honour

Stephen Bates and agencies

14, Feb, 2011 @2:14 PM

Article image
Prince Harry complaints top 3,600
Press watchdog receives deluge of complaints about the Sun's front-page pictures of a naked Prince Harry in Las Vegas

Josh Halliday

28, Aug, 2012 @7:52 PM

Prince Harry's passing out parade
Marching on parade is hard work at the best of times, but when your entire family has turned up, half of them in uniform, and your granny's taking the salute, it must be a terminally uncool experience.

Stephen Bates

13, Apr, 2006 @1:35 AM

Article image
Prince Harry serving with British troops in Afghanistan
Prince Harry has been secretly serving in Afghanistan with British troops since last December, it emerged today

28, Feb, 2008 @6:15 PM