The Crown and Prince Harry Differ on the Nazi Costume Controversy

The Crown and Prince Harry Differ on the Nazi Costume Controversy

Before Prince Harry gave up his royal duties in 2021, the biggest controversy involving the royal was the Nazi costume he wore at a 2005 party that ended up on the front pages of the British tabloids.

The incident is portrayed in the latest batch of The Crown episodes, out Friday on Netflix. In the finale of the show’s sixth and final season, Prince William (Ed McVey) and his girlfriend Kate Middleton (Meg Bellamy) go with Harry (Luther Ford) to a costume store and browse various outfits for a party. When Harry asks them what they think of a Nazi costume he is trying on, Kate says “I don’t know. Maybe cover the swastika?” Will replies, “C’mon. Wearing the outfit doesn’t make him a Nazi” and calls it a joke.

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Later, Harry is shown chugging a bottle of wine and smoking cigarettes throughout the party, where no one calls him out on his costume.

The Crown’s portrayal of Harry’s choice to wear the costume differs from Harry’s account. In his 2023 memoir Spare, Harry writes that his brother and now sister-in-law encouraged him to buy the costume and goes into more detail about the party he attended wearing it. According to Harry, in January 2005, one of William’s friends invited him to a birthday party in the countryside near Gloucestershire with a “cringy” theme: Natives and colonials.

While Harry writes that he did not usually like dressing up for costume parties, he had a blast with William and Kate brainstorming getups. He loved to make Kate laugh, so he went to a costume shop in the village of Nailsworth to look for an outfit that would be sure to crack her up. He called the couple and asked them if he should get the British pilot uniform or a sand-colored Nazi uniform with a swastika armband. They told him to get the Nazi uniform, he writes. 

When he brought it to them, he says that William and Kate “both howled.” He even trimmed his mustache to look like Hitler’s. At the party, “no one looked twice at my costume,” he claims. But someone did. Photos of Harry in the Nazi costume landed on the front pages of the tabloids shortly afterwards, sparking widespread controversy. Adding insult to injury, the incident came just days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Harry says he regretted the outfit choice. “There were moments over the course of the next several weeks and months when I thought I might die of shame,” he writes.

He adds about his thought process—or more aptly, lack of thinking:

“The typical response to the photos was: What could he have been thinking? The simplest answer was: I wasn’t. When I saw those photos, I recognized immediately that my brian had been shut off, that perhaps it had been shut off for some time. I wanted to go around Britain knocking on doors, explaining to people: I wasn’t thinking. I meant no harm.

The wedge that now exists between Prince Harry and Prince William can partly be traced to this incident. As TIME previously reported, Robert Lacey, who has written about the history of the royal family, wrote in his 2020 book Battle of Brothers that “Harry chose his costume in conjunction with his elder brother,” and that “Harry resented the fact that William got away so lightly.”

In Spare, Harry says his father, then the Prince of Wales and now King Charles, was surprisingly understanding. He chastised him but he chocked it up to immaturity and the “foolishness of youth,” saying he’d had his share of ill-advised decisions in his youth. He assured his son that the controversy would blow over, but Harry writes that he knew the incident would haunt him forever: “The shame would never fade. Nor should it.”

Harry issued a public apology, and Charles sent Harry to the Chief Rabbi of Britain. The Jewish leader lectured him about why Nazi jokes are never funny, but also assured the young man that he showed his true colors by seeking to atone, and granted Harry forgiveness.  

A few months later, Harry donned another uniform. In an effort to show he was serious about public service, he enrolled at the Royal Military Academy to start a career in the Army, despite calls that he should be banned from serving. Over the next decade, he did two tours in Afghanistan and rose up to the rank of Captain.

Viewers should not expect to see Harry’s side of things in The Crown. In an Oct. 25 interview with People, the show’s creator and director Peter Morgan said that he hasn’t read Harry’s memoir and doesn’t plan to. “Not that I wouldn’t be interested. But I didn’t want his voice to inhabit my thinking too much,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of sympathy with him, a lot of sympathy. But I didn’t want to read his book.”

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