LONDON - Prince Harry, No. 3 in line to the British throne and No. 1 royal target of the country's tabloids, has been called a lot of things in recent years: a pothead, a drunk, a brawler, a thug, a posh rebel without a clue.
He must be thinking those were the good ol' days.
Yesterday, Britain's newspapers, television stations and radio talk shows were all about "Harry the Nazi," after the prince, 20, somehow thought it a good idea to dress in a Nazi uniform at a private costume party with 250 guests - and one of the other partiers thought it a good idea to snap a picture of him and sell it to Britain's largest-selling daily newspaper.
"Harry the Nazi," read the headline on the tabloid Sun's front page. And there was Harry, in a tan desert Nazi uniform, holding a drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other. Wrapped around his left bicep was a red Nazi armband complete with black swastika.
The other newspapers in the country quickly jumped on the story and by their late morning editions had remade their front pages. "Storm After Harry Dresses As Nazi In Party Stunt," said the Daily Express, "Harry In Nazi Outrage," reported the Daily Mail. The Evening Standard chimed in, "Outrage At Nazi Harry."
"This behavior by the prince is inexcusable," said Ian Davidson, a Labor party member of parliament from Glasgow, dismissing the prince's written apology as inadequate. "He is posh, thick and a bit of a thug.
"This raises substantial issues about the royal advisers because it's demonstrated they're either incompetent, negligent, neo-Nazis or a combination thereof."
There is, in fact, no evidence that anybody other than Harry dreamed up the costume. Nor is there evidence that anybody connected to the royal family knew of his choice of dress except, perhaps, his brother, William, the good prince, who was also at the party. William reportedly dressed as a leopard.
But if Prince Harry has been deemed mature enough to dress himself these days, that was not based on his past behavior.
He seldom goes long without satisfying photographers from the tabloids here. Pictures of him stumbling out of bars are practically a running newspaper feature. He has admitted smoking marijuana, for which his father, Prince Charles, sent him to a rehabilitation center.
In November, Prince Harry threw a punch at a member of the paparazzi while leaving a nightclub. While the photographer got little sympathy, the story was played as further evidence that Harry gets hairy with unroyal-like frequency.
He had, though, worked on improving his image: The press was invited last September to see him show compassion to children with AIDS in Africa, following the lead of his late mother, Princess Diana. And cameras were invited to record him filling boxes with supplies for victims of the Asian tsunami.
But his being pictured in the Nazi uniform has brought quick condemnation from all sides. Officials of Israel, Germany and the European Union, among others including top British politicians, weighed in.
"This was a shameful act displaying insensitivity for the victims, not just for those soldiers of his own country who gave their lives to defeat Nazism but to the victims of the Holocaust who were the principal victims of the Nazis," said a statement from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
Michael Howard, who is Jewish and who as leader of the Conservative Party will almost certainly oppose Prime Minister Tony Blair in elections in June, said the prince's written statement of apology should be followed by a personal acknowledgement of his insensitivity.
Other critics, including a former Armed Forces minister, Doug Henderson, said Harry's poor judgment should disqualify him from joining the army later this year, which the prince had planned, at officer school at Sandhurst.
Henderson told the Evening Standard that Harry is "no longer suitable" for the training. "If it was anyone else, the application would be considered," Henderson said. "It should be withdrawn immediately."
As the prince most likely has learned, there's never a good time to dress as a Nazi, particularly in this part of the world, where his grandmother, now Queen Elizabeth II, endured with her mother the bombing of Britain during the Blitz.
But his timing was particularly bad and particularly embarrassing for his family. For generations now, the Windsors have been trying to distance themselves from the sympathy shown the Nazis by King Edward VIII and another low Windsor moment, a meeting in Germany between the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Adolf Hitler in 1937.
And Prince Edward, one of Harry's uncles, is to lead a delegation to the Auschwitz death camp in a few weeks to commemorate the 60th anniversary of its liberation while his grandmother, the Queen, welcomes Holocaust survivors to Buckingham Palace.
"I am very sorry if I have caused any offense or embarrassment to anyone," the prince's written apology said. "It was a poor choice of costume and I apologize."