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Former Chief Rabbi counselled Prince Harry after Nazi-uniform scandal

10 January 2023

Encounter is included in his memoir Sparepublished this week


The Sun being read behind a newsagent’s counter in 2005. It reported Prince Harry’s wearing a Nazi uniform to a fancy-dress party

The Sun being read behind a newsagent’s counter in 2005. It reported Prince Harry’s wearing a Nazi uniform to a fancy-dress party

THE Duke of Sussex sought “absolution” from the then Chief Rabbi for wearing a Nazi uniform to a fancy-dress party in 2005, a new book says.

In his memoir Spare (Penguin Random House), published on Tuesday, Prince Harry recounts how he was invited to the birthday party of one of his brother’s friends, in January 2005. Guests had been asked to wear fancy dress, and Prince Harry decided to rent a Nazi uniform for the occasion. Photographs of him wearing the uniform were subsequently published in a tabloid newspaper.

“What followed was a firestorm, which I thought at times would engulf me,” he writes. “And I felt that I deserved to be engulfed. There were moments over the course of the next several weeks and months when I thought I might die of shame.”

It became clear, Prince Harry writes, that “I’d need to make some sort of public atonement. . . So Pa [Prince Charles] sent me to a holy man.”

Prince Harry goes on to describe his meeting with the “Chief Rabbi of Britain”, who at that time was the late Rabbi Lord Sacks, who died in November 2020 (News, Obituary, 20 November 2020). The Prince describes Rabbi Sacks as “an eminent scholar, a religious philosopher, a prolific writer”.

The book continues: “He offered me a cup of tea, then dived straight in. He didn’t mince his words. He condemned my actions. He wasn’t unkind, but it had to be done. There was no way round it. He also placed my stupidity in historical context. He spoke about the six million, the annihilated. Jews, Poles, dissenters, intellectuals, homosexuals. Children, babies, old people, turned to ash and smoke. A few short decades ago.”

The Chief Rabbi’s words made Prince Harry feel “a bottomless self-loathing”, he writes.

“But that wasn’t the rabbi’s aim,” he continues. “That certainly wasn’t how he wanted me to leave him. He urged me not to be devastated by my mistake, but instead to be motivated. He spoke to me with the quality one often encounters in truly wise people — forgiveness. He assured me that people do stupid things, say stupid things, but it doesn’t need to be their intrinsic nature. I was showing my true nature, he said, by seeking to atone. Seeking absolution.

“To the extent that he was able, and qualified, he absolved me. He gave me grace. He told me to lift my head, go forth, use this experience to make the world better. To become a teacher of this event.”

Elsewhere in the book, Prince Harry describes his wedding to Meghan Markle, which took place in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in 2018 (News, 25 May 2018): “I saw the archbishop extend the rings, his hands shaking. I’d forgotten, but he clearly hadn’t: twelve cameras pointed at us, two billion people watching on TV, photographers in the rafters, massive crowds outside roistering and cheering.”

Prince Harry goes on to describe “the official part” of the wedding, when the Archbishop “joined us until death parted, though he’d already done similar days earlier, in our garden, a small ceremony, just the two of us, Guy and Pula the only witnesses. Unofficial, non-binding, except in our souls.”

He goes on to write that, while their “love began in private, and being public had been mostly pain, so we wanted the first consecration of our love, the first vows, to be private as well”.

In an interview with the American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey in 2021, the Duchess of Sussex claimed that this exchange of vows had amounted to their being married “in secret” before the wedding in St George’s Chapel (News, 12 March 2021).

At the time, a spokesperson for Lambeth Palace declined to comment on the interview, saying that the Archbishop did not comment on “personal or pastoral matter”. Archbishop Welby said subsequently in an interview, however, that “the legal wedding was on the Saturday. I signed the wedding certificate which is a legal document and I would have committed a serious criminal offence if I signed it knowing it was false.”

Prince Harry discloses little about his views on religion in the book. He describes one instance, however, of feeling “close to God”. Around the time of his 15th birthday, when he shot a red deer with a rifle at Balmoral, his guide, Sandy, “pushed my head inside the carcass. . . My nose and mouth were full of blood, guts and a deep, upsetting warmth. Well, I thought, so this is death. The ultimate blooding.”

Prince Harry writes that he felt “pride” that he had killed the stag with “one shot, clean through the heart. . . The blood on my face contained no adrenaline, a credit to my marksmanship.”

His act had been “good to Nature”, he writes, because “managing their numbers meant saving the deer population as a whole, ensuring they’d have enough food for winter.” He had also been “good to the community”, because “a big stag in the larder meant plenty of good meat for those living around Balmoral.”

He continues: “These virtues had been preached to me from an early age, but now I’d lived them, and felt them on my face. I wasn’t religious, but this ‘blood facial’ was, to me, baptismal. Pa was deeply religious, he prayed every night, but now, in this moment, I too felt close to God. If you loved Nature, Pa always said, you had to know when to leave it alone, and when to manage it, and managing meant culling, and culling meant killing. It was all a form of worship.”

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