Prince Harry flew back to England late Tuesday to face a furious reaction from his grandmother, the Queen, over photos of the naked royal cavorting around a pool table with some equally uninhibited women in a game of strip billiards that surfaced on U.S. gossip website TMZ.com.
The Prince has been in Vegas winding down after a busy few weeks on royal duties at the Olympics.
One picture shows Harry, stark naked but for a wristwatch and a necklace. His hands cup his genitals. His face is turned toward the television set in the suite. And his body partially shields that of another person, also naked.
A second photo shows him hugging a woman from behind next to a pool table. Both are naked.
According to NY Daily News, Harry and friends invited a bevy of beauties up to his VIP suite at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino last Friday. Then a round of strip pool erupted, and apparently everyone lost.
St James’s Palace has confirmed the naked man in the pictures is Prince Harry but declined to comment further.
Clarence House, Harry’s official residence and household, said that Harry was “on a private holiday and due back in the UK soon.”
A St James’s Palace spokesman also confirmed that it had contacted the Press Complaints Commission about the images, which were published on a US celebrity website and widely circulated online, reports The Telegraph.
The palace said that publication of the images, taken in a high rollers suite at the Wynn and Encore hotel complex costing up to £5,000 a night, would be a breach of the prince’s privacy.
The photos have been published in much of the US media but no British newspapers have published them, although they have appeared on a political blog in the UK and the Sun has mocked up an image of one of them.
Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, who also appeared on Newsnight, told BBC that the photos represented a “fantastic” story.
“Literally any journalist worth his salt, whether at one end of the market or the other, would have said: ‘Thank you God.’ It doesn’t affect Prince Harry at all. He is single and he is cavorting with ladies who wish to be cavorted with,” Mr MacKenzie said.
Meanwhile, the prince is expected to receive a dressing down from the military when he returns to his Army base in Wattisham in Suffolk within the coming days.
A former instructor at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, said that Harry is most likely to face an “interview without coffee”.
“It is very stupid doing that anywhere near cameras,” he said. “I don’t know how his minders let that happen. My view is that he will probably get a telling off. If he’d just come back from active service and was letting off steam it might be different.”
Military codes of conduct warn officers that the must maintain high standards of professionalism “both on and off operations.”
At the same time, Harry seems to be more popular than ever among Americans, a new poll suggests. 68 percent of the 415,000 respondents called the prince “awesome,” compared to 32 percent who found him “disgraceful.”
The incident with naked photos has come as a huge disappointment to Harry’s palace advisers, who had been buoyed by his growing maturity.
As reports Daily Mail, his decision to retrain as a pilot, proving himself good enough to fly the military’s most high-profile attack helicopter, the Apache, with a view to returning to the front line in Afghanistan had apparently helped him turn a corner.
Earlier this year Prince Harry undertook his first official foreign tour on behalf of the Queen and charmed statesmen and members of the public alike from the Bahamas to Brazil with his enthusiasm.
The trip was so successful that there was already talk of another next year if his military commitments permitted.