Prince Harry's Most Controversial Moments

Being a royal has its disadvantages as well as its perks. You're cast into the spotlight from the moment you're born, so all of your slip-ups and hot takes are broadcast to the entire world. Alas, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex knows this all too well. Over the years, Harry has been caught up in quite a few public scandals. Some of these incidents have involved misunderstandings or lapses in judgment that just so happened to be captured on camera. 

Other times, he's faced backlash from traditionalists who have been especially eager to criticize him since he and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex stepped back from the Royal Family. On certain occasions, he's been undeniably in the wrong (for example, when he wore a Nazi costume to a party at age 20). In any case, he's no stranger to criticism.

Without further ado, here are some of Prince Harry's most controversial moments. Decide for yourself which one takes the crown.

Prince Harry visited a rehab clinic as a teen

In his teenage years, Prince Harry earned a reputation as a bit of a party boy. In 2002, when he was 16 years old, he was taken to a rehabilitation clinic for drug users as punishment for his wild ways. His offenses? According to an article in The Guardian, Prince Charles discovered that he was regularly drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana at private parties — nothing too shocking, but certainly enough to raise the alarms of the Royal Family. According to a source, an aide smelled cannabis at a get-together in Highgrove and alerted Harry's father. 

Charles subsequently arranged for him to spend a day at London's Featherstone Lodge, best known as a detox center for heroin users. He wasn't sent there to receive treatment, but as a sort of "scared straight" tactic to show him the dangers of drug abuse. St. James' Palace released a short, simple statement on the incident: "This is a serious matter which was resolved within the family and is now closed."

In his memoir "Spare," Harry reflected upon his past drug habits, explaining that he was "deeply unhappy" as a teenager and was enticed by anything that altered the pre-established order. Drugs, he claims, gave him access to "another world where the red mist didn't exist." He also admitted that he tried cocaine and mushrooms as a teen.

He got into a scuffle with a photographer

It's safe to say that Prince Harry doesn't exactly have the best relationship with the paparazzi. According to The Guardian, a 2004 scuffle ensued when he was mobbed by photographers outside a London club in the wee hours of the night. Ultimately, a paparazzo left with a busted lip.

A spokesman for Clarence House provided a statement to the newspaper: "Prince Harry was hit in the face by a camera as photographers crowded around him as he was getting into a car. In pushing the camera away, it's understood that a photographer's lip was cut."

Chris Uncle, the photographer, contested this account: "He lashed out and then deliberately pushed my camera into my face. The base of the camera struck me and cut my bottom lip. At the same time he was repeatedly saying, 'Why are you doing this? Why don't you just leave me alone?'"

Prince Harry wore a Nazi costume

Some might chalk Harry's drug incident up to teenage recklessness — but at age 20, he committed a more serious offense. In 2005, The Sun photographed him wearing a swastika armband akin to those that German soldiers sported in World War II. "Harry the Nazi," the headline read. According to the BBC, the photograph was taken at a costume party with the questionable theme of "colonial and native."

As a public outcry arose, Clarence House released a statement: "Prince Harry has apologized for any offense or embarrassment he has caused. He realizes it was a poor choice of costume," he said. In a BBC interview shortly afterward, Harry addressed the controversy himself. "Maybe it was a sign of my own immaturity. That was then, this is now. I am becoming 21 — something like that I will never do again." Harry spoke on the matter again in his memoir, "Spare." Apparently, Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge co-signed his costume. "I phoned Willy and Kate, asked what they thought. Nazi uniform, they said."

In his docuseries "Harry & Meghan," he owned up to his error once more: "It was probably one of the biggest mistakes of my life," he said. "All I wanted to do was make it right." He revealed that he sat down with the London's chief rabbi and traveled to Berlin to speak with a Holocaust survivor in order to take responsibility.

The Duke of Sussex was accused of animal cruelty

In 2010, Prince Harry was thrust into the spotlight when he was seen riding a bloody horse during a match at the Guards Polo Club in Windsor Great Park. According to the Daily Mail, photographers captured him riding a pony with a wound on its right flank, suggesting that the animal had been injured by Harry's spurs. Conflicting reports about the incident emerged: An onlooker claimed that Harry continued to ride the pony well after the injury occurred, whereas St. James' Palace said that Harry stopped playing as soon as he noticed the injury. After hearing about what went down, the Hurlingham Polo Association launched an investigation into the matter. The stakes were high because the rules of polo forbid any player from using any spur that could wound a horse under threat of severe penalty.

Several months after the match took place, Harry was cleared of all allegations. David Morley, chairman of the Hurlingham Polo Association welfare committee, told Horse & Hound that an independent vet examined the pony and found that the injury was likely not Harry's doing. "We took veterinary advice that if the pony had been gouged or stabbed by the spurs there would have been scar tissue or a bald patch. There was no sign of any such injury," he said. Apparently, it was far more likely that the wound had been caused by a collision.

Prince Harry got naked in Vegas

In 2012, Prince Harry proved that his party boy days weren't over when he spent a wild weekend in Vegas. TMZ obtained some rather compromising pictures showing Harry naked during a game of strip pool in a luxury suite. The accompanying account revealed that the prince invited a gaggle of girls from the hotel bar to party with him — and lose all their clothes in the process. When asked to provide a statement regarding the images, a representative from the Royal Family simply replied, "We have no comment to make on the photos at this time."

In his memoir "Spare," Harry commented on the photos at long last. He said that he was severely drunk at the time — so drunk, in fact, that his friends had to talk him out of getting a spontaneous tattoo of Botswana. Apparently he had recently watched a polo player take a nearly fatal fall and had been inspired to "seize the day."

He was criticized for his use of private jets

In June 2019, Prince Harry spoke out about climate change on the Sussex Royal Instagram account. "Environmental damage has been treated as a necessary by-product of economic growth," he said in a statement. "Only now are we starting to notice and understand the damage that we've been causing." Hence, many were shocked when, just a couple months later, claims that Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex had taken four trips by private jet in 11 days began to circulate. One of those trips was to Sir Elton John's home in Nice.

Buckingham Palace sat this one out, declining to comment on the matter. Elton John, for his part, was quick to jump to the couple's defense — and stress his own commitment to environmental protection — on Twitter. "I am deeply distressed by today's distorted and malicious account in the press surrounding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's private stay at my home in Nice last week," he wrote. "After a hectic year continuing their hard work and dedication to charity, David and I wanted the young family to have a private holiday inside the safety and tranquility of our home. To maintain a high level of much-needed protection, we provided them with a private jet flight. To support Prince Harry's commitment to the environment, we ensured their flight was carbon neutral, by making the appropriate contribution to Carbon Footprint."

The Duke of Sussex chose to exit the Royal Family

In January 2020, Prince Harry and Megan, Duchess of Sussex made the historic decision to step away from their roles in the Royal Family. They posted a statement to their Sussex Royal Instagram account: "After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as 'senior' members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty the Queen." They went on to add that they would split their time between the United Kingdom and the United States so they could honor their allegiance to their family while still having room to grow on their own.

According to the Daily Mail, certain royal staff members were appalled by their choice. One aide told the paper, "They were given the house they wanted, the office they wanted, the money they wanted, the staff they wanted ... and had the backing of their family. What more did they want?" Yet other individuals spoke out in support of the couple. For example, Harry's friend J.J. Chalmers appeared on BBC's "The One Show" to stick up for him: "When you look at the decision he's made, at the forefront of that is to protect his family because that's the No. 1 rule — is to be a father and to be a husband."

He talked about his relationship with the Royal Family on Oprah

In March 2021, Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex sat down for an interview with Oprah explaining their decision to step away from the Royal Family. Harry said that he has often felt "trapped" within the royal system. He revealed that at one point, his father stopped taking his calls and admitted that his relationship with his brother Prince William is difficult: "I love William to bits. He's my brother. We've been through hell together. ... But we ... you know, we're on ... we're on different paths," he said. More shockingly, the couple said that a royal family member had expressed concern about their son potentially having dark skin.

Queen Elizabeth responded to the interview in a statement. "The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan," she said. "The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan, and Archie will always be much loved family members." Despite this, Harry and Meghan received quite a bit of backlash: According to a YouGov poll following the interview, 40% of respondents said they mostly sympathized with the Queen and the Royal Family, while 24% said that they were more sympathetic toward Harry and Meghan, and another 24% said "neither."

Prince Harry wrote about killing members of the Taliban in his memoir Spare

In his memoir "Spare," Prince Harry is brutally honest about a number of dicey topics, including his time in the military. The book includes a passage about his tours in Afghanistan, during which he killed 25 combatants. Harry opens up about the neutral, nonchalant mentality he developed while deployed. "It wasn't a statistic that filled me with pride but nor did it make me ashamed," he wrote. "When I was plunged into the heat and confusion of battle, I didn't think of those as 25 people. You can't kill people if you see them as people. ... They were chess pieces taken off the board, bad guys eliminated before they kill good guys. [The military] trained me to 'other' them and they trained me well."

Harry's detailed account of his kills garnered backlash from a variety of camps. Notably, senior Taliban leader Anas Haqqani Tweeted at him: "Mr. Harry! The ones you killed were not chess pieces, they were humans; they had families who were waiting for their return." Back home, he received criticism from Colonel Richard Kemp, an ex-army officer who was sent to Kabul in 2003. The Colonel expressed concern that Harry's remarks might create a security risk for Harry and fuel propaganda: "They're always looking to radicalize people and to recruit people, and we've already seen how the Taliban has capitalized on it," he told the BBC.

He opened up about the Royal Family's mental health in his memoir

Prince Harry has recently been rather outspoken about his own mental health. In "Spare," he also opens up about the mental health of his family members — a choice that has earned him some criticism. He wrote in depth about his father's childhood, disclosing that he was badly bullied at Gordonstoun (his school in Scotland) and carried a teddy bear from his youth around well into his adult years. He also claimed that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge experienced "baby brain" after the birth of Prince Louis, seeming generally forgetful.

A royal source made a statement to the Telegraph expressing great disappointment: "It is hypocritical for him to talk about other people's mental health. The king may have spoken about his troubles at Gordonstoun in public, but it's not for Harry to go into all that. The problem is he just doesn't have any grown-ups advising him." While Harry didn't reply directly to this comment, the Telegraph reported that an ITV interviewer did ask him whether he felt that he had crossed a boundary by disrespecting his family's privacy. He stood firm in his response: "That would be the accusation from people that don't understand or don't want to believe that my family have been briefing the press. I don't know how staying silent is ever going to make things better."

Prince Harry spoke out about self-care and burnout

Prince Harry has advocated for mental wellness — but some of his comments about self-care have received backlash. In February 2022, he was criticized after appearing at a summit for personal coaching company BetterUp, for which he serves as chief impact officer, according to The Independent.

During a panel with BetterUp CEO Alexi Robichaux and Serena Williams, Harry claimed that he had been suffering from "burnout" — "getting to the very end of everything I had, any fuel, any steam in the engine." He went on to open up about prioritizing self-care in order to minimize stress. "I now put in about half an hour, 45 minutes, in the morning when it's like: 'Okay, one of the kids has gone to school, the other one is taking a nap, there's a break in our program.'" He also emphasized that he meditates daily.

Harry acknowledged that one's mental health and work-life balance often depend upon the conditions employers set. Yet some detractors criticized him for being out of touch, given that he's speaking from a position of great privilege as someone who will never have to worry about, say, the cost of living or the job market. One critic tweeted, "Prince Harry's workload is giving him a burnout, just think of those who have worked long hours and still can't make ends meet, it must be very difficult being a millionaire for him and his family."