Asked if he would go back to Afghanistan, he said: 'I don't want to sit around in Windsor, but I generally don't like England that much'
JUST as news of Prince Harry's service on the front line in Afghanistan was winning him rapturous praise from newspapers in Britain comes the bombshell: He "doesn't really like England."
Such an admission, even if it was to a "closed" and foreign press corps -- was a little too frank for the third in line to the British throne.
Not surprisingly the prince is now to be withdrawn from Afghanistan after his security was compromised by international media.
The 23-year-old Household Cavalry officer has been secretly fighting the Taliban in Helmand Province as a battlefield air controller and Spartan light tank commander for the past 10 weeks.
But he is now set to be flown back to the UK after the collapse of a news blackout deal.
Earlier yesterday even The Sun found itself saying: "There's no doubt Harry has struggled with the pressures of Royalty. But Harry has found richer fulfilment serving with his mates than he ever found in the bottom of a Crack Baby cocktail.
"In place of the tipsy playboy, we saw a self-assured and mature man of action at ease with himself.''
The Daily Mirror said: "Harry, famous in the past for his partying, is a young man who has come of age, serving his Queen -- his grandmother -- and country with distinction.''
All was going rather swimmingly until the latest revelation that he doesn't like England that much and dislikes the nonsense British newspapers write.
Apparently he made the comments last week but it has just been leaked out following on the heels of the news of his secret deployment in Afghanistan, which was revealed on a US website.
He told an interviewer he was enjoying being in a combat zone and not "sitting around" in Windsor, the town outside London where the royal family has a castle and Harry's regiment has its headquarters.
Asked if he would ever want to come back to Afghanistan, he said: "I don't want to sit around in Windsor.
"But I generally don't like England that much and, you know, it's nice to be away from all the press and the papers and all the general s***e that they write."
The comments, made available to the media under a pool arrangement, are unlikely to be welcomed by at the Palace which had been bathing in the reflected glory of his gallant role at the front.
Harry (23) is no stranger to controversy.
The scars were just beginning to heal after he sparked widespread public anger in 2005 when he was photographed at a fancy dress party dressed in a Nazi uniform.
In London he is frequently photographed stumbling out of nightclubs drunk with his girlfriend, and has been in trouble with his father Prince Charles for smoking cannabis.
But the papers were uniformly full of praise for the prince yesterday, before the comments were made public, calling him a hero and a model soldier. Messages have been posted on websites praising his bravery.
Harry is the first member of the royal family to go to war since the Falklands conflict with Argentina 25 years ago.
But he is now to be withdrawn from Afghanistan because of the leaks, which military commanders fear may expose his fellow soldiers to additional danger.
The Daily Express said: "For Harry to serve his country in a combat zone will boost the morale of forces families everywhere. Britain can be extremely proud of its soldier Prince and so can the Royal Family.''
The story was heavily used around the world, and in the United States there was sometimes a little more comment added.
The New York Post said: "Looks like the Taliban is getting the royal treatment.'' And it added: "The 23-year-old royal heir, once nicknamed 'Dirty Harry' by British tabloids for his hard-partying ways, has now been dubbed 'Harry the Hero' for his role in the war on terror.''
And the Kansas City Star began its story: "At Buckingham Palace, you can bet they are not amused.''
Australia's The Age focused on how Australian women's magazine New Idea has denied deliberately breaching the news blackout on the story.
New Idea broke the story in January but it was not followed up. It has said it was not aware of a press embargo.
The news blackout was finally shattered by the US-based Drudge Report website, which has made its name breaking controversial stories.
Italy's Il Messaggero said Harry's deployment had been "for days and days the best kept secret in the United Kingdom'' - but now the explosive news was out.
Back in 2001, the prince was revealed to have dabbled with cannabis. In the same year, he went to a fancy dress party in a Nazi uniform only a few weeks before the service to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The Prince's antics were a cause of growing concern at Clarence House which acknowledged that, as a young man, he was entitled to relax with his friends.
But few other 23-year-olds have a camera lens pointed at them the moment that they set foot outside their home.
However, last year, when the Prince stood before a 500-strong congregation at the service on the 10th anniversary of her death, few could have been unmoved by his quiet dignity as he spoke of the mother he lost aged 12.
Living in the Windsor goldfish bowl, where every move is scutinised by the media, is a heavy responsibility especially for one who loved and lost his mother, so young.
However his latest comments will do little to shake off the unkind title of Speir Heir which has been hanging over him like a dark cloud, and which for the first time he appeared to making some progress in discarding.