What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, according to the adage, but the pictures that emerged of Prince Harry yesterday tell a rather different story. Right Royally starkers, he cups his crown jewels coyly by a pool table – having presumably lost (or won, depending on whether you grew up in a naked house or not) a game of Strip Billiards. With one kingly shoulder, he valiantly saves the blushes of the naked woman standing behind him.
Is this the first time we, the plebs, have seen the constitutional body in all its glory? Harry certainly isn't the first prince to have disported himself in such a way – it's just that Nell Gwynn, Mrs Fitzherbert and Lillie Langtry didn't have camera phones or a hotline to the celebrity gossip site TMZ, which is where the images first emerged.
In a nostalgic feat of noblesse oblige, the British press has heeded an exhortation from palace spokespeople not to publish the images. Consequently, the story has been reported alongside tired old snaps of the Prince having fun in other, more innocent, ways – going swimming, chatting to an Olympian, on public duty during a tour of the Bahamas. It's like illustrating an article about the beast of Bodmin with pictures of a tabby cat.
Thankfully, there is always Google, and American websites less bound by such feudal codes of honour. But there's something odd about this, though: why should we respect his position and his privacy, when he clearly doesn't respect it himself?
It's hard being a celebrity these days, whether you're born to the limelight or thrust into it after starring in a foully illiterate reality TV show. Your life is not your own; you are pursued by packs of photographers and forced to hand out sacrificial publicity shots to the Gods of mass media so that they don't smite you entirely on a spiteful whim. This is as true of the Royals as it is of film stars, pop singers and X Factor winners, except there's less blackmail and even more simpering where our heads of state are concerned.
Still, it's understood that your behaviour is always going to be scrutinised, so to get your kit off in a fancy hotel on holiday in one of the most sordid and least discreet (despite that famous catchphrase) cities in the world is nigh-on imbecilic. The only thing more stupid, in fact, would be to go to a party all dolled up in Nazi clobber. Oh.
The Royal family has made an art form of public appearances since the annus horribilis and Squidgygate, carefully throwing just a limb or two to the lions every so often in order to sate their hunger for anything more succulent. Give us a picture of Kate Middleton shopping at Waitrose, or of Wills giving her bony shoulder a little snuggle, or even of Harry playing at being a grown-up, and we'll leave you alone. We don't ask for much, we smallfolk – just proof that you're human. And these days, we don't even ask you to touch our scrofula.
The British love a bad boy, a cheeky chappy and a life-and-soul lout, so the fallout from these pictures will most likely be mirth rather than anything more Mary Whitehouse. These photographs will do Prince Harry's reputation no harm – he's the second son after all, and the most excitingly debauched Royal we've had since Henry VIII.
But it speaks volumes of his patrician dopiness that he thought he'd get away with it. It raises all manner of questions as to HRH's arrogance and hubristic sense of entitlement that he simply presumed he wouldn't be caught. Or that it wouldn't matter if he did.
But it doesn't really, because The Firm has consistently cast him as the adorable family blockhead. The clown who runs against Usain Bolt and, this week, too, challenges Olympian Ryan Lochte to a swimming match. Prince Harry is by far and away the most entertaining Royal we have, and his antics are proof of a further reversion to type for the Windsor dynasty.
After several decades of stiff upper lip, quiet and formal reserve and the Queen's own implacable emotionlessness, we're living through yet another rehabilitation of the Royal Family. Her Majesty's sensibilities may well be offended by these pictures, but her Machiavellian instincts will recognise them as something which will work in her favour.
The Royal Family seems to be turning away from the Queen's rather Victorian style of governance and towards something more medieval. Last year, we acquired our fairytale princess; now we have a roistering prince. I don't think we can expect Prince Harry to do a Henry V and reveal himself through base antics to be a competent and considerate leader of men. But perhaps his least honourable hour could build the foundations for a truly modern, reality-TV-era Royal Family. I hope, at the very least, he gets his own chat show out of it.