Prince Harry: the ‘grown up’ royal taking the fight to the tabloids

The young prince has been in the spotlight this week, as papers discovered his relationship with actress Meghan Markle

On Thursday morning outside Westminster Abbey, Prince Harry was in his element surrounded by hundreds of military personnel and veterans, all chatting among 60,000 tiny wooden crosses planted for a remembrance event.

After a week which began with him raging in public against the tabloid press and social media trolls for smears, racism and sexism in coverage on his blooming relationship with American actor Meghan Markle, he couldnt have looked happier.

Harry spent a decade in the army, including two tours of Afghanistan, and earlier this year described his service, which ended in 2015 as the best escape I ever had from the media spotlight. For the two hours he spent in the garden of remembrance, he seemed free again.

There were none of the death stares Harry occasionally shoots at royal reporters, and which some had expected after a week in which his spokesman railed against the racial undertones of comment pieces and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls, in coverage of his new relationship with Markle, the daughter of a white father and African-American mother.

His mood was no doubt also boosted by Markles arrival in London. She was pictured shopping at Whole Foods in Kensington High Street on Thursday and returning to Kensington Palace where Harry lives. But as he talked animatedly and at length with soldiers, eye contact locked, body language relaxed and attention undivided, it was obvious the military is the 32-year-olds happy place.

I felt as though I was really achieving something, he said recently of his army career. I felt as though I was part of a team. All I wanted to do was prove to people I had a certain set of skills flying an Apache helicopter, for instance, rather than just being Prince Harry.

But in his low-ceilinged cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace, he had spent the previous eight days getting increasingly angry at how just being Prince Harry seemed to be hurting people he cared for in his private life. His office was not confirming the relationship with Markle and so the royal news industry went into overdrive to fill in the gaps and to judge the suitability of the possible new princess.

Photographers and reporters stationed on the doorstep of Markles mother in Los Angeles and a photographer barging into his girlfriends garage in Toronto enraged him, as did a welter of press coverage.

This included a report on the front page of the Sun that she appeared on the adult website Pornhub, which she did, but not of her own volition and only in clips from her network TV drama Suits.

Prince Harry has criticised reporters for crossing the line in covering his relationship with Meghan Markle Photograph: PA
The Mail on Sunday columnist Rachel Johnson riffed on the prospect that Markel could be the one and wrote that if the couple had children, the Windsors will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA, something Johnson has denied was racist, but which upset Harry.

By Monday night his aides and Markles lawyers were again trying to keep allegedly defamatory stories out of the papers. Harry decided it was time to act. The next morning at 10.11am his spokesman, Jason Knauf, issued the 406-word statement that declared for the first time that Markle was his girlfriend and he was deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her and that this past week has seen a line crossed.

Some journalists deemed it an overreaction and grumpily questioned why the palace had not confirmed the relationship or provided a photo-opportunity of the couple together. But Harrys friends were not surprised it had come to this and his allies pointed out that the statement was deliberately posted on the Royal Facebook page as part of a strategy of trying to speak over the heads of the conventional media directly to people using social media.

There is still a residual depth of feeling about the media that will never go away, one told the Guardian. A lot of the fiction around what [Harry and William] have done and who they know has really pissed them off. So as well as the legacy of their mother, as well as the intrusion, which ended up in phone hacking, was this fictionalisation which has been part of this past week. The rap sheet goes back quite a long way.

In early adulthood the British press covered Harrys multiple indiscretions and disgraces. These included him lashing out at a photographer outside Londons Pangaea nightclub in the early hours, dressing up aged 20 as a Nazi at a friends colonial and native fancy dress party and calling a fellow officer cadet at Sandhurst our little Paki friend. They were serious trangressions for which he later apologised. But he was the victim of phone hacking and the impact of the death of his mother, Princess Diana, when he was just 12, chased by press photographers into a Paris road tunnel, should not be underestimated.

The Royal historian Robert Lacey told the Guardian this week that Harrys antipathy to the media stems from the absolute belief that the press caused his mothers death.

Prince Henry Charles Albert Davis of Wales was born on 15 September 1984. By the time he was eight his father, Prince Charles, and mother were separated. A year after their 1996 divorce, Diana shockingly died with her lover Dodi Fayed. Harry was two weeks short of his 13th birthday and many were deeply moved by the sight of him walking behind her funeral cortege with his handwritten note addressed to Mummy in a flower arrangement on top of the coffin.

The following year he went to Eton, enjoying playing rugby the sport he still loves most but not flourishing academically, earning only a B in art and D in geography at A-level. He didnt go to university, spending time in his gap year carousing with friends such as the nightclub owner Guy Pelly at his fathers house, Highgrove, and in the local pub, before heading to Sandhurst for officer training.

He has always been more emotionally open [than William], said one friend. It is the typical younger and older sibling dynamic, particularly when one is going to be king and the other is not. He is not academically smart, but is very emotionally intuitive. He is very good fun, gregarious and loyal.

Harry is a big consumer of news according to a palace source. In 2005 he admitted he would find himself shouting and screaming at all sorts of different stuff in the newspapers about his then girlfriend Chelsy Davy.

I get to see how upset she gets, he said, in a foreshadowing of this weeks events.

Another long-term relationship with the dancer Cressida Bonas reportedly ended when, according to royal observers, she decided she could not live in the spotlight.

When Harry was pictured naked playing strip billiards in Las Vegas in 2012 some observers wondered if he was destined to follow Prince Andrews randy Andy playboy approach to the spare to the heir role.

But now it seems Harry is forging a successful and popular adult identity around the military, not as a figurehead, as is common for royals, but as part of the team.

His launch in 2014 of the Invictus Games for wounded and sick soldiers has given him that purpose, observers say. He attends board meetings, gets closely involved in planning and even personally made the calls to book bands such as the Foo Fighters to provide entertainment at the 2014 event in London.

The Invictus Games has been the making of him and his image, said Lacey. He has made a more striking identification to which the public can relate than William. It is a much stronger, more heartwarming cause than fighting the ivory trade [which William has taken up]. The bravery and the emotionality of it fit very well with Harrys perceived character.

He is doing more work for The Firm too, as official duties on behalf of the Queen are known in palace circles. Next Sunday he will embark on a seven-country tour of the Caribbean. With cricket games, a Rihanna concert in Barbados and a trip to Guyanas Kaieteur Falls, it may sound to some like a two-week holiday. But it is also a full official visit and is significant for forging Commonwealth bonds. Allies say he has grown up.

The line he used after Las Vegas about being too much soldier and not enough prince shows you the wisdom that he has acquired, said a friend. He was young, angry and unfocused but he has matured a hell of a lot.

Potted profile

Born 15 September 1984

Age 32

Career Fifth in line to the throne. He spent 10 years in the army including as an Apache helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. Left the military in 2015 and is now a full-time royal focusing on veterans, HIV/Aids, sports for social development and conservation in Africa.

High point Beating the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a race on his first official trip to the Caribbean, although Harry jumped the gun and Bolt jogged

Low point Dressing up, aged 20, as a member of Rommels Afrika Corps with a swastika armbard at a fancy dress party. He apologised and said: It was a poor choice of costume.

What he says Ten years in the army was the best escape I ever had. I felt as though I was really achieving something. I felt as though I was part of a team.

What they say: Prince Harry is worried about Ms Markles safety… He knows commentators will say this is the price she has to pay and this is all part of the game. He strongly disagrees. This is not a game it is her life and his. his spokesman Jason Knauf.

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