Tuesday 12 December 2017

The malignant social media genie will not go back in the bottle, Harry

Prince Harry was on royal duty yesterday when he led the UK’s Armistice Day commemorations in Staffordshire. Photo: PA
Prince Harry was on royal duty yesterday when he led the UK’s Armistice Day commemorations in Staffordshire. Photo: PA

Gordon Rayner

For years now, Prince Harry has feared that any and every potential wife he meets will be scared away by the intense scrutiny that comes with being the love interest of the world's most eligible bachelor.

That was what ultimately killed off his last long-term relationship, with Cressida Bonas, and he is clearly worried history will repeat itself with Meghan Markle, the American actress he says he has been dating for "a few months".

Never before has he been so angry that he felt the need to go public with a statement confronting what has been written about a girlfriend by both the mainstream media and by the public through the skewed prism of social media.

He dated Chelsy Davy for seven years and Cressida Bonas for two years without ever resorting to such a risky tactic.

Harry is fully aware that in issuing such a public defence of his new girlfriend - and a plea to give her some space "before any further damage is done" - he is confirming just how serious their relationship is.

His 400-word statement, with its accusations of "sexism and racism" from "social media trolls" will only fuel speculation that he is contemplating engagement to 35-year-old Ms Markle.

Girlfriend Meghan Markle has spent the week with him at Kensington Palace. Photo: Reuters
Girlfriend Meghan Markle has spent the week with him at Kensington Palace. Photo: Reuters

Clearly this is no passing fancy.

At the age of 32, he also knows that the pressure on him to settle down and start a family is growing - not least because that is what he so desperately wants for himself. To that end, his statement said that "he has tried to develop a thick skin" about the interest in his personal life, but the truth is that he has not yet succeeded.

Harry not only pays close attention to what is said about him on Twitter, he also reads comments posted by members of the public underneath online articles about him.

That way madness lies.

It is perfectly reasonable for Harry to ask the professional media to rein back and give him and Ms Markle some breathing space.

But the malignant genie of social media will never be put back in its bottle.

Until Harrt learns to live with that, his problem will persist.

He does not need to look far for advice on how to weather the storm of media scrutiny.

No one suffered more humiliation at the hands of the tabloid press than his father, the Prince of Wales, and his stepmother, the Duchess of Cornwall, whose private and intensely intimate telephone conversations were recorded by a hacker and sold to a newspaper more than 20 years ago.

Their relationship endured, despite the Duchess being hugely unpopular at the time.

Harry and Ms Markle should be encouraged by their example, and learn to tough it out.

In any event, the couple were reunited this week after she asked to take a break from filming US TV show 'Suits'.

She reportedly told her studio that she needed to rearrange her filming schedule because she had "something important to do".

It led to speculation that the actress, has been meeting her advisers to discuss a strategy to cope with the huge attention she has been receiving since news of the relationship broke last month.

She was spotted shopping in London as it emerged she has been staying with Harry at Kensington Palace this week. She was pictured on Kensington High Street on Thursday before walking back to the palace nearby.

Her visit will give the couple time together before harry begins a two-week official tour of the Caribbean on behalf of the queen on November 20.

She said recently that once she had finished filming, she would spend December with friends and family, which would be certain to include Harry.

Earlier this week, Harry confirmed that he has been in a relationship with the divorcee for "a few months".

Kensington Palace released a statement defending Ms Markle against internet trolls and appealing for privacy.

It added Harry was "worried about Ms Markle's safety" and "deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her".

On Thursday, Harry made his first public appearance since the world became aware of the relationship.

Together with his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, he visited the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey in London, where 60,000 small wooden crosses have been planted in memory of service personnel who have died fighting for Britain.

Wearing his Household Division uniform, Harry looked relaxed and happy as he laughed and shared jokes with fellow veterans at the annual event.

They included Staff Sergeant Robert Nicholas, a bomb disposal expert from the Corps of Royal Engineers, who thanked Harry for the "protection" he gave those on the ground in his role as an Apache helicopter pilot during his tour of Afghanistan.

Yesterday, Harry led Britain's Armistice Day remembrance services when he laid a wreath at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

He quit the army in 2015 after 10 years as an officer, which included two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Kensington Palace released details of Harry's forthcoming tour of the Caribbean, which begins next week and lasts until December 4, taking in seven island nations.

A visit to Barbados will include a meeting with the singer Rihanna at a concert to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Barbados's independence from the UK.

It remains a Commonwealth realm, with the queen as its head of state.


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