Prince Harry hits out at media over 'abuse' of girlfriend Meghan Markle
Protective Prince Harry has attacked the media over its " abuse and harassment" of his girlfriend, US actress Meghan Markle, warning: "This is not a game - it is her life."
Kensington Palace issued a lengthy and strongly-worded statement saying that a "line had been crossed" over the treatment of the Suits star.
The Prince's Communications Secretary Jason Knauf said that Harry's Toronto-based girlfriend, who is mixed race, had experienced racism, sexism and a front page smear, and endured attempts by members of the press to get into her home.
"Prince Harry is worried about Ms Markle's safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her," Mr Knauf said.
"It is not right that, a few months into a relationship with him, that Ms Markle should be subjected to such a storm.
"He knows commentators will say this is 'the price she has to pay' and that 'this is all part of the game'. He strongly disagrees. This is not a game - it is her life and his."
The unprecedented and emotional plea marks the first official confirmation that the pair are an item - and has led to increasing speculation among bookmakers that Markle will eventually walk down the aisle with the prince.
Mr Knauf said 32-year-old Harry has, since a child, been very aware of the warmth of public feeling towards him and had to "develop a thick skin" about press interest in his private life, but asked for the statement to be issued to prevent any further damage.
"The past week has seen a line crossed," he said. "His girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment. Some of this has been very public - the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.
"Some of it has been hidden from the public - the nightly legal battles to keep defamatory stories out of papers; her mother having to struggle past photographers in order to get to her front door; the attempts of reporters and photographers to gain illegal entry to her home and the calls to police that followed; the substantial bribes offered by papers to her ex-boyfriend; the bombardment of nearly every friend, co-worker, and loved one in her life."
Harry's late mother, Diana Princess of Wales, died in a car crash nearly 20 years ago after being pursued by the paparazzi, and he grew up fully aware of the impact of the intense media intrusion on her daily life.
As a young man, he was once seen scuffling with a paparazzi photographer.
News of the royal romance emerged just over a week ago when The Sunday Express revealed that the pair met in May while Harry was in Canada promoting the Invictus Games.
Markle neither confirmed nor denied the relationship, but shared a picture of two embracing bananas on Instagram and described herself as the "luckiest girl in the world'' in an interview.
Harry's last long-term girlfriend was Cressida Bonas, but they split more than two years ago.
Prince William, just like his brother, sought to protect girlfriend Kate Middleton after they were aggressively pursued in their car by paparazzi in 2007.
Clarence House said William was angered by the "threatening behaviour". William and Kate had just rekindled their relationship and were said to have been more in love than ever.
Two years later in December 2009, the Queen's lawyers warned newspapers against publishing paparazzi photos of the Royal Family, fuelling speculation William and Kate were to wed. Within a year, the prince had popped the question and their engagement was announced.
Bookmakers Ladrokes has already slashed odds to 5/4 that Harry and Markle will marry, while Paddy Power has odds of 3/1 for a 2017 wedding and 6/1 for a royal baby next year.
Jessica Bridge, of Ladbrokes, said: "It must be love for both Prince Harry and Kensington Palace to publicly confirm the news, and we've been left with little option but to think that Meghan is the one and they're destined for their happily ever after."