Prince's plea for media to stop 'harassing' girlfriend Meghan
Sexism, racism, trolling... a line has been crossed, says Harry in statement
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, who was once linked to Northern Ireland golfer Rory McIlroy.
The Prince's communications secretary Jason Knauf said 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 stated.
"It is not right that, a few months into a relationship with him, 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 childhood, 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.
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 was said to have been romantically linked to Rory McIlroy in the past. The Co Down golfer was photographed two years ago pouring a bucket of icy water over Markle's head as part of a charity challenge.