Just when you thought the Paul McCartney-Heather Mills divorce scanal occupied 100 percent of British tabloid attention, photographs of Prince Harry in a "friendly" embrace with a TV presenter are at the center of tension between the tabloid press and the Royal Family, Britain's Telegraph reports.
The Sun newspaper recently published pictures of the Prince that it claimed were taken in a nightclub this summer. A front page picture, printed under the headline "Dirty Harry," showed the prince kissing and fondling Natalie Pinkham, 28, a friend who has worked for ITV4.
The accompanying story quoted "a fellow reveller at the club" as saying that Harry "will probably be in big trouble with Chelsy now."
Certainly, the paper asserted, this debacle leaves Prince Harry with a little explaining to do as far as his girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, is concerned.
Harry's older brother Prince William, also appears drinking cocktails and chatting with girls in the background of some of the pictures, part of a photo spread titled "The Booze Brothers" that shows the pair in the South Kensington nightclub Boujis.
The newspaper was humiliatingly forced to eat its words last night after Clarence House pointed out that the pictures were taken three years ago, long before Prince Harry began dating Miss Davy, his lady friend of Zimbabwean heritage.
Moreover, they were set at a different nightclub.
This controversial blunder is the latest setback for the News International group following the arrest last week of Clive Goodman, the royal editor of The News of the World, who was charged with telephone tapping.
Although The Sun agreed to print a correction, it will undoubtedly further sour relations between the Royal Family and the tabloids, and will be a blow to editor Rebekah Wade. Media observers expressed surprise that the newspaper made such an egregious error when inspection of the pictures suggests that they were not that recent. Both Prince William and Prince Harry look younger and have different hairstyles than now.
The pictures were actually taken at a birthday party for Pinkham at Purple, a nightclub on the Fulham Road. Clues to the real location of the pictures include the walls of the bar, which are adorned with purple drapes.
In another twist, there were allegations yesterday that the photographs had been published without the permission of Pinkham, their owner.
Her spokesman was quoted as saying that they may even have been stolen from her home, a highly sensitive charge in the light of the allegations already involving The News of the World.
"The original photographs were under lock and key at her home. The pictures were taken at a private celebration of her birthday at Purple, in Chelsea, in September 2003, which William and Harry attendedâ€¦ These pictures are personal and were never intended for publication. Natalie is distressed and angry that someone has either stolen or somehow managed to make copies of her private photographsâ€¦ She considers herself to be a friend of the princes and they are aware that she would never do anything to embarrass them," Pinkham's spokesman said.
However, Pinkham, a former girlfriend of Matt Dawson, an international rugby star, later dropped the claims that the photographs were stolen. Sources at The Sun insist they were obtained in a legal fashion.
Pinkham, who has presented a number of sports related television programs, has featured in speculation about Prince Harry before, notably in June this year when she asked the prince for a kiss as they left a party in the early morning. A spokesman for the Prince said, though, that the two are "just mates" who had been friends for many years.
It is not the first time that Prince Harry has been featured in photographs he might have wished had never been published, even though in this case they were not as compromising as they first appeared. Last year, pictures of him decked out in a Nazi uniform at a "native and colonial" fancy-dress party caused widespread rage.
Our other favorite Prince, Prince, declined comment.