Prince Harry has made an unprecedented attack on the British press for the way it has reported his relationship with US actor Meghan Markle.
Kensington Palace sources said the prince feared for the safety of Markle and her family after they were “subjected to a wave of abuse” during newspaper investigations into what – until his statement – had been an unconfirmed relationship.
The statement said the press had introduced “racial undertones” into its coverage, complained of “a smear on the front page” of one newspaper and alleged her lawyers were engaged in “nightly legal battles to keep defamatory stories out of papers.” Palace sources added that police had to be called last week after a photographer allegedly barged into Markle’s garage in Toronto.
The role and behaviour of the media are a particularly sensitive topic for Harry and his brother, Prince William, following their mother’s death in a 1997 Paris car crash.
Both princes, who were then 12 and 15, have said Princess Diana’s death made them wary of the media, though the royal family has generally been skillful in getting favourable coverage and suppressing scandal.
But internet competition and social media activity have accelerated and coarsened coverage of the prince’s relationship with a divorced, biracial woman who was already in the public eye.
Markle is best known for her role as Rachel Zane on the legal drama Suits and played an FBI agent in the science-fiction series Fringe.
She became a global ambassador for World Vision Canada this year, travelling to Rwanda for its clean water campaign, and has worked for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The front-page “smear” referred to an article in The Sun about clips from Suits, featuring Markle, appearing on an adult website. Clips of intimate scenes from the show were posted, not pornography.
The Sun strongly denied any smear and said it made clear that the “steamy sex scenes” it referred to were from her appearances in the TV drama. However the story was removed from The Sun website after critical comments.
Among articles that concerned the palace because of racial connotations was a piece on DailyMail.com headlined “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton,” referring to NWA’s rap hit. “Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed — so will he be dropping by for tea?”
The Palace is understood to have been particularly unhappy with one comment piece in last weekend’s Mail on Sunday, which said 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.”
Markle’s father, Thomas, is white and her mother, Doria Ragland, African-American. The actor has written about her heritage on her website, describing herself as biracial and “half-black and half-white”, which has been referenced in many articles about their relationship.
“Some of this has been very public,” the palace statement said. “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.”
The palace also complained of the “bombardment of nearly every friend, co-worker, and loved one in her life” and harassment of her mother at her home, claiming she has had to “struggle past photographers in order to get to her front door”.
“Given what she was going through in the press and what was happening privately, Harry no longer felt it was acceptable for someone in his position to sit quietly,” a palace source said. “This is happening because of him, not her. The traditional no-comment position no longer felt acceptable to him.
“Once it was clear last week and through the weekend that this was accelerating and wasn’t washing through, then it was increasingly unacceptable in his mind to not add his voice.
“He is not naive. These stories will continue. He just wants people who are reading these stories in the future to at least have his point of view in the back of their minds and to at least have heard from him about what he thinks about them.”
The Sun said it was taken aback by Harry’s statement. A source at the paper said Harry’s staff should have acted before news of the relationship broke.
“They had three days to stop this story,” they said. “Any decent press office would have put out a statement saying they were in a relationship, saying they have a right to privacy, etc, and that would have been that. But they didn’t.”