By Anna Tomforde –
LONDON — Prince Harry has been caught in tricky situations before — but never quite like this.
The website images showing the 27-year-old prince — naked in a compromising position with a young woman, also apparently naked, in a hotel room in Las Vegas — have met with a shocked silence in Britain.
The pictures were described Wednesday as a “major embarrassment” for Prince Harry, who was reported to be “on his way home” from the U.S.
The pictures are believed to be the first intimate images ever to be published of a senior member of Britain’s royal family.
“Crown jewels on display in Vegas this weekend,” said U.S. celebrity gossip website TMZ, which published the photographs Wednesday. “A game of strip billiards escalated into full-on royal nudity,” it added.
Mainstream British newspaper have, so far, refrained from publishing the pictures, which date from Friday.
It was understood that a guideline was issued by Britain’s media watchdog advising editors of an “unjustified intrusion” into the prince’s privacy if the images were published.
The restraint of the British press is unusual, but not surprising, given the recent lively debate surrounding the protection of the private sphere that followed the phone-hacking scandal.
British newspapers were “very mindful” of the repercussions of the phone-hacking scandal that erupted at tabloid newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch last year, media commentators said.
The violation of the private space of hundreds of celebrities, royalty, politicians and public figures exposed by the illegal interception of voicemails, has made the media fearful of having their fingers burnt.
Greater protection of privacy is expected to be a key element in an official report that is being drawn up by a judge who led an inquiry into the scandal.
In its brief statement on the photos, St James Palace confirmed that the images were indeed of Prince Harry, but added that his privacy should be respected.
“Whether the royal family privately sees it the same way, must remain open to question,” commented the BBC’s royal reporter.
However, both the frankness of the palace in commenting at all on the photos, and the apparent restraint shown by the media, cannot conceal the shock and deep embarrassment that is being felt about the affair.
The fact that Harry is a captain in the British army does not lessen the embarrassment. As a trained Apache helicopter pilot, he wants to serve in Afghanistan.