There was a distinct sense of panic Monday at the town hall of the small Arizona settlement of Gila Bend, where Prince Harry, 27, is undergoing the latest phase of his Top Gun–style helicopter-training course, after British newspapers and websites carried reports that the town mayor had cautioned Harry not to spend his time in the area “fornicating the night away and drinking into the small hours.”
In the reports, Mayor Ron Henry, 64, was quoted as saying: “There are probably some fathers here in Gila Bend who would go to extremes to protect their daughters. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we have some very pretty girls here. Some of the dads won’t take too kindly to a prince fornicating the night away and drinking into the small hours. It is a very quiet town with a lot of good Christian people. This isn’t a party town.”
Fantastic copy but, according to town manager Rick Buss, a “total fabrication.” Buss was given the unenviable task of heading off the global media pack on the scent of another “Playboy Prince” headline.
Just three weeks ago, Harry was photographed with a tattooed cocktail waitress, 26-year-old Jess Donaldson, whom he met while stationed for four weeks training at the El Centro military base near the Mexican border in California. He traveled three hours to San Diego nightspot The Belly Up Tavern for a date with the lavishly decorated Donaldson, who was later spotted leaving his hotel.
Harry has been playing the field since he split up with long-term girlfriend Chelsy Davy earlier this year, and was photographed diving bare-chested into a fountain in Croatia during the summer. Harry sympathizers claim that Chelsy was a calming influence on him—although given that he was once filmed snorting vodka while on holiday with her, one has to take such claims with a pinch of salt (or should that be shot of tequila?).
So one could hardly be surprised if the townsfolk of Gila Bend were a little apprehensive about the one-man party machine about to arrive in their midst. But according to Buss, nothing could be further from the truth: “The mayor is very upset about all this. We’re honored to have the prince here, and we will respect his privacy.”
As evidence of that, Buss cited an incident on Friday, when Harry was out in town at a pizza restaurant and “no one bothered him at all. They respected his privacy.”'
The town manager added that the local paper wrote up the trip to the pizza joint “accurately.”
The characterization of Gila Bend—used for military training because its rocky, sun-bleached terrain, 110-degree daytimes, and bitterly cold nights closely resemble conditions in Afghanistan—as a one-horse town was wide of the mark, he said.
Several reports have claimed that the town boasts only one bar, one restaurant, and one hotel themed to look like a space rocket.
“Actually there are five hotels and several restaurants and gas stations; it’s an epicenter for renewable energy, particularly solar,” said Buss, who described Gila Bend as “a pass-through place for people on the way to California and Mexico.”
He said he had no idea how the mayor had come to be quoted apparently preemptively reprimanding Prince Harry for “fornicating.”
"The mayor is very upset about all this. We're honored to have the prince here, and we will respect his privacy."
“The mayor said it was the reporter who started using words like ‘fornicating.’ The reporter started asking him things like, ‘Oh, what about if Prince Harry went chasing after one of your daughters?’” Buss said.
But given Harry’s form, it’s a reasonable question, isn’t it? Just out of interest, how would Buss feel if Prince Harry went chasing after one of his daughters?
“I’m not going to answer that,” he replied, after a long pause.
Sixty years and hardly a slip.