The public rehabilitation of Prince Harry from boozy ne’er-do-well to assured royal brother-in-law and top gun has hit a snag—a buxom, brunette, and highly photogenic snag with a large tattoo on the side of her ribcage: a cocktail waitress named Jessica Donaldson.
They say pride comes before a fall, so perhaps it was inevitable that just days after palace courtiers were congratulating themselves for the extensive media coverage of Harry’s brilliance at air combat training in Arizona (“Prince Harry one of the best young pilots the country has ever seen”; “Prince Harry ‘Top of Class’ in US helicopter training”), it is Harry’s hard-partying lifestyle that has hit the headlines once again this weekend, after a photograph of him apparently kissing bottle-service girl Jessica at a live-music venue in San Diego was published by the website Rumorfix.com.
It appears Harry first met Jessica on Friday, Oct. 7, just hours after the prince and his mates from the Royal Air Force had touched down on American soil, when his minders called ahead to the Ivy nightclub at the five-star Andaz hotel in downtown San Diego on Friday, asking for a secure area where a VIP and 20 of his mates could watch the Rugby World Cup. "It was something the hotel set up because Harry wanted to watch the match, and management hooked up a laptop to a flat-screen TV," Jessica told British tabloid The Daily Mirror, adding that Harry paid for the first two of the three $500 bottles the group ordered.
An insight into Harry’s dating technique is provided by the fact that at the end of the night, Harry’s security detail asked Jessica out for brunch the next day, and then, last Saturday, “a friend” texted her to invite her to the Belly Up Club in Solana Beach on Harry’s behalf. It was at that club that the blurry photographs were taken.
Yesterday, the Mail claimed that “multiple sources” said a woman “fitting Jessica’s description” arrived “alone by taxi” at Harry’s hotel, leaving at 6 a.m.
Donaldson, who took reporters’ questions over the weekend with her boyfriend of three years in the room, apparently burst into tears before denying either that she had kissed Harry or that the woman was she, adding, perhaps not entirely helpfully, “It must have been another girl. I am sure Harry has lots of girls.”
Katie Nicholl, writer and author of The Making of a Royal Romance, says palace insiders are not worried about Harry’s American adventures.
“Harry has always had a cheeky and very flirtatious side and a great sense of fun, and that is why people have a soft spot for him. It is true that his relationship with his long-term girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, ended this year, and even though Chelsy was a bit of a party girl, she was also a calming and grounding influence on Harry. His trips to nightclubs became less frequent. He was calmer. He has gone wild once or twice since then—when he stripped off and dived into the fountains in Croatia for example—but what his friends say is that he is just enjoying his newfound freedom and making the most of it. He has been back in the dating game; he had the fling with Flee.”
Nicholl says top brass at the Ministry of Defense back in the U.K. are unperturbed by the latest stories of Harry’s California nights. "The training is intensive, but there’s downtime. It was a weekend when he met the barmaid, he was free to go and do his own thing, and he was not breaching any rules and regulations. The most important thing for Harry right now is getting back to the front line, and girls will come second to that. He has the trust and respect of family and courtiers."
Of course, his friends and fans will take the California partying with a pinch of salt, but to his critics it will reinforce the impression that every time his image is on the mend, Harry has an unfortunate knack of nudging the narrative back to the tabloid-friendly tale of the playboy prince who couldn’t be tamed. And all the flying lessons in the world won’t change that.