When Harry met Hilary Duff
By Janet Smith
He's a naughty boy - and that's the insouciant charm of Prince Harry. But could a pretty blonde American princess turn the modern British dandy into monarch material?
The rebel in the House of Windsor is said to be eyeing a relationship that could echo the political and romantic unification of the houses of Lancaster and York in England in the 1400s for sheer surprise value. But its economic worth could far outweigh the emotion as Harry Does Hollywood could make millions for the international media.
The 19-year-old prince, who is currently spending eight weeks of a gap year "helping disadvantaged young mothers and children" in Lesotho, is said to be infatuated with one of Hollywood's young princesses: Hilary Duff.
Should the pair be irrevocably drawn to one another, this would be an historic union of America's global pop culture with the most British of institutions. Not since the early 1980s - when the doomed Lady Diana was first stalked by the world's paparazzi as the shy, virginal conquest of Prince Charles - would a romance be so over-documented.
The Daily Star in London has reported that the son of the late Princess Diana is said to have already made "a series of phone calls" to the American starlet - "and the pair are keen to meet up soon".
The ubiquitous "friends of the young royal" claim he has had "a secret crush" on the 16-year-old since she starred in The Lizzie McGuire Movie last year. Said one: "Harry initiated the contact with Hilary. He pulled a few strings and was able to get his private telephone number to her. He was thrilled when she called. They've just started talking on a regular basis. It's a case of puppy love for both of them."
While it is quite difficult to imagine what might have propelled Prince Harry to watch The Lizzie McGuire Movie in the first place, since it is a picture aimed almost exclusively at 14-year-old girls, it is even more bizarre to imagine him trawling through the "box of her promotional materials, including an autographed poster" she sent him.
Unbelievably, Duff, apparently breathless, told "friends": "This is just like a fairytale and he's my Prince Charming."
It's true there is something innocent about the matinee movie sweetheart that would make her the ideal romantic foil for a young man who was most recently linked with British topless models Lauren Pope - described by one website as "a Page 3 corker" - and Cassie Sumner.
Earlier this month, it was reported that Pope was "caught canoodling" with Prince Harry at a London club.
Following in the tradition of advisers in the royal courts of old, many at Clarence House have probably encouraged Harry to show at least public interest in a girl with slightly less experience than Pope - "the cutie from Torquay".
The urgency of their situation was made evident just a few days ago, when the Prince of Wales's new communications secretary was compelled to mount "an unprecedented defence" of the prince when Harry was dubbed a "national disgrace" in the Daily Express.
Patrick Harverson, who recently joined Prince Charles's staff after leaving his job as PR to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, was aggrieved by a column by the newspaper's Carol Sarler.
In it, she stated that Harry "rarely lifted a finger unless it was to feel up a cheap tart in a nightclub". Harverson sent a letter of complaint, clearly not in agreement with Sarler's further assessment that the prince is a "thoroughly horrible young man".
The columnist had also dismissed the royal's visit to Lesotho, describing his sojourn as "eight lavish weeks in interesting parts of Africa, where he has reluctantly agreed to spend a bit of the trip staring at poor people".
With that tacky business now effectively swept behind the castle walls, the media can concern itself with tasty rumours about the prince's romantic hankerings. And since he has just been doing "eight to nine hours a day" of manual labour in Queensland, the third in line to the English throne will surely be thinking of a little companionship.
But will Duff crack an invite to Buckingham Palace?