| A tourist holds up a sign asking Prince William to marry her, outside Windsor Castle , on Saturday. (Reuters)
London, June 22: Prince William spoke yesterday of his sympathy for his female friends — and their families — who come under scrutiny from the media because they are wrongly and unfairly linked to him romantically.
The Prince is in no doubt that potential girlfriends are put off by newspaper interest in their private lives but he indicated that if the right person came along he would be prepared to make his move. “There’s been a lot of speculation about every single girl I’m with and it actually does quite irritate me after a while, more so because it’s a complete pain for the girls,” said Prince William, who does not have a steady girlfriend.
“These poor girls, you know, whom I’ve either just met and get photographed with, or they’re friends of mine, suddenly get thrown into the limelight and their parents get rung up and so on. I think it’s a little unfair on them really. I’m used to it because it happens quite a lot now. But it’s very difficult for them and I don’t like that at all.”
The Prince, who was 21 yesterday, would not be drawn on media speculation about particular girls in his life.
The most recent girl to be wrongly labelled as his “first serious girlfriend” was Jessica Craig, 21, from Kenya, whom he met on his gap year while travelling in Africa but who now has a boyfriend.
His close friend and flatmate, Kate Middleton, 20, and her family also came under intense scrutiny from tabloid newspapers, particularly after she was photographed looking glamorous during a student fashion show.
“I don’t have a steady girlfriend,” the Prince admitted. He indicated, however, that he did not lack confidence if he found a girl attractive. “If I fancy a girl and I really like her and she fancies me back, which is rare, I ask her out,” he said.
“But, at the same time, I don’t want to put them in an awkward situation because a lot of people don’t quite understand what comes with knowing me, for one, and secondly, if they were my girlfriend, the excitement it would probably cause.”
Prince William, who is modest about his description as one of the most eligible bachelors in the world, joked about his lack of a girlfriend. “Only the mad girls chase me,” he claimed. “No, I’ve never been aware of anyone chasing me but if there were, could they please leave their telephone number.”
The Prince appealed publicly to the media to allow him privacy at St Andrews University. There has been an unofficial deal between editors and St James's Palace that photographers and journalists stay away from the Scottish town in return for regular access to the Prince during his four years as a student.
There have, however, been recent "snatched" photographs of the Prince, taken through telephoto lenses, in the tabloids in recent months as some editors complained that they were not receiving the level of access to the young Prince that they had been promised.
Prince William thanked the media for giving him space at Eton College and St Andrews. "They have been really good about the whole thing and I'm sure they've been very frustrated at the same time," he said.
The Prince has long been wary of the press, perhaps not surprisingly given that his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, died six years ago in a car crash in Paris as she was fleeing photographers. "I don't think either side wants to return to the free-for-all of the old days. It's a really fine balance and it could be quite volatile if things get out of hand," said the Prince. "So I don't want to go back to that - I've seen it and I don't like it - and I hope that it all works out the way it is. "I just really hope that continues because I've had such a good time in my first two years at St Andrews and I would be absolutely gutted if that disappeared."
He said of his own portrayal by the media: "I don't want to be anything I'm not, and I don't want to come across as being superhuman or an idiot. I just want to come across as me."
For the moment, he is shunning formality and likes to be known simply as "William Wales". "I am and always will be an HRH. But out of personal choice I like to be called William because that is my name and I want people to call me William - for now."
The Prince offered a bizarre explanation for his trait of putting his head down in public: a habit that has infuriated photographers for years. "I was never shy," he said. "But, it's very funny. I was called shy because I put my head down so much when I was in public. "It was never because I was shy. It was a really naive thing that I hadn't picked up on. I know it's silly and that everyone will laugh at it, but I thought that, when I was in public, if I kept my head down, then I wouldn't be photographed so much. Therefore, I thought, people wouldn't know what I looked like so I could go about doing my own thing which, of course, frankly, was never going to work."