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Tabloids are wild about Harry - from afar

SHARE Tabloids are wild about Harry - from afar

It took Princess Diana's death to do it. For perhaps the first time in his 13 years, her adored, freckle-faced Prince Harry took a vacation free of the prying camera lenses that often drove his mother to tears.

Britain's royal-hungry tabloids - which once gleefully ran pictures of Harry's older brother, Prince William, urinating in a bush - normally would have tailed the shy, redheaded boy throughout his brief safari in Botswana last week.Instead, the tabloids obeyed a pre-trip entreaty from Prince Charles to leave the grieving Harry alone as he accompanied his father to southern Africa - the first royal tour since Diana died Aug. 31 in a Paris car crash, with the paparazzi on her tail.

"You could say the tabloids passed the test," Brian MacArthur, associate editor of the Times of London, a broadsheet, said Tuesday. "It doesn't look as though Harry was pestered."

But, McArthur noted, the press also got "lots of opportunities" to photograph Harry and Charles, who left William behind because of school conflicts, during a series of official duties in South Africa.

Railing against the media at Diana's funeral, her only brother Charles, the 9th Earl Spencer, had vowed to protect her sons from the press. In response, tabloid editors had solemnly promised not to train their telephoto lenses on the princess's teenage boys unless they were performing official duties.

The media's restraint in Africa is all the more remarkable given that Harry was on safari with a school chum and his former nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, who famously fell out with Diana after the tabloids showed her getting very chummy with the princes.

In return, the press got a new, media-friendly Charles.

On a trip to Swaziland to christen a new pipeline, Charles put aside his known dislike for the tabloids to chat with reporters traveling on his plane about the importance of communication - and change.

Journalists, who were stunned to encounter the usually buttoned-up heir to the British throne in his shirt sleeves, called it a royal charm offensive.

"Seasoned reporters recalled a nine-day trip through Central Asia this year when he did not exchange a word with them," reported the Times' Alan Hamilton. The Evening Standard, a London tabloid, dubbed the prince "Chatterbox Charles."

At a Pretoria photo stop later in the tour, Charles flirted and joked with the British super group the Spice Girls; in Swaziland, he sent up his own reputation for eccentricity by talking to a tree he had planted. And in Cape Town, he enthusiastically pounded a tribal drum made of animal hide.

But until he joined his father in Pretoria on the weekend, no one knew where Harry was - and the tabloids appeared to make no effort to find out.

The young prince also benefited from the newspapers' obsession with Louise Woodward, the British au pair convicted of murder by a jury in Massachusetts, a story that wiped the royal tour off the front pages for days.

But perhaps the biggest display of good taste came in how the tabloids played Harry's encounter Monday in South Africa's Kwa-Zulu-Natal province with a group of bare-breasted adolescent girls performing traditional dances.