World's press goes to town on Charles's 'secret life'

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The Independent Online

From websites to newspapers, the rest of the world knows what the allegations are that the Prince of Wales is trying to suppress.

Sydney's residents woke up today to the headline "Revealed: the rumour that has rocked the royal family". The Sun-Herald tabloid laid bare more clearly than any English-language paper before it the claims levelled against Prince Charles. In so doing, it all but completed the gradual unravelling of potentially the most damaging, and certainly the most embarrassing, story to have emerged to tarnish the reputation of the future king. The Sunday Tribune in Dublin carried a headline referring to an explicit incident.

Fuelled by last week's statement from Sir Michael Peat, Prince Charles's private secretary, details of the alleged sexual act with a royal servant, with minor variations, have become common currency in internet chat rooms and on gossip websites over the past week. But until today, only one or two maverick reports in foreign-language papers had dared to go the distance.

The Italian broadsheet Corriere della Sera broke the overseas press's self-imposed "gagging order" on Friday, when it printed the most lurid report yet. It was followed by yesterday's edition of La Repubblica, the newspaper that printed the name last year of the former St James's Palace employee alleged to have raped George Smith.

Elsewhere, there were brief lapses of restraint, or judgement. The New York Times's website carried a dispatch, on Friday, from its London reporter Sarah Lyall, which went into some detail about the allegation, but only for 20 minutes. According to the Drudge Report, America's most respected internet news service, its editors simply panicked soon after the copy had landed.

Though the UK press was still straining to hold its tongue, it's worth remembering that the gradual seepage of details had started in earnest with the appearance of a list of sly hints on a notorious British web newsletter. With typical sauce, the innuendo-ridden report by Popbitch was headed: "Happy Finish for the Monarchy".

Additional reporting by Peter Popham in Rome, John Lichfield in Paris and Kathy Marks in Sydney.