Who was this stony-faced girl in skin-tight jeans being whisked through the arrivals lounge pursued by a dozen paparazzi? A film star? An off-duty supermodel? Or, as one Labour MP speculated, an unlikely terrorism suspect? None of the above. The subject of such extraordinary security measures was Chelsy Davy, a 20-year-old undergraduate at Cape Town University and alumna of Cheltenham Ladies' College.
Then there is the small matter of her being the Zimbabwe-born girlfriend for the past two years of Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor. Otherwise known as "Sir" to his new subordinates in the Household Cavalry, the "Playboy Prince" to red-top newspaper editors and Prince Harry to the rest of the population.
Fearing a public relations own goal in its plea for the prince's privacy, Clarence House rapidly made clear the welcoming committee for Ms Davy had not been requested by her boyfriend. But the interest generated by a young woman stepping off an aeroplane dressed in slouch suede boots, a blue sleeveless T-shirt and a string of amber beads is testament to the rising status of Chelsy as an unlikely part of the British royal roadshow.
It is an alliance which places the House of Windsor in discomfiting proximity to the strange worlds of Robert Mugabe's ruinous rule of Zimbabwe, the hunting of the big game of the savannah, the post-colonial tribulations of whites in Africa and what one former royal adviser described as "Happy Valley money meets Hollyoaks chic". The adviser said: "Chelsy is not something that the Royal Family has had to deal with before. She's more [Wayne Rooney's girlfriend] Coleen McLoughlin than Princess Grace. But nonetheless she is being accepted, to a greater or lesser extent, into the royal circle."
If so, it is a process of assimilation that is not yet complete. While the populist press has made approving noises about Kate Middleton, the strictly off-limits girlfriend of Prince William, Chelsy has not quite attracted universal approval. After being escorted from Heathrow, Ms Davy was not driven to the parade ground of Sandhurst Military Academy for her boyfriend's passing out ceremony as Second Lieutenant Wales. Instead, she was taken to an undisclosed location to don an emerald dress for her sole public appearance of the proceedings at an evening ball before flying off next week for a tropical island break.
For seasoned royal watchers, it was an arrangement that follows an established pattern: Chelsy is an accepted part of Harry's private life, but it will be some time before she makes it to the photocalls on the balcony at Buckingham Palace. Indeed, coverage of the relationship between Harry and Chelsy has been dominated by tales of drink-fuelled partying, exotic holidays and the inter-mingling of two privileged upbringings.
The pair first met while Chelsy was attending Cheltenham Ladies' College and later the Buckinghamshire public school, Stowe. She was one of a group of exuberant teenagers invited to Club H - the basement at Highgrove converted for Harry and Prince William to entertain friends. But the romance did not flourish until early in 2004 when Harry travelled to Lesotho to work with Aids orphans and met up with Chelsy on a visit to Cape Town.
Certainly the pair's public outings to exclusive nightspots such as Cape Town's Rhodes House and assorted London drinking clubs have helped to define them as part of a riotous set of latter-day Happy Valley bacchanalians. They are surrounded by the likes of Guy Pelly, the outspoken 22-year-old son of a Kent landowner, and Harry Meade, 22, the son of an Olympic equestrian ejected from the Labour Party conference in 2004 for heckling Tony Blair over the hunting ban.
The easy temptation is thus to write off Chelsy as the chav-ish princess to go with Harry's youthful indiscretions, from wearing a Nazi uniform to a friend's fancy dress party shortly before the Holocaust memorial day to his more recent visit to a lap-dancing club in Slough. The reality, as ever, lies somewhere in between Chelsy's popular image and her private life as a business student with a penchant for cocktails.
Although even Harry's most ardent supporters do not sing his academic praises after he emerged from Eton and with B and D grades in A-level art and geography, Chelsy will this year enter the final year of her economics and commerce degree, which includes courses on applied ethics, logic and developing world politics. Descriptions from friends and enemies range from a bright, good-natured young woman who wears her celebrity with discomfort to an arriviste socialite (said to have once exclaimed "I really, really want to be famous") who set out to bag a prince and, now she has got one, has no intention of relinquishing him.
Michelle Schultz, a family friend whose daughters went to the same exclusive school in Bulawayo as Chelsy, told one reporter: "My girls didn't like Chelsy. She's a typical spoilt rich kid who runs with a fast crowd. At school, she thought herself better than anyone else because of who her father is. One of my twins told me Chelsy said she was determined to do even better than her father and marry up."
If nothing else, the relationship has endured despite such opprobrium, the ever-present paparazzi and the 6,000-mile distance between the pair. In the words of his elder brother, Harry is "just a young lad who is madly in love". And conducting a first love affair in front of a telescopic has not been easy, it seems.
During interviews last year to mark his 21st birthday, Harry said: "I get to see how upset she gets and I know the real her. Unfortunately, I can't turn round to the press, I can't turn to people and say, 'Listen, she's not like that, she's like this.' I would love to tell everyone how amazing she is. But you know, that is my private life and once I start talking about that, then I've left my own self open." He added: "My girlfriend is somebody who's very special to me and, yes, she's gone through some very hard times. No, I'm not going to talk about it."
Those who have seen Chelsy scooting around Cape Town's exclusive Newlands suburb in a two-seater silver Mercedes sports car in between trips from the £1m house she shares with her brother to shopping malls would point out that she appears to have survived these undisclosed troubles well.
But regardless of personal matters, it is the private background of Ms Davy, once pictured in Country Life sitting on a swing at the start of short-lived modelling career, that has made her introduction to public life particularly bumpy. Chelsy was brought up in luxurious surroundings of the family home in the Lemco Safari Area, a wilderness of rough bush in southern Zimbabwe where big cats roam at night and elephant and giraffe graze by day.
It is this teeming wildlife that has propelled her father, Charles Davy, a South African-born businessman, to a multimillion-pound fortune as the co-owner of HHK Safaris, the most successful big-game hunting operation in Zimbabwe, and proprietor of a string of properties across South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Such wealth has brought persistent questions about its origins. While the number of white farmers in Zimbabwe has dwindled in the past decade from 4,500 to about 350 due to requisitions of Robert Mugabe's government, Mr Davy has stayed in business. This, according to opposition politicians, is because of Mr Davy's business connections with the Zimbabwean president's pernicious regime, in particular his business partner of six years, Webster Shamu, now a senior minister in Mr Mugabe's cabinet. In 2000, Mr Davy bought a joint 50 per cent share of Famba Safari Company, of which Mr Shamu, who appears on the blacklist of Zimbabweans banned from travelling to the European Union, is a director.
Critics, who have called for Mr Davy to be added to the same travel ban list as Mr Shamu, argue that it is no coincidence therefore that HHK has managed to thrive while many white-led companies have floundered. In return, HHK charges its clients, mostly Americans, up to £17,000 for a 24-day hunting expedition at its 15 camps covering 1,300 square miles - twice the size of Surrey.
Publicly, Mr Davy, 53, has been bullish about his relationship with Mr Shamu, the minister for policy implementation in Robert Mugabe's personal office, and his continuing presence in Zimbabwe.
The businessman, who footed the £20,000 bill to send his daughter and her boyfriend on a holiday to Mozambique's Bazaruto Island last year, points out that he has not survived the seizure of white-owned farms unscathed and handed over four farms, covering 140,000 acres, to maintain his 5 per cent stake in Lemco. Of his links with Mr Shamu, he said: "I am in partnership with a person who I personally like and get along with. I am not involved in politics in any way but I reserve my right of association as any person should."
Behind the scenes, Mr Davy has been distancing himself from HHK. In January he transferred his shares in the business to its co-owner. But it is unclear whether such measures would earn Chelsy acceptance in the House of Windsor.
Shortly after the relationship with Harry was made public, her uncle, Paul Davy, said: " What do you think her chances of getting into that Royal Family? She's Zimbabwean." Predictably, royal insiders bridle at either suggestion of imminent marriage or discrimination on the grounds of nationality. But, in many ways, Chelsy's trajectory has been away from her childhood in the veld back towards Zimbabwe's old colonial power. It is rumoured she will come to live in Britain once her studies are complete.
As one member of the British royal media pack put it: "One way or another, I think Chelsy is here to stay. It may be as Duchess Harry or it may be as royal ex-girlfriend. But I don't think she's had her last police escort off a plane."
A Life in Brief
BORN January 1986.
FAMILY Father is Charles, a businessman, mother Beverley, former Miss Rhodesia.
EDUCATION Girls' College, Bulawayo; Cheltenham Ladies' College; Stowe School, Buckinghamshire; Cape Town University.
SHE SAYS "I just don't want to be the cause of more trouble for him (Prince Harry)."
THEY SAY "The Davy family's offspring have been given a life of luxury off the back of political patronage in a country where many suffer" - Eddie Cross, Zimbabwe opposition councillor
"She's fun, generous, kind and has a body to die for." - Ben Snell, former boyfriendReuse content