Prince has Gigi from Georgia on his mind

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The Independent Online
The best-laid plans of the Queen of Spain to steer her only son away from an unsuitable match with a commoner and into the arms of a royal lady seem to have gone awry. The heir to the throne, Prince Felipe, packed off across the Atlantic to forget his first gran amor, has fallen heavily for a middle-class American student from a small town in Georgia.

The mainstream Spanish press is full of reports that the prince, 27, described in gossip magazines as one of the world's sexiest men, is serious about Giselle (Gigi) Howard and pops over to New York at every opportunity to see her. The prince met Ms Howard a year ago while he was studying for his master's degree at Georgetown University where he graduated in July.

Ms Howard, 24, is the youngest of three daughters of a telephone company supervisor - described by Tiempo magazine as a "typical bourgeois American family". They were introduced by the prince's cousin, Paul of Greece, whose millionaire wife, Marie-Chantal Miller, works for the same children's charity as Ms Howard.

Ms Howard hit the headlines in June when a paparazzo, Carlos Arriazu, was caught trying to bug her telephone but it turned out he was trying to bug the wrong flat. He was, however, on the right track. Months before, the prince said he would not spend Easter with his family in Majorca as usual, but would stay in Washington swotting for his finals.

Instead, he flew with Ms Howard for a weekend to the Caribbean island of St Martin, signing in as Mr Borbon. Mr Arriazu snatched more than 1,000 photos, Tiempo says. The prince visited New York again last month, where the couple made no effort to conceal their friendship.

Meanwhile Epoca magazine hints that the prince's first love, Isabel Sartorius, could be back in the frame. She returned to the spotlight this week when her path crossed the prince's in Madrid. Queen Sofia disapproved of that relationship and is thought to have packed the prince off to Washington to put an end to it, to the sorrow of the Spanish public. As a commoner, albeit beautiful, intelligent and of noble birth, and the niece of a leading Communist, she was deemed unsuitable.

A string of princesses has been trailed before the prince. Earlier this year, he was linked with Princess Tatiana of Liechtenstein, 22, a student at a Madrid business school. Reports of an engagement became so insistent that the royal houses of Spain and Liechtenstein issued a formal denial. Tatiana is Isabel's stepmother's niece.