Invasion of the Harry Hunters
As she squeezes through the crowds of inebriated young aristocrats at London's Mahiki nightclub, Courtney Fleming tries to stay focused. The men are enticing, the beach music is infectious, and the "treasure-chest cocktail" foisted upon her by well-bred clubgoers is plenty strong. But she has come tonight on a mission that brooks no distraction.
Related story on The Daily Beast: Prince Harry's New Life
The objective: find, seduce, and eventually marry Prince Harry.
This is no schoolgirl whim. The California Anglophile spent days before this trip poring over British gossip blogs to identify the hottest royal hangouts. And when she packed, she made sure to include the black floral dress with the plunging neckline that was sure to catch her prince's eye. After all, she'd have plenty of competition.
Fleming is part of a small but resolute group of American "Harry hunters," aspiring princesses who are crossing the ocean in hopes of capturing the redheaded royal's heart (and the tiara that comes with it). Some rely on semesters abroad to lend an air of social normalcy to their excursions, while others simply count their pennies-or lean on their parents-to fund extended vacations in Britain. But the goal is always the same: to live happily ever after with a prince of the realm.
Related on The Daily Beast: Can Walmart be fashionable?
She has mastered the art of civilized binge-drinking. It's necessary, she says, to be able to drink a bottle's worth of Champagne and still engage in witty banter.
These days, their mission has taken on a distinct sense of urgency. Next month Harry's older brother, Prince William, will wed Kate Middleton-a commoner herself, the Harry hunters note optimistically. But even as these earnest, young crown chasers devour royal-wedding news, the nuptials are a source of serious anxiety. When it comes to available slots on the Windsor family tree, explains author Jerramy Fine, whose 2008 memoir Someday My Prince Will Come recounts her own unsuccessful efforts to marry into the monarchy, "Harry is now their last chance."
Related on The Daily Beast: The World's Hunkiest Eligible Princes
This reality is not lost on Taylor McKinley, a sweet 21-year-old George Mason student who recently began a semester abroad at the University of Leicester (two hours outside London). McKinley takes her princess prep seriously. She reads magazines with names like Majesty and Royalty. She studies the historical monarchy. And in high school, she even abstained from dating, figuring she would "hold out for royalty." Now, she spends her weekends dragging classmates to Harry's favorite restaurants and waiting for fate to strike. Her parents are skeptical, but McKinley is confident she will one day find her prince. "I'm one of those people who only reads books with happy endings," she says.
McKinley's tactics are mild for a Harry hunter. Fleming, for example, has spent the past two summers attending duke-studded events like the Henley Royal Regatta, bluffing and flirting her way into the upper echelons of British society. With no accent to denote her breeding, Fleming-who works part-time as an actress in the states-seizes the opportunity to cast herself as a prince-friendly version of the archetypal California girl. "Sometimes the men are taken when they find out I'm from Los Angeles," she says. "But there's this stereotype that American girls are loud and obnoxious, so you have to find the right balance." To that end, she has mastered the art of civilized binge-drinking. It's necessary, she says, to be able to drink a bottle's worth of Champagne and still engage in witty banter.
Related on The Daily Beast: Find out which celebrities over 80 still rock
Of course, Harry hunting is not an exclusively American pursuit. London's Daily Mail frequently chronicles the exploits of young British socialites who spend weekends trolling the prince's favorite bars. (The Mail calls them "throne rangers." ) But while Brits seem to approach the hunt like a frivolous game for the pretty and rich, their Yankee counterparts take it much more seriously, employing a classically American can-do zeal.
This hybrid of earnestness and audacity has become familiar to Britain's aristocratic set. Schuyler Evans, a pedigreed bachelor from London, says he can spot a Harry hunter a mile away. "You see them out and about at various places, especially the summer social scene," Evans says. "They're just so happy to be involved ... it's really funny." And while he and his friends may snicker, they're happy to keep the attractive young tourists company while they await Prince Charming. "Assuming she's cool and pretty, no one is averse," Evans says.
Fleming's endless mingling has yet to bear fruit. But now that she's infiltrated all the right social circles, she believes it's just a matter of time before she's face to face with her would-be husband. Besides, if Harry doesn't work out, her stated "plan B" is to marry a peer-and her hunt has yielded plenty of attractive options. One summer, Fleming says, she "went out with a titled man for a bit." But when pressed for details, she plays coy. A princess doesn't kiss and tell.
Related on The Daily Beast: The top 12 moments from 'Big Love'
Fergie, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Heidi Klum all get an F on this week's Fashion Offenders.Watch Video »
Diva Double Date
Beyonce and Alicia Keys double date with their famous hubbies on today's Celebs Gone Social.Watch Video »
Where Are They?
See what the cast of "American Beauty" is up to today.Watch Video »
J.Lo's Mini Me
Jennifer Lopez shares an adorable photo of her look-alike daughter, plus more celebritots on social media on today's Celebs Gone Social.Watch Video »
Prince Harry, Jessica Alba and more stars who threw out the first pitch at baseball games.Watch Video »
Sofia Vergara poses in a revealing neon bikini while her "Modern Family" castmates hit the beach in Australia on Celebs Gone Social.Watch Video »
Like us on Facebook?
UP NEXTWeek in Photos
From Crowd Ignite