Headline news stories across the globe recently touted the abdication of Spain’s 76-year-old King Juan Carlos and the ascension to the thrown by his son, 46-year-old Crown Prince Felipe. Of interest to local residents, however, might be Statesboro’s connection to the newly crowned king of Spain.
Statesboro native and Statesboro High School graduate Giselle Howard, called “Gigi” by her friends, who now lives in New York, dated the former prince for 2 1/2 years, beginning in 1996, and was Crown Prince Felipe’s only American girlfriend.
King Felipe VI is married to a former television news reader, Letizia, and the king and queen have two daughters, 8-year-old Leonor and 7-year-old Sofia.
Felipe’s father reigned for 39 years and is credited with moving Spain toward democracy when he became king in 1975 after the death of Gen. Francisco Franco, the military dictator who had ruled for four decades.
But years before he became the new king of Spain, Felipe lived in the United States and completed a master’s degree at Georgetown University. It was during his last six months in the States that he and former model Gigi Howard began a courtship.
This reporter reached out to Howard, but though she expressed her love for family and friends in Statesboro and her hometown, she graciously declined an interview, saying she wanted to maintain her privacy as well as the privacy of her family and friends.
However, sources close to her say she and the new king are still friends and stay in touch. Howard quickly reached out to Felipe to congratulate him after hearing of his father’s abdication.
Howard, the single mother of 14-month-old Southworth, named after her great-grandfather, has reasons to seek privacy in relation to the royal dating case. A photographer, Carlos Arriazu, followed Felipe and Howard, unbeknownst to them, for a week while the couple was vacationing on an island. Selling the pictures to the Spanish publication Hola! for $400,000, Arriazu continued his pursuit for information.
Friends close to Howard say she was approached while jogging in Central Park and asked about her relationship with the prince. By this time, Felipe and Howard were aware of the pictures, and Howard avoided the questions.
One week later, Howard’s phone was tapped. Arriazu hired private detectives to do the job, but the person they chose to do the wiretapping was also a Dade County police informant.
Sources reveal that Howard was awakened at 2 a.m. by detectives at the door, asking if she was the girlfriend of Prince Felipe. As she’d been accosted by many with the same thoughts in recent days, she questioned the validity of the men at the door. Once a 911 operator assured Howard the men were truly detectives, she found out that her phone had been tapped.
That news-breaking revelation brought in the New York press and European media in full force, and Howard was hounded by paparazzi and reporters. Close friends revealed that Howard once said it was difficult to maintain a healthy relationship that way.
The prince’s New York girlfriend was subpoenaed for the trial of the wiretapping, and the flood of paparazzi continued, causing Howard to change homes in New York, even moving back to Statesboro for a time.
Patricia Howard, Gigi’s mother, told the New York Daily News in 1996 — before a trial was set to begin for the paparazzo charged with tapping Gigi Howard’s phone — that Queen Sophia, Felipe’s mother, did not approve of his relationship with Gigi. All the unwelcome attention Gigi endured at the time prompted her mother to tell The Daily News: "Now I feel sorry for movie stars. Except they get overpaid. We're just plain folks.”
Howard was offered thousands of dollars, even $1 million by Hola! magazine, to “tell all” about her relationship with the prince, but she never spoke to the press or received any money for any information. In fact, friends say that much of the information written by the news media was inaccurate, like how the couple met.
Howard met Prince Felipe at a dinner party with Prince Dimitri of Yugloslavia, who was a friend from New York. Howard was no longer modeling at that time but was studying child psychology and volunteering with the “I Have a Dream” Program, sponsored by the Robin Hood Foundation.
Finishing school six months after they met, Felipe returned to Spain, and the couple continued to date, long-distance, for another two years, with Howard flying to Spain regularly. Friends say she often dined with the king and queen of Spain when she frequented the palace.
Friends also say the eventual break-up was amicable.
Howard, who worked in public relations for the fashion and beauty industry and is now developing her own beauty products, continues to receive offers from such publications as Hola! and Vanity Fare Spain for interviews, yet she still declines.