UPDATE 1-Elton John blasts "relentless" character assassination of Harry and Meghan

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* Royal couple stayed with singer in Nice

* John says paid for carbon offsetting of private jet trip

* Sun newspaper slams "heir miles" (Adds Greenpeace comment, newspaper quotes and Instagram post)

By Jill Serjeant and Alistair Smout

LOS ANGELES/LONDON, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Elton John has spoken out in support of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, calling them a down-to-earth and hardworking couple who were being unfairly attacked by the media after they took private jets to stay with him in southern France.

John recalled his friendship with Harry's mother, the late Princess Diana, in a series of tweets on Monday in which he appealed to the press to stop the almost daily "relentless and untrue assassinations on their character."

The "Rocketman" singer was responding to criticism in Britain over two recent vacations taken by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their three-month-old baby Archie to Spain, and to the south of France, where the couple stayed at John's villa in Nice.

Britain's Sun newspaper at the weekend blasted the royal couple - Queen Elizabeth's grandson and his American wife, a former actress - as hypocritical "eco warriors" for flying on private jets despite voicing concerns over the environment and conservation.

"Dumbo Jet," read the headline of the Sun on Sunday's front-page splash on Harry and Meghan's travels, with a picture caption cracking a joke about "heir miles".

John said he was "deeply distressed by (the) distorted and malicious account in the press" around their Nice visit last week.

He added he provided Harry and Meghan with a private jet to his home for security reasons but said a contribution was made to Carbon Footprint Ltd, which offsets carbon emissions by funding environmentally friendly projects.

But some environmental campaigners said such trips should be cut out altogether.

"An airliner is over ten times as polluting as a modern train, and private jets are ten times more polluting still," Greenpeace UK's Paul Morozzo said.

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"It’s vitally important that all frequent fliers reduce the number of flights they take if we are to confront the climate emergency."

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In separate remarks, U.S. talk show host DeGeneres said on Twitter she had met and talked with Harry and Meghan in England about their work on wildlife conservation.

"They were the most down-to-earth, compassionate people. Imagine being attacked for everything you do, when all you're trying to do is make the world better," she wrote.

Harry and Meghan's in May 2018 was marked by an outpouring of affection in Britain but less than a year later the couple have found themselves on the receiving end of a barrage of negative stories in the media. They have ranged from the $3 million cost of renovating their new home to reports dubbing Meghan "Duchess Difficult."

While much reporting by the British press on the royal family is respectful, verging on the sycophantic, at other times it can be harshly critical, even cruel.

The couple have not publicly responded to the various attacks on them, but took to Instagram to post a message of positivity.

"Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world," the post said, quoting anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu.

But that too was swiftly criticised.

"Your little bit of good might be flying on commercial rather than always private," user Dale Strickland commented. "Remember that footprint you both talk about." (Reporting by Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles and Alistair Smout in London, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien/Guy Faulconbridge/Alexandra Hudson)

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