MEDIA: Prince Charles must despair of ever rebuilding his image

Prince Charles has every right to feel miffed. In the run-up to his 50th birthday next month, his popularity rating at last seemed to be creeping up. The anniversary of Princess Diana’s death in August had not provoked the predicted renewal of last year’s hysteria. Better still, the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph both ran series last week that not only recorded his acts of kindness but also shifted the balance of blame for his failed marriage.

Prince Charles has every right to feel miffed. In the run-up to his

50th birthday next month, his popularity rating at last seemed to be

creeping up. The anniversary of Princess Diana’s death in August had not

provoked the predicted renewal of last year’s hysteria. Better still,

the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph both ran series last week that not

only recorded his acts of kindness but also shifted the balance of blame

for his failed marriage.



Moreover, the press was easing up on his mistress Camilla Parker

Bowles.



And a visit to the Balkans due to start this weekend, accompanied by a

large press corps, looked set to provide further opportunities in

pictures and words for pre-birthday image building.



Then came the Mail on Sunday’s serialisation of Penny Junor’s book

Charles: Victim or Villain? So keen was Ms Junor to present the Prince

as victim that she made the PR error of overstating her case. At the

heart of it were two grave but uncheckable allegations about the

Princess - that she had an affair with her detective, now dead, and that

she made a late-night telephone death threat to her husband’s

mistress.



Rival newspapers lost no time in questioning the truth of these cruel

allegations against someone who could not answer back. The Prince and

Parker Bowles felt obliged to issue an unprecedented joint-statement

denying that they had approved the book or given the author any help

with it.



His press office released a letter to Junor from Stephen Lamport, his

private secretary, that seemed to support their claim.



Yet what has been the precise role of the Prince’s private office at St

James’s Palace in this recent spate of pro-Charles propaganda? It is

clear that both Junor and the authors of the Mail and Telegraph series

had access to people close to the Prince. Did these ’friends’ ask

Lamport or his deputy, Mark Bolland, for clearance from the Palace

before they agreed to talk, and if so what advice were they given?



Bolland, one of whose specific tasks is to oversee the Prince’s media

relations, is a mysterious figure. A former head of the Press Complaints

Commission, he was hired three years ago because, it was assumed, he was

familiar with the murkier ways of the tabloid rat pack. Is his job just

to fend off routine press excesses or does he have a positive role in

spearheading a campaign to make the future King more acceptable to his

subjects? If so, he cannot be too pleased with his efforts thus far.



I notice I am coming out in a rash of question marks. This is what

happens when you write about the Royals, because nobody who knows

anything will tell you, and those who do talk are notoriously

unreliable. If I were handling the Prince’s PR, I would advise him to

stay in the Balkans.



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