FEATURE: A Royal calling for media relations - The knives are out, but Kate Nicholas finds that Mark Bolland remains as elusive as ever

It's Monday morning, and I am just giving the gilded PRWeek PR

Professional of the Year trophy a dust off in advance of today's meeting

with Mark Bolland, when I receive a call from Coleen Harris, press

secretary at St James's Palace, to say that lunch at Le Caprice is off

and the long-arranged trophy handover postponed.



The trophy has been decorating my desk since the PRWeek Awards ceremony

on 31 October when, at Bolland's request, I took to the stage to receive

it on his behalf. Prince Charles's deputy private secretary had been

fulsome in his gratitude when he learnt a couple of days prior to the

event that he had been chosen by the panel of judges, and his official

statement emphasised that that he was pleased to have been so honoured,

particularly as he had never considered himself a PR practitioner.



It was, of course, this denial of involvement in PR, rather than his

acceptance of the award, that interested the nationals but sources close

to St James's suggest that he is secretly delighted. The edge must have

been taken off any enjoyment, however, by the post-awards coverage

including a piece by The Daily Telegraph's Tom Leonard suggesting that

the 'adulation of the PR industry was likely to strengthen accusations

that spin doctors are too dominant in St James's Palace.'



And as Simon Heffer pointed out in his recent piece in The Spectator,

Bolland's attempt to remain behind the scenes 'took a knock' when

PRWeek's award pointed to his considerable achievement in not only

steering Prince Charles with dignity through the period following the

tragic death of the Princess of Wales but also helping to move the

perception of the Prince's relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles into

a more positive phase.



So I am not exactly surprised when the call comes through delaying the

hand delivery of the gong, described in this instance by the Daily

Mail's Ephraim Hardcastle column as 'a poisoned chalice'.



It is, however, disappointing - to put it mildly - given the unholy

storm that has broken over Bolland's St James's office in the past

couple of weeks. Lord Conrad Black's media group appears to have

embarked on a concerted campaign against the senior royal aide with

Heffer claiming in The Spectator that Bolland had 'spun' his employer at

the expense of other members of the Royal Family, followed by a report

in the Saturday Telegraph claiming that Bolland had leaked damaging

stories to the press and that there was growing anger at the Palace.



During last week, the row spread beyond the Hollinger empire, the Mail

hitting back at the 'Revenge of the Old Guard' and The Guardian crowing

over the war between the two papers 'competing for the same shrinking

Tory audience.' I was looking forward to hearing Bolland's side of the

story, even off the record.



In the meantime the list of Bolland's supposed crimes grows day by

day.



The real problem seems to be not that he isn't good at his job. Far from

it. Not one of even the most scathing reports suggests that the PRWeek

accolade was unjustified.



He has made giant steps in terms of the positioning of Prince Charles

and crucially Camilla Parker Bowles, but some claim these gains were at

the expense of other members of the Royal Family whose relationship with

the media has been more fraught.



Inevitable comparisons have been made with Peter Mandelson, with whom

Bolland met regularly when the architect of New Labour's communication

strategy still sat at the heart of government. There is a similarity in

working methods. Mandelson, like Bolland, would be loathe to call

himself a PR man, but - like Bolland - was the strategic guiding force

behind media relations carried out by others.



Bolland, like Mandelson, is rarely involved in day-to-day press

briefings, but few doubt that the strategy that has led to a warmer

relationship between the media and St James' is his creation. He is also

known to have nurtured close links with a coterie of friendly royal

correspondents and editors such as the Mail's royal correspondent

Richard Kay, and News of the World editor Rebekah Wade.



Some of the most damming accusations in the media surround a series of

leaks from St James's such as the details of the private telephone call

between Prince William and his father over filming by Prince Edward's

production company Ardent Productions, the dressing down that Prince

Charles apparently gave his brother, and the rumour that the Prince of

Wales thought his brother should be removed from the Civil List.



It has also been reported that the Wessexes believe that Bolland used

the aftermath of the now notorious fake sheikh incident, to underline

the distinct culture of St James's and to promote Prince Charles's

opposition to the concept of working royals. 'I think that the Countess

of Wessex has created her own problems' says Jane Atkinson, former media

adviser to the Princess of Wales and a Bell Pottinger director. 'But it

seems to me that what Mark has done is to distance these from the

integrity of St James's Palace - which is the right thing to do. Whether

he did it in the right way is a more sensitive issue.'



According to a source close to the Palace, there are two schools of

thought on Bolland's approach: 'The first school is that anything that

is good for Prince Charles has to be good for the monarchy. That if he

is held in high esteem it has to be good for the long-term future of the

Royal Family. That is the long-term view. The other school says that

that you can't have a person who operates like a political spin doctor

within the Palace. The Monarchy is about being above politics.'



Other more subtle crimes include being young (just 35), comprehensive

school-educated and an immensely powerful force within an establishment

more used to old Etonians. Prince Charles is obviously fiercely

defensive of his adviser, resisting pressure from the Queen's senior

courtiers to dismiss him. While Camilla Parker Bowles' loyalty to

Bolland is not surprising since he is mainly responsible for the

increasing legitimacy of her relationship with the future King of

England. There must be real concerns in some quarters that this 'spin

doctor' could become the real power behind the future monarchy.



However, the fact that Bolland is an astute and active media manager

should surely come as no surprise. Before joining St James's in 1996,

Bolland was not a courtier but a media expert. As the former director of

the Press Complaints Commission he was brought into daily contact with

the UK's most powerful editors, and he was initially recommended for his

current role on the basis of his excellent handling of the press's

treatment of Mrs Parker Bowles' private life. His brief was, to some

extent, an open book.



But will the bruising that he has now received at the hands of the media

lead, as the Telegraph suggests, to the search for a new role? The

repositioning of the relationship between Prince Charles and Camilla

Parker Bowles can only be judged a great success.



So much so, that some suggest that Bolland may have completed the job he

was hired to do. 'I think he did a good job and has achieved what

everyone assumes to be his objective. Now he is getting some bad

publicity so to stop the downward spiral he needs to have another

objective to focus on,' says Atkinson.



Certainly with next year's Golden Jubilee, Buckingham Palace is going to

be keen to dampen down speculations as to divisions between the two

courts. There have been suggestions that Prince Charles's role might be

overshadowed by the Golden Jubilee celebrations. An unsubtle response to

such a threat could, however, lead to Prince Charles's own profile

dominating at a time when the focus should be on the Queen. The most

appropriate positioning may require more of an atmosphere of detente

between the two courts, and perhaps the move towards a closer working

relationship between Bolland and the Queen's communications secretary

Simon Walker.



The lure of the court, the potential of the role and the unswerving

loyalty of the Prince of Wales, would certainly make this a very

difficult role for anyone who enjoys the trappings of power to turn

their back on. And if he were to leave, what role would Bolland

gravitate towards? Despite protestations that he is not currently

involved in public relations per se, would he consider a more overt role

PR role in the future, perhaps even as a communications director in the

private sector, or even as the Telegraph suggests launch his own

agency?



Atkinson believes the transition wouldn't be easy: 'Most of the time we

are trying to keep things out of the press or to position companies in

the press. He has a product that will be in the media whatever happens -

so you are managing the media in the same way that I did with Princess

of Wales. But that doesn't make you a PRO.'



Unfortunately, the only person who really knows the answer to these

questions is Bolland. It looks as if I will just have to dust off the

gong again in the new year.



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