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
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
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
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.