Ministers should not, of course, speculate about he sanity of members of
the Royal Family. Nor was Armed Forces Minister, Nicholas Soames
necessarily correct in his diagnosis that Princess Diana exhibited
‘advanced stages of paranoia’ in her world-famous BBC Panorama
interview. But he was right in suggesting that she is seriously
disturbed. And he was all the more wrong for being right, if you see
what I mean.
This is a phenomenon familiar to those who specialise in that branch of
PR called the Government Information Service. It is one thing to brief
accurately. It is entirely another matter to brief accurately and
correctly. Take, for example, my likening former Minister for
Presentation, Francis Pym to Mona Lott - ‘it’s being so cheerful as
keeps him going’ - and, five years later, describing John Biffen as
‘that well known semi-detached member of the Cabinet’.
In each case, I was trying - unattributably - to be helpful. Mr Pym had
made a speech of inspissating gloom in the very same week that the
Chancellor had said we were emerging from a deep recession. And John
Biffen, had said that Margaret Thatcher, a year before she won her third
general election with a majority of more than 100, was a liability to
her party and should be replaced by a collective leadership. The Lobby
wanted to know how they could remain in the Cabinet. Since neither was
going to resign or be sacked, I had somehow to excuse their behaviour. I
sought refuge in their very natures. I was all the more hurtful for
being so accurate. While PR people should never lie, they can sometimes
get into serious trouble for telling the truth. Ask Mr Soames.
But what interests me about the public reaction to The Interview is what
it tells us about where Royal PR has got to. The truth is that it has to
be conducted at a series of levels. At one level, the Queen is the
constitutional monarch and head of the Commonwealth in a disrespectful,
mean, egalitarian and reformist era - difficult to cope with at the
best of times.
But, now that much of the mystique has gone, the Palace also has a Royal
Family which displays all the human frailties experienced by the average
household in the realm. And worse still, its younger members, including
the no-doubt well-meaning heir to the throne, persist in laying on a
bitter, gilded soap opera featuring bitchy TV interviews.
Since they always kill the messenger, ‘stuffy’ Palace PR Ltd is
inevitably, and ignorantly, blamed for the mess. Government PR also, to
some extent, gets it in the neck for John Major’s political slough of
despond. But everybody knows what is really required: discipline.
The cracking of the PR whips at both ends of the Mall would be music to