NEWS: It’s time to apply some control to Royal PR

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.

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

my ears.



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