Last week my taxi was caught in a bomb scare in London’s Haymarket. It
took me nearly three times longer than usual to get to a business lunch
at the Athenaeum. I would have arrived in a better temper had I known
that ex-Tory minister Alan Clark had been arrested for trying to drive
through the police cordon. I had scarcely got to my next job in
Huddersfield when Princess Diana cast confusion in the ranks of the
royals with her divorce announcement.
These two unrelated events are a fierce reminder to all PR persons of
the dangers of a loose cannon on your deck.
Mr Clark is of contrite heart for his ‘irresponsible and impetuous
behaviour’ - as he describes it - though not for saying: ‘Everyone in
public life should be arrested at least once’. This is exactly what you
would expect of him. Unreliability and insouciance. I remember them well
during his ministerial career in the 1980s. He went on to cause the
Scott inquiry into our trade with Iraq after changing his evidence
during the Matrix-Churchill trial. Mr Clark is an extreme, rather than
classic example of the problems a wayward individual can cause in a
complex machine such as government. So is the Princess of Wales.
Unfortunately, she has not only reached the Royal Family, but is mother
of the second-in-line to the Throne. Or perhaps the first if Labour’s
shadow Welsh secretary Ron Davies has anything to do with it. She is not
just irresponsible; trouble is her middle name. Worse still, her cannon
has not just broken loose. It is organised to career all over the deck.
Hence her utter determination to get out a statement to the Press
Association after her meeting with the Prince of Wales to announce the
It is inconceivable that any press officer, trained in the co-ordinated
ways of the Government Information Service, would have issued a
statement on her behalf without clearing it with Prince Charles and the
Queen. Yet that is exactly what happened. It is also exactly why, as I
explained in this column on 2 February, Princess Diana recruited Jane
Atkinson from private sector PR. She does not intend to conform and she
does not wish anybody working for her to have been trained to do so.
Hence Mrs Atkinson’s explanation for their pre-empting any leak of the
intended divorce by rushing out a statement. ‘It cultivates the image of
a strong woman and wanting to be in control of the message,’ she said.
Hell’s teeth. Is this what the Royal Family, a constitutional monarchy
is reduced to? Personal PR? I used to think Mr Clark would be the death
of us. We shall be lucky to survive Desperate Di.
Sir Bernarrd Ingham writes for the Daily Express