Magazine article The Spectator

How on Earth Can the Royal Family Survive More Calamitous Revelations?

Magazine article The Spectator

How on Earth Can the Royal Family Survive More Calamitous Revelations?

Article excerpt

MEDIA STUDIES

The Burrell affair illustrates how much the press has changed over the past 20 or 30 years, and how powerful it has become. Not very long ago the majority of newspapers would have given the Queen the benefit of the doubt in such a matter. As it was, only the Daily Telegraph jumped unhesitatingly to her defence. It simply did not occur to the paper that she might have been at fault in coming forward at the eleventh hour with information that stopped Paul Burrell's trial, and so it naturally looked for others to blame.

In this it was alone, which certainly would not have been the case 20 years ago. The Times, which once could have been counted on to mount the Establishment defence, asked several awkward questions which the royal family may have regarded as unseemly. So did the Sunday Times. The ardently monarchist Daily Mail could not conceal its dismay. More predictably, the Guardian, Independent, Daily Mirror, Sun and News of the World were critical. Of course, they sprayed their fire around in different directions. The News of the World is close to Mark Bolland, Prince Charles's spin doctor. So it was no surprise that it judged the Prince of Wales 'wise', while damning the rest of the royal family, its advisers and the Spencer clan.

The effect of the coverage was to damage the monarchy in general. We saw how wafer-thin, in fact, is the support which even the Queen enjoys in much of the press, which only months ago was lamenting over the bier of the Queen Mother. Even papers which do not have a republican agenda embraced the argument that the Queen should not be above the law, and should be required to appear in court like the rest of us. It did not matter that the constitutional argument was a red herring, as Melanie Phillips brilliantly pointed out in the Daily Mail. `The Queen's meeting with Mr Burrell,' she wrote, `was not concealed because [the Queen] was beyond the reach of justice. How could it be, since it was the Queen who eventually made the encounter known?' Basing their arguments on a single case which is unlikely ever to be repeated, newspapers which should know better suggested that prosecutions should now be brought in the name of the state.

Their eagerness to attack, and the sole support of the Daily Telegraph, should be cause for concern for members of the royal family. Equally worrying for them is the press's publication of personal information. We all remember the famous `Squidgy tapes', which revealed the most intimate bedtime conversations between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. In the Burrell affair, first the News of the World and then the other tabloids have published lurid allegations not aired in open court, presumably because someone associated with one of the legal teams has blabbed. It is suggested that Prince Charles's valet had to hold his specimen bottle for him to pee into; that Diana, Princess of Wales sent out for pornographic magazines for her son, William; and that her lovers were smuggled into Kensington Place in the back of Mr Burrell's car. Other stories, touched on by Simon Heffer in this issue, refer to highly unusual homosexual goings-on. Of course, some of these allegations may have been partly inspired by Mr Burrell's overactive mind, but their effect is to make both the Prince and the Princess appear loopy and dysfunctional. By comparison, Mr Burrell's own revelations in the Daily Mirror, some of which may also be fanciful, seem tame. …

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