In some ways they had great advantages in the way they were living in that King
George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the two Princesses were much closer together
than modern life makes it possible for the Royal Family to be today. They
appeared to be like any other family group and well-respected movement. They
weren't going abroad or perpetually leaving their children behind. I think that
was a very major contrast with what we find today with younger members of the
Royal Family and a heavily occupied Queen and nothing like as close a
relationship as Margaret and Elizabeth enjoyed with their parents.
q: What effect did that whole image and that closeness have on how people of
your generation saw the role and function of the Royal Family?
a: The war you mean? That had a very large effect because there were some
pretty bad days during that war. In any form of leadership the sight of a King
and a Queen walking down streets where buildings were still smoldering, it's a
simply act of leadership really. They provided the leadership that people most
wanted to see and then in uniform he'd be going off to see the troops and so
on. No, I think that the war enabled both of them, if I may put it this way, to
shine more brightly than they might have done in peace.
q: Can you remember what you thought about the televised coverage of the
Coronation? Particularly how important for your generation with this first
Royal spectacular on television was Richard Dimbleby as a commentator?
a: It was the beginning of a new age of communications. It was unavoidable.
Television had arrived. Television demanded a place at the Coronation. It did
present the scene far more intensively. I mean it was an entirely new style. I
don't think Dimbleby with his loyal comments, well he did set a new standard.
He did set something that other people began to mock, which was this
genuflection whenever the name of the Royal Family was mentioned.
You remember-- there used to be rather a joke about the BBC, how the announcers
went, when it came to a member of the Royal Family, sort of lowered their
voices. You could imagine them rather straightening their tie and all the rest
of it. So I think that phase, it's what I call the Supermac phase - it's what
did in MacMillan in the end--was just beginning then through television.
q: There was a special relationship between the institution of the Monarchy
and the BBC at the time. They became very close I think from the 1950s onwards.
They covered all the royal events and so on and so forth. Why at the time did
it seem like a natural marriage? It doesn't seem so natural now but in those
days why did it seem like a good partnership?
a: Well going back a bit you may remember there were two historic occasions in
which in a sense the BBC felt it was representing the nation. The first was
when John Reith himself elected to announce 'the King's life is moving
peacefully towards its close.' That was the death of King George V. Well given
that sort of patronage by the BBC your question is answered. From then on in a
sense it seemed to be a natural relationship.
q: In fact it was Reith who wanted the BBC to be the fifth pillar of the state
a: Well a great number of people made the mistake of thinking, abroad in
particular, that the BBC was in fact the voice of Government. I mean that was
the handicap of having a corporation in the state it was, with the Charter it
q: ..The 1970s-- was there a point when you felt that the reporting of the
Royal Family became more intrusive. Some of us have cited the coverage of
Princess Margaret in the 1970s at a point where things began to change. What
do you think about that view?
a: Princess Margaret's affair with Townsend and all that went round it was the
first piece of really sort of that kind of news we'd had out of the Royal
Family. Undoubtedly in a sense it received more Press attention than anything
that had happened before. But if we're talking about the 1970s, I think there's
a whole range of things which there's no simple solution to the question Why
did the Press appear to become more intrusive etc.
First of all it was the advent of Private Eye which people overlooked that I
think was very influential. Private Eye was in a sense saying things about
people that nobody else was saying and I've always accepted - and Richard
Ingrams I know agrees with me - that Private Eye was a big factor in getting
newspapers not to be more intrusive but to be more candid if you like about
Then there was the fact that the national newspapers were becoming more and
more competitive. It was the advent of Rupert Murdoch with, first of all, the
News of the World and then tabloids and then his method of going about things.
I don't think Rupert Murdoch's best friend could claim that he was very pro the
Royal Family and from that a good deal flows. He isn't in fact a British
citizen. He's an American citizen so there's a certain disdain I think shown by
Rupert and through his newspaper for all members of the Royal Family.
And then there is the fact that journalism generally became more intrusive. One
newspaper would do something. Others would be compelled to follow suit and now
everywhere we travel, as I have to sometimes, there's a pack of photographers
that work with the Royal Family. You will see thirty or forty, leave out the
paparazzi, representing ourselves, who are competing furiously to make certain
they don't lose the best pictures. Now this very often does mean that a lens
will be sloshed into say Diana, the Princess of Wales's face of six feet or
I think that probably we have passed a point of good manners. I think intrusion
has gone too far. I don't believe there can be a law on privacy for the Royal
Family or anybody else because I don't think it's workable. Where I think the
weakness is the failure of respected proprietors, not all of whom as I say are
British citizens, the failure of proprietors and editors to set a standard for
their own newspaper. I begin to see people not only disparaging those who
govern them but doubting whether the system is really a good one. What say do I
have and so on and so on and so forth. So I think that denigration now has
become dangerously unbalanced not only of the Monarchy but also of public
affairs in general. How is it going to go from now I simply do not know.
q: You mentioned the influence of Rupert Murdoch. Was it in any way
significant that it was the News of the World, the paper you mentioned, which
was the first paper to send a photographer for the express purpose of filming
Princess Margaret with her friend, Roddy Lewellyn on Mustique, that it was the
News of the World that brought, the Editor of the News of the World has said he
didn't see why this should be something just for Private Eye but he thought he
would get the picture for a popular paper?
a: Am I expected to look surprised at that? No, no you're quite right. That
was the beginning. The News of the World began quite a number of things of
that kind. There was an outbreak of public outrage when the News of the World
threatened to publish the memoirs of Christine Keeler. That was more than
people felt they could swallow particularly as Jack Profumo was making a very
good job in the East End of London. Otherwise what one has to ask oneself
is--When did you last remember any public outrage at anything any of the
tabloid newspapers have done? What you have to look at I think is not only the
standards of the tabloids but the reception of those standards by the public.
My belief is that newspapers will only answer out, accusations of outrage when
it costs circulation. The cries of prigs, that they're overstepping the mark,
go nowhere. Until the public react, and I don't think they will, why shouldn't
they continue in the same way?
q: One of the things that has been said quite a lot in interviews is that the
Royal Family don't like the idea of having public relations advisers, but
that's actually what they need. What's been your impression of the kind of
strategy for dealing with this intense Press interest that the Palace has from
your own experience with them?
a: Well I knew Michael Shea very well and I've known Charles Anson who has just
retired from the job. They have done, I think, the best they possibly can in
very difficult circumstances. I would be against the Royal Family taking on
what I think is now in modern times called spin doctors in order to make sure
they come out looking right. I don't believe you can change the system that
you've got - a Press Office which answers questions by newspapers but nobody
who actually tries to shape the appearances of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh
or any other member of the Royal Family. I think they have to take their
chances with the system we've got and there is no answer to it until the public
suggest they don't like the Royal Family being bullied and there being no sign
of that the bullying will continue.
q: Can you describe how the Palace invited editors to meet Michael Shea and the
Queen to discuss the coverage of the Princess of Wales very early on in her
marriage and the pressure it was putting her under?
a: Yes. At the time of the engagement on to this point the Princess had become
increasingly disturbed, she wasn't accustomed to it, by the tremendous flock of
photographers that followed her and I think made an appeal to the Queen who in
turn asked editors to go to the Palace. And first of all we had a briefing
from Michael Shea about the problems and then afterwards we met the Queen for
an informal drink and the Queen was extremely reasonable, pointing out that it
was rough on a girl to have thirty or forty photographers chasing her all the
time, not in the sense aiming to bully her but aiming to beat each other. I
mean very few people understand the nature of competitive photography but it
invariably leads to rough treatment. I mean this is what she was up against. So
the appeal was made. My impression is it fell on pretty deaf ears. Nothing
changed after that.
q: The Andrew Morton book on Princess Diana. What was its impact first of all
on the image of the Royal Family as a happy family when it emerged that this
book was authorized by the Princess?
a: It was in a sense the first time not in a royal sense but a member of the
Royal Family had delivered a point of view like this. In a sense it was
repeated later with the Panorama interview. It can only have done damage
because first of all, it invited further comment, examination, intrusion if you
like. And secondly it demolished any air of mystery which I do think is
important in royalty. It demolished any air of mystery that had been left by
the rest of the media. These things happen and as you know, the Prince of Wales
in a sense came back with something of the same. I think that was a very
unfortunate phase and furthermore it, it didn't just justify, it stimulated
further excitement among the media into intrusion, into private affairs that
had no right to be out in the public eye.
q: Given her experiences with the Press and the harassment that they inflicted
on her, why did a member of the Royal Family choose to put her case through the
very organ, through the media that had so harmed her, made her life so
a: I think she was in a state of great depression. I think she felt that her
side of the story was remaining untold. I think she felt that a great deal was
being invented about her by sections of the media which needed correcting and I
think she was persuaded that in telling her own story she could sort of kill
three birds with one. She could correct misapprehensions in the media, she
could get it out of her system and in a sense she could tell her side of the
story which had hurt her very deeply. Now that I think was the motivation.
q: One of the other things that she was aware of was that her husband's camp if
you like was talking to the Press about her in a detrimental way before
a: Well I think perhaps her husband's friends they stayed with, in fact, did.
The Royal Family of today have a very wide circle of acquaintances and in a
sense this circle of acquaintance the outer ring probably did more talking than
the inner ring. But it is one of the unfortunate facts of life in recent years
that the public has become very much divided between the rights of the Prince
of Wales and the rights of the Princess. As one who writes a good deal about
it in the Daily Telegraph, I know from the correspondence I get there is
deeper feeling among supporters of the Prince or the Princess of Wales than
there is today in the party political field. People care more for one or the
other and write more passionately than they would about Mr. Major or Mr.
q: But suppose there were people who in the Palace if you like who suspected
what she'd done and knew that it was coming and that attacking her and drawing
attention to the damage that she caused was not very helpful to any efforts to
contain the situation?
a: This is quite right but then human in crisis are very often unaccountable.
I wouldn't attempt to explain this to you. There is a factor that we haven't
mentioned here which is that the Princess of Wales, perhaps unfairly, held an
extraordinary view about the whole Royal entourage. I think she almost felt she
was a prisoner of war inside the apparatus which is there to uphold majesty. I
mean there's a very important as it were apparatus that surrounds the Queen,
surrounds a Monarch. This I think she found impenetrable and became almost
phobic about it. That accounts for some of the bitterness which spilled into
q: Are you saying in essence that she also felt that she couldn't confide or
trust anyone who was employed by Buckingham Palace to advise her?
a: I think she lacked an intimate friend to whom she could, I mean all girls
like to have someone very intimate of their own sex who they can confide to. I
think she probably lacked this. I think that her position in the Royal House at
that period made such intimacies much harder and I can understand why a
certain amount of mental strife went on inside her about all this. I mean in
retrospect, having heard her talk about this, I am more sympathetic now than I
was at the time.
q: Why is that?
a: Because I think one sees the whole thing in better perspective. I thought
the remark which she made in Panorama interview--'there were three in this
marriage and so it was a bit of a crowd'-- did ring true and it explained a
great deal that up to that point had been inexplicable. That's why I'm saying
that my view now is more sympathetic than it was when, shall we say, the Morton
book was first serialized in the Sunday Times.
q: The thing is that people who are less sympathetic - journalists, editors who
are less sympathetic than you are to the Royal Family, to the Monarchy as an
institution - point out that in the seventies and eighties the Royal Family
positively courted this coverage in the Press. And they made themselves
available to the media and that they can't therefore - draw up, pull up the
drawbridge, haveless coverage, when the Royal Family appeared to want it. They
didn't mind it when things were going well in other words.
a: A theory that I totally reject. The fact that in the course of their public
duties the Royal Family enjoyed photographs, television features etc. is no
pretext or excuse for such bad manners as some of the Press and photographers
now use against the Royal Family. The idea that Diana, Princess of Wales has
enjoyed an enormous amount of publicity, lovely pictures in lovely dresses,
justifies brutish treatment of her now simply doesn't add up.
q: It wasn't just public functions and it wasn't just coverage of their trips
and so on, but photographs they made....
a: Films of the Royal Family, intimate pictures of the Royal Family-- but this
was delivered in response to pressure. I rather doubt whether the Royal Family
stepped out and said 'We would very much like to offer you this and this and
this.' I think there was, I can remember a time when there was criticism about
the Royal Family being totally out of touch, almost invisible, high time in a
sense that they showed themselves for what they are. That's all forgotten of
course when they give way perhaps mistakenly and people get what they want.
They were under great pressure to do all this sort of thing.
q: You mentioned the Dimbleby film and book [on Prince Charles] which lots of
people have said to us they thought was very misjudged exercise in terms of
talking about his private life. Was that a view that you share?
a: Once he agreed to let Dimbleby write the book, once he agreed to let
Dimbleby do the film, inevitably a question was going to be asked, the central
question-- 'have you or have you not committed adultery?' And there was almost
inevitably going to be an answer and I don't think that was conducive to a more
sensible and happier future that's all. I mean I think that maybe, or perhaps
both sides understood where it would have to finish up. If they did I think
they made a mistake.
q: Do you feel now that the Palace has entirely repudiated that project?
a: I don't know what they did. I think that in a sense to some extent both the
Princess and the Prince of Wales have acted unilaterally if you like without,
clearly there weren't Royal consultations before these things took place. I
think that had been one of the problems, that they had been acting unilaterally
without consulting anybody else.
q: Didn't it strike you ever as rather bizarre in a sort of media age-- which
you've described-- to see, given your perspective and where you started out,
two members of the Royal Family conducting their divorce negotiations on
a: Bizarre? Bizarre? May I just say at this point that I think one has to set
a lot of what we're talking about against the strange historical fact that from
the start of George V's reign, given the hiccup we got over the abdication,
through George VI's reign and now through Elizabeth's reign, we've rarely had a
better patch of, if you like, Royal government in the whole of modern
And I think that while we enlarge upon these extraordinary occurrences,
Dimbleby's book, admission of adultery etc., it ought to be surveyed against
perhaps the most solid period of good government by Monarchy that we've enjoyed
since, well in many ways better than Victoria because Victoria was rather
reclusive towards the end and very unpopular.
q: How does the Queen manage to rise pretty well above criticism of anything
that goes on in her family?
a: The Queen's round is centered really on public duty. I sometimes think it
has been too centered on public duty at the cost of some closeness with her
family. Be that as it may, I don't think there has been anyone recently on the
throne who takes public duty more conscientiously than she does and I think she
has now developed a mental robustness in respect of her duties and how they
should be carried out that enables her to see in proportion somehow very
painful criticisms that are made not only of her but of all her children. She
has developed her own brand of serenity and I'm not saying she doesn't care.
I'm not saying she isn't hurt by what happened but behind this if you like mask
of duty a lot perhaps is concealed.
q: Which no doubt we shall never know about. The institution can no longer be
identified as being the ideal family unit. It's just another modern family with
all it's concomitant, so what is it for now?
a: When I look at the scandalmongery which has surrounded President Clinton of
America almost since his first inception I ask myself--given the modern
media--would any head of state, Monarch or President, be immune from the kind
of intrusion which we have witnessed both in Washington and in London?
This leads me to think that we would not improve our affairs were we to switch
from royal to republican. I do think that at the bottom of both these, as it
were at the bottom of both the Washington and the London well there lurks
excessive zeal on behalf of the modern med. And I go back to the point when I
am not certain that a modern democracy can put up for long with the extent of
intrusion which goes on not only in their lives but in public life as well.
q: In order to promote her causes, the Princess of Wales is quite assiduous in
her contact with editors and senior journalists in Fleet Street. Why is that
important for her to have lunch with people at News International and the Daily
Telegraph and so on and so forth?
a: It's a good question to which I'm not absolutely certain I know all the
answers because I don't pretend to be inside her thinking. I think she feels
probably that newspapers tend to investigate more thoroughly what they don't
know much about. In other words they like to explore unexplored ground and the
closer you keep in touch with them the less intrusive they're liable to be. I
think it possibly is in a sense say an exercise in damage limitation. I think I
would guess that is what it's all about.
q: She's not an exponent of the view that you should remain completely aloof
from direct contact with journalists?
a: Well there is another factor in this. She leads now a reasonably lonely life
and I think perhaps rather enjoys company, outside company, particularly in
spheres where in a sense she's interested. I think she has a great wish to
shape in some ways the thinking and the future of particularly her eldest son
and I think contacts with people in public life assist her in this duty and
possibly may give the answer to the question you're asking.
q: To what extent now do the Royal Family have to maintain good, friendly
relations with the Press? How important is the Press to them now?
a: I can't pretend to answer very expertly about this because I don't know the
answer. I think possibly there is a feeling that, if they were to get to know
the Press better, the Press would treat them less like strangers and would be
perhaps less investigative than they are. There may be that feeling.
There are a lot of people in journalism, I hesitate to say this, who are quite
well-informed and the Royal Family like to keep themselves well-informed and in
a sense they're safer wining and dining with journalists than they would with
politicians of one party or another. The Press would be the first to seize on
any intimacies with either Conservative people or with Labor people or even
with Paddy Ashdown's lot. So, if they want to keep in touch with public life, I
hesitate to say this, journalists aren't too. I mean they know an awful lot
about very little or perhaps it's a little about an awful lot.
q: The Daily Telegraph has a big readership, an important, well-informed,
literate etc. readership that take an interest in the Monarchy. Why is a paper
like yours important to the Princess of Wales, the mother of the future King?
Why are you important to it?
a: I think the Telegraph readership probably comprises people who have a
stronger feeling for all members of the Royal Family than anyone else. I mean
there is a good deal of indifference now. I mean I think there would be for a
President or anything else. The Daily Telegraph probably have got more readers
who care for the Royal Family and are interested in them and therefore in that
context it is natural that she should wish to be seen in a good light by the
readers of the Daily Telegraph.
I think in the past that we have perhaps been more critical and less
sympathetic which, looking back on it all now, we might have been. So there
would be in her mind perhaps be a wish to mend past broken fences. I think
that's very natural. I daresay it happens with other newspapers as well but
seeing the sort of battleground which she's been over with the newspapers I
think it might be, it's very sensible in a way to try and make a better
relationship. It would come better from us than from her but I understand the
motivation and I don't see any great harm in it.
I think one must remember what a big change has come about in the Princess of
Wales's life partly of her own violation. She is no longer in a sense on the
vehicle of the Royal Family. Why does she get harassed by photographers?
Because she has discarded her police guard. Why has she discarded her police
guard? Lest she be accused of costing the tax payers money in her private
affairs, private life, defending her from photographers. I'm more sympathetic
with her dilemma now than I have been with her position in the past. Therefore
I can quite see why she would wish now to get, if she can, a softer approach
from newspapers like the Daily Telegraph.
q: Has your opinion softened as a result of traveling with her and knowing her
a: I'm prejudiced. I'm very opposed to anti-personnel mines and I did remark to
her--As long as you're on that side of the business with the anti-personnel
mines I am solidly on your side. We all feel like that on causes that we're