q: You would be in your twenties roughly and working when they made a film
about themselves-- "The Royal Family." Do you remember that film?
a: I do. I mean I can remember being -- my twenties was a period of certain
radicalism and even cynicism -- and I can remember us all thinking it was a bit
of a joke. There they were suddenly appearing to be ordinary people which they
weren't and, in appearing to be ordinary people, they merely emphasized how
unordinary they were, and so I think to that extent it was seen as a public
relations sort of stunt, which it was. I mean it was, it was accepted as being
that. I think there was a curious feeling that you were being allowed to see
that they were at least human beings and to that extent I think it was probably
a success but I think the most important part of that period in the history of
the Royal Family is it was a period when children were growing up and looking
back on it always seemed to me and it still seems to me today that attitudes
towards the Royal Family are very much conditioned by the age of its
q: Did you feel about the Royal Family as a family or did you have a view of
them as head of the nation, a focus in the time of trouble?
a: I think there are two totally distinct things. There was the Queen. You saw
the Queen with a crown on a throne. She was the Head of State and she was the
Head of the Empire and the Commonwealth and she represented Englishness,
Britishness, Imperialism. And to that extent she was a political symbol and
that was a quite distinct phenomenon.
We then had this thing called The Family and the decision made in the sixties
to bring the family to the fore - which I still believe was a mistake - was a
very specific and separate act and I suppose yes, we were all expected to
identify. Here was a family like ours. I mean the same age as my family it so
happened, and we were supposed to see that they were ordinary children who
went to ordinary schools, who went on holiday, who got in and out of cars and
planes. And of course you then noticed that they were rather rich and they
talked in a certain way, so there was a very firm distinction about this
family. It was a very odd family, a very special family, but you were expected
to identify with them and to that extent , I suppose we did.
q: You said it was a mistake identifying them as a family like others -- to
represent the national ethos in idealized form through the family and their
sort of form of idealized family values if you like?
a: Well it's very straightforward. When young people, not just today but
going right back to the nineteenth, the eighteenth century, get to their late
teens and early twenties things tend to go wrong and it's always been thus.
Indeed you can go back to the Middle Ages and find it. So the decision to make
the family the concept of family values, this rather Victorian ideal of Queen
Victoria's vast family, to make them in some sense the selling pitch for the
Monarchy I think was a mistake, not because it was at the time in itself a
foolish thing to do. I mean these were a fairly conventional group of children
compared for instance to the Dutch or the Swedes, so to that extent they
thought they were doing the right thing.
It simply was a risk in the future as indeed it has turned out to be.
I mean the genetic lottery is not what it was. I think most people with
children between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five, possibly even going on
thirty-five or even forty-five, find that you get family problems. One or two
people get divorced and it's hopeless if you know that's likely to happen--as
it is likely to happen --to put quite such a weight of promotion, of moral
authority, really, behind this particular institution.
q: In 1981, the time of Prince Charles' wedding -- Harry Evans wrote that
Prince Charles should get married because the Royal Family have become such a
center of family life. How strong was that sentiment at the time among people
in the Press?
a: I can't really remember it that well. I can remember the phenomenon of the
marriage and I have to say I think it was a phenomenon that surrounds marriage
per se. When people get married the ceremony of the wedding is laden with
ritual of all sorts. When it's between the heir to the throne and a beautiful
woman, the whole world is bound to pay attention to it. When we then do it
with the bravura that we did do it with, so much greater is going to be the
attention. Nothing surprising about that. The only question is how many
hostages you're giving to fortune and we gave a huge hostage to fortune.
q: But I mean it's almost impossible to have seen that with hindsight, I mean to
have foreseen that?
a: Well, I can only say that in common I'm sure with a lot of other people who
were not royal watchers but just, just reasonably well-informed observers
sitting around at that time and saying "Oh dear", this is the kind of thing
that when you oversell it you discover you've made a mistake. I do think there
were a lot of people maybe with ill-will and ill-intent who at the time were
saying "This is a slightly odd relationship. There's a wide disparity in ages
and aptitudes and in interests. It is taking place under a ballyhoo of
publicity. The pressure on a very young girl is so intense. This is heading
for something of a fall" and plenty of people were saying so at the time.
q: But only privately?
a: No, you will find people were saying it at the time. You'll certainly see
they're all saying it in their memoirs now.
q: There was that period when the appearances on the balcony were getting
larger and larger. People remember the sort of core four. And then it was
the Duke of Edinburgh and their family and so on. But by that stage they
were getting really quite a big extended cast which we were encouraged to think
of them all somehow being an institution. Do you share that, that sense
of it all being somewhat a danger to the institution?
a: I think there was a real danger, there really was. This didn't happen
before. It was only in the fifties and sixties that the decision was made that
members of the Royal Family would be part and parcel of the institution of
Monarchy. It was not done in the nineteenth century. It was not done by George
V. It was not done by George VI. It was a very specific decision to make the
family in some way the means by which the concept of Monarchy seemed relevant
to the public. It was a mistake. I think it was a mistake then. I think it's a
mistake now and the form that the mistake has taken has been that these are
human beings. They're human beings with very little to do or very little that
gives them a sense of reward to do, and as a result the chance of them going
I'd say off the rails or wrong, the chances of them behaving oddly is that much
greater. That risk was taken and it was a mistake.
q: The 1980's -- looking at the reporting of the Royal Family by the popular
Press during that period -- can you describe the growing sense of disquiet
a: Well I mean I think the thing you have to remember is that from the moment
that Diana Spencer arrived on the scene you were going to get media attention
devoted to her unlike anything you'd seen in the world. No film star, no Pope,
no Queen was going to get the sort of attention that she was going to get. The
only question was when would she crack? That's my view. There was no way you
could haul off the Press.
Now Michael Shea will tell you, as Press Officer at the Palace at the time,
he pleaded, pleaded, pleaded with editors to lay off the Princess of Wales on
the grounds that if it went on she would crack and I remember it well. He was
right. At the time we kept saying "Hold on a minute. You've sold us this great
love story. You really can't have it both ways. You invited a massive blanket,
intrusive publicity into this relationship and now if it's going wrong you're
telling us to lay off." Well as a human being I'd say yes but I have to say on
behalf of the Press pull the other one.
So you had there at that time a real tussle between the insiders, who were
genuinely worried about a relationship going wrong, and a Press who let's face
it had the biggest story they'd ever got. It was the love story gone wrong and
as we all know, the only thing that's a better story than a love story is a
love story gone wrong. And I remember vividly when the Press was upheaved by
the whole question of privacy intrusion at that period in the late eighties ,
when I was on the Calcott Committee we would discuss these stories and my
colleagues, who were not journalists, would show these stories at the table and
they'd say "How can you possibly defend that?" To which the answer was "You
can't possibly defend it. You can try and explain it but you can't defend it."
But do not draw conclusions from stories about the Royal Family for the rest of
the Press, or for other stories about other families because this story is sui
generis. This story's unlike any other story. You could actually close down the
British Press and the rest of the world would provide you with all the
intrusion you need. This is just too big a story for the normal rules of ethics
q: Why could you not turn off royal reporting in this country?
a: Well the number of reporters in the pack that at the time was following the
Princess of Wales who worked on the staff of national newspapers was tiny. The
real so-called reptiles - others would say professionals - were freelancers
both from this country and abroad. Many of the worst in terms of intrusion came
from abroad particularly the freelance photographers who could make very large
sums of money. You get a thousand pounds, five thousand pounds for one good
tele, one good telephoto shot. You know even a policeman isn't going to keep
that sort of character away.
Now the Royal couple at that time were being hounded day and night by these
people. Now unless you close down the nation you're not going to stop that sort
of intrusion particularly the photographic intrusion. I have to say I just
think there's not a lot you could do about it. I mean you can close down the
Royal Family but you after all created them. Having created them you wield the
telephoto lens and throughout the 1980's you had the rat pack being led by not
on the whole the members of the court group. They were led by freelancers, by
characters who simply were out to make a very fast and very big pound or buck
and I don't think honestly there was a lot they could do about it.
q: But are you saying it's sort of immutable laws of the market?
a: I'm saying precisely that. We do operate in this country in a reasonably
free market both in the media of communication and in newspapers and
magazines. If people walk around they can be photographed. If they have
maybe by reason of birth-- but maybe by reason of choice, and certainly by
reason of public relations--put themselves very much in the public eye and in
this case more in the public eye than anyone has ever done period, they really
are going to have to take the rough with the smooth. I will not defend the
rough. I will just say that it's going to happen and the consequences of trying
to stop it would I think be deleterious to British freedom because you
I don't think you could have introduced a law that would have protected the
Prince and Princess of Wales from Press intrusion that wasn't so draconian that
it would have infringed all sorts of other freedoms. That's a bigger subject
which you get onto then.
q: I know Michael Shea has suggested that , looking back on his time as
Palace Press Officer, that possibly he made a mistake in exposing the Royal
Family. Could he or the others around advising them have done otherwise than
to have gone with the flow of accessibility and exposure?
a: I really don't know the answer to your question. I think that the Palace
throughout the 1980's were riding a tiger. I suppose someone with an advanced
Ph.D. in Press Studies might find that things were done wrong and could have
been done better but it was extremely difficult to know what to do when you had
so much money hanging on a single photograph or a single quote and I don't
think anyone who was involved in the media at the time could underestimate the
size of that story.
For instance most newspapers, indeed I think all the newspapers, have ethical
codes which govern the sort of material you put in the paper, the extent to
which children are protected, the extent to which irrelevant aspects of
family life are not included in stories and, although people may sneer,
actually papers do pay some attention to them. You don't know how much
attention they pay because they mean, it means things get left out of papers
which we therefore don't see. None of them applied to the Royal Family because
the Royal Family story was so big that even if you got something like these
leaked tapes, which I think no responsible editor would have wanted to put in
his newspaper, you then found they were all in the foreign press. They were
leaking into offices on faxes. The photostats of the transcripts were
circulating round every secretary's desk. At some point or another someone's
going to print it.
Now I mean the Times and the other quality newspapers were fairly high and
mighty about those tapes. Sooner or later some of it was getting into your
news pages whatever you could do about it and I think there's nothing that, I
honestly do think that this is a story wholly unlike any other story.
q: Richard Stott, who's the Editor of the Daily Mirror, he expressed
extremely forcefully that the Royal Family couldn't have had such marvelous
publicity if they had paid for it at the time of the Royal Wedding in 1981
and that they in a way sort of thrived on the oxygen of publicity and that
with no publicity they'd become irrelevant and they'd die.
a: Well I don't agree with it. I think on the one hand it was perfectly
feasible for the Monarchy to say that we are about being the Head of State.
We're going to supply you with a Queen okay. Give us a Palace and a civil list
and a list of engagements and we'll give you a Queen and it will be the first
born. I think that's the end of it. It was a completely different sort of
decision to say "Oh and by the way you get something else with this. You get a
Royal Family. You get beautiful princesses. You get glamorous princes. You get
wonderful stories in the newspapers day in day out and you get some spills as
well, so you get a running soap opera which will wow the world." Now it's
possible that the decision was made that that second element that you were
given, was worth it. It actually made the first element seem relevant. It gave
some substance to the concept of Monarchy, that there was this quotes family
out of neighbors that was running along behind it all the time.
Well it could well be that if you feel that the concept of heredity needs
that kind of support, in other words if heredity is the justification for
kingship or queen ship, then you'd better look at the genes and look what's
coming up afterwards because that's the way in which we keep this institution
in being, which was one of the arguments for so doing, well and good. You just
take a big risk.
Now I happen to think that the Royal Family have been very lucky. Throughout
this century the heir to the throne has been plausible. I use the word with
great care. I think the heir to the throne at the moment is still plausible.
It is quite conceivable and it has happened in other countries that the heir
has not been plausible. Frequently in British history, he or she has been
totally implausible and there's been a war. There wouldn't be a war in this
country. There just might be a republic. But at the moment it's plausible. I
therefore don't think there was any need for the ballyhoo to surround the Royal
Family which it has.
q: The profile of Prince Charles in the Economist , which you wrote -- Do you
think he should have been saying what he thought about the relationship between
public and private finance and so on?
a: I have to say I think the Prince of Wales can say more or less anything he
likes. I think it is absolutely ridiculous the constraints placed on these
people. I mean apart from anything else it just drives them mad. If he gets
involved in trying to support one party against another party in the eighteenth
century sense then yes, it's probably a bad thing although goodness knows even
then it's not the end of the world, but to suppose that he can't have a view on
conservation or on agriculture or on health or even to that matter say I like,
I rather like the sound of what Dr. David Owen says, I think it's a pretty poor
show for the rest of us.
q: But some people don't agree with you at all. They think that the Prince of
Wales-- Peregrine Worsthorne around the same time met him, and said he
shouldn't say or be or do anything particularly. He should be boring and that
he should just be... Why should he in the late twentieth century be
pontificating about politics and the relationship between public and private
finance and so on and so forth? And what is he for?
a: Anybody who has the ear of the public by virtue of their position rather
likes to shout in that ear. One of Prince Charles's better qualities is he
does listen, he absorbs and he has opinions. He may not express them very
strongly but he does on one or two things express them quite strongly and like
a journalist why not do it? If someone says "Would you like to make a speech?"
you'd make a speech. There's no point in making an anodyne speech. It's not as
if he's going to fundamentally affect the course of politics. Governments
weren't going to fall because of what Prince Charles said. If he'd come out
for Mrs. Thatcher I doubt if he'd have had any of the trouble he had by mildly
coming out against her.
But anyway, I think the real point is that he was merely trying to nudge public
opinion in certain directions which were fairly anodyne because he believed
very strongly in them. And I think actually for a lot of these groups to have
someone in his position rather than a politician speaking for them was not so
much comforting, it was really quite helpful, and there were areas - I mean
the area I was most concerned about was architecture and conservation - in
which the Prince's input was very useful and I don't think politically
controversial at all.
q: Your piece is cited as part of what Andrew Neil is convinced was a
concerted but very low-key attempt to distance the Royal Family from the
policies of the Thatcher Government during the late 1980's.
a: Well I think he made an awful lot out of very little. In the first place
there was no conspiracy or determined effort in the case of the interview I had
with the Prince of Wales to try and sell me a line that he was the SDP Prince.
That was entirely my spin put on what he was saying about a wide range of
things. The same applied to the great Thatcher against the Queen story. The,
you have here a very, very tough Prime Minister adopting a very strident and
specific partisan position. You have a Monarch who quite rightly wants to be
seen to be above the political debate and I think that the, the Palace spent a
lot of time at that time not distancing itself from the Government but actually
making quite sure that no one could say that it was partisan and this seems to
me a perfectly reasonable thing for the Palace to have done at the time.
q: Did Prince Charles's office dislike or like your piece with its spin?
a: I haven't the foggiest notion. I mean at the time....What I do think they
wanted communicated was the fact that at that particular time the Prince of
Wales was bored. He felt he hadn't got a lot to do. He felt he had something to
say. He felt quite strongly, admittedly in a rather vacuous way, he felt quite
strongly about a few subjects and he wanted to sort of test the water to see if
he could get them across and I think at that stage the thing that, that most
concerned the Palace was that they , they kind of got some reaction from people
like I suppose myself as to whether he could get away with this or not. Now I
agreed with him. I thought this was not the beginning of the end of the British
Constitution. I thought if the British political community couldn't take a few
nudges from the Prince of Wales it was being pretty prissy. That was my view.
Whether it was anyone else's view I don't know.
q: And do you think he has got away with it or not?
a: Yes I do. I mean I think he has managed to establish himself as a person who
is completely committed to the forms of constitutional independence while at
the same time actually appearing, I think, a mildly interesting figure on--I
won't say the policy front--but in a number of areas of public life where he
happens to feel strongly and he's identified himself with a particular point of
view. And I think he's done that quite successfully and if it wasn't for the
wretched family problem I think he'd be considered, you know, a shoe-in for
king quite soon.
q: Are you aware of the Prince's own frustrations with the way his whole life
was covered a lot in the 1980's?
a: I think in the 1980's he was extremely frustrated at the constraints that
were constantly put on him not to be controversial and not to involve himself
in the slightly more risqué fringe organizations. I think that the
Palace at that time was still extremely conservative and it really did feel
that someone like him should sit and wait and certainly the approach that was
made to me and to others "Come on now I can't stand this. Can we have a
conversation? Can we just sort of dip my toe in the water of controversy?" was
not the Palace. It was his own frustration at these constraints and I have to
say I think they probably continue to today.
q: The Prince as you knew was very interested in conservation and
architecture. What was the effect on him of the concentration on private and
a: I think very irritated. I mean I'd be irritated if I was trying to make a
serious point about alternative medicine and people went on about the state of
my shoes or my wife's dress but come on now, I mean that was the game that he
was playing. What I think he was trying to do and I think he did with great
success was actually every now and then shift the agenda. He actually got a
lot of people to turn up to listen to a very long speech by him on often rather
a dull subject and he at the same time I think gathered round him a very large
number of people and organizations who derived great support from what he was
saying. So I think despite the intensity of the Press attention, the media
attention on triviality, I think Prince Charles throughout the 1980's was quite
successful in running his own agenda alongside this.
q: What has been the effect of all these revelations on the Prince's
standing? I mean , what have the media done to him as the heir to the
a: I find it very difficult to judge. I meanI do not concern myself with his
private life. I am not really interested in it and it's a source of absolute
obsessive fascination particularly by foreigners but I never know quite what
to say about it. I mean I say a lot of marriages don't end happily and there
we are. If you're talking about who should be the next King of England and is
this particular man reasonably well-qualified for the job, however you care to
define it-- I say I think he is. And I don't think the history of his private
life is either here nor there.
q: But I suppose people think it is here or there, because of what we were just
talking about earlier on--which is to do with the ideal family. And I know
that lots of kings in history had mistresses but we didn't have prying, all
encompassing, incredibly high-tech media following Henry VIII-- or whoever
--peeping and prying into their private lives and finding out about their
relationships with people.
a: Well let me correct you. We did. I mean you had every papal legate standing
outside the bedroom of the Tudor Monarchs. You had throughout the Regency
everyone totally obsessed by who the Prince...
q: We didn't have a literate population then.
a: Well you didn't have a democracy either. I mean you certainly had a ruling
group, totally obsessed with the sexual peccadilloes of the Monarch and the
heir to the throne. I mean I feel strongly about this. There ain't nothing new
about this. It seems new because it's a great story--but I actually don't
think it's a particularly new story nor do I actually think it's a totally
significant story. I think the most important thing, and it's something that
you were alluding to, is whether it affects the legitimacy of his claim to the
throne. I don't think it does.
q: What are your thoughts on the Morton book and the serialization in the
Sunday Times when it finally came.
a: Well on the assumption that a book is telling the truth, I think it's
extremely difficult to say it shouldn't be published. That is the law in this
country. In the case of the Morton book and particularly the preliminaries and
accessories to the Morton book, it was about as intrusive and painful as it
could be. At the time there was a great debate about Press freedom and Press
intrusion on privacy. The Morton book and the spoilers associated with it
flagrantly breached almost any code you care to draw up about Press ethics.
It was about the private life and health of somebody who, irrespective of how
famous they are, are entitled to a measure of privacy and to that extent it was
a gross offense against any Press ethics on intrusion. All I have to say is
what I say in these situations "Oh come on now. This was the Royal Family.
This was the most famous couple in the world." You can deplore it till the
cows come home. It sure as hell is going to happen. The only concern I think
is that it should be accurate and the Sunday Times did go to some length to
ascertain that it was accurate.
q: When you said it was a great intrusion of someone's privacy did you mean,
that was your first reaction that it was a terrible intrusion of the privacy of
the Princess of Wales?
a: Yes. Both of them. I think to have your domestic squabbles, your most
private domestic squabbles splashed across the newspapers is an intrusion on
your privacy. If that isn't, I don't know what is.
q: But then what happened was that it dawned on Lord McGregor , as we know
now, that the Princess of Wales had actually collaborated with the author of
a: Yes. The fact that one of the parties to the squabble is a party to the
revelation of the news of it clearly mitigates the intrusion. I still think
the other party to the squabble has some rights of privacy as well and this
continues in, in other walks of life. It still is an entitlement to privacy
that you have even if your spouse or ex-spouse wants to reveal all the details
of your marriage. That doesn't, that's not my point. My point really is that
this story was so big that you've actually got to be grown up. You've just got
to say I'm sorry, this marriage was always going to hit this kind of trouble.
If it hit this kind of trouble, this marriage was always going to be in the
q: What did you personally think when it gradually became clear that this was
the Princess of Wales allowing her friends to talk to a tabloid journalist
about the first family in the country.
a: Everytime a new revelation landed on the news desk of a newspaper at that
time, I can recollect a sort of faint sinking feeling that everyone was going
to have to abandon their ethical values for the duration and find a way of
getting this wretched thing into the paper which wasn't too tasteless. And I
have to say I think the operative word was tasteless, rather than anything
else. You knew that there was going to be a revelation after revelation after
revelation which would be in the public domain, which would probably get there
through the tabloid newspapers or maybe even the magazines or maybe the foreign
Press but you've got to keep your readers reasonably informed about it, that
the readers themselves would be offended if you gave them too much but would be
equally offended if you gave them nothing.
So very fine editorial judgments were being made all the time and I think the
only consideration you could do was really to think not `What does the rule
book say I can print?' but what are the readers of this particular newspaper
going to be prepared to stomach. It was a difficult time. These were not easy
judgments to make.
q: So in terms of the history of broad sheet reporting-- it had an incredibly
profound effect but has it had a lasting effect in terms of coverage of this
particular story in papers like the Times?
a: I think that, that the reporting of the affairs of the Prince and Princess
of Wales from the moment the Morton book came out has been open territory. I
think that the fact that one of the parties to the marriage was prepared to
see its secrets revealed and then the other party to the marriage was prepared,
prepared to see its secrets revealed meant that I think many newspapers felt to
themselves `Well I don't really see why I need to adhere to the rulebook
anymore. Both of these people are breaching our code of ethics on our behalf.
We may as well go ahead and treat that as open, open house.'
q: When newspapers published phone calls, private people's private phone calls,
given what had happened over that summer 1992 in the Morton book what, what did
you think you could do about the tapes?
a: Well I think we didn't publish them.
q: I meant in terms of Press ethics?
a: Well as far as the tapes were concerned, there were laws. The publication
of those tapes breached every code of practice, every list of ethics you care
to draw up and quite a few laws as well. The fact of the matter was --it was
felt they couldn't enforce any of them. It was certainly the source of great
comment between newspapers. I mean plenty of newspapers commented on other
newspapers. I think that probably that's the only defense you've got. It's for
journalists to excoriate each other when they behave in that way but they were
completely tasteless. They were totally intrusive. They should never have been
q: When you say `they' couldn't do anything about it do you mean the Royal
Family couldn't do anything about it or the PTC couldn't.
a: Well a criminal offense had been committed, but the police felt they weren't
going to act. The Royal Family have always been very chary of preying in a,
any law or any code of practice that's there to protect them. I think I have to
say they're very livid about it. But the fact of the matter was that if the
Royal Family are not going to protest it's quite difficult to exert discipline
within the industry on its recalcitrant members.