interviewrichard stott
Stott was editor of The Daily Mirror, 1991-1992



q:  What was the reporting of the Royal Family like in the 1970's?

stott:  It was still fairly pleasant to the Royal Family and it wasn't quite as obsequious as it was before but I can remember in the middle seventies when a reporter on the Daily Mirror was touring in Kenya and she made a joke about Princess Anne accompanying Valerie Singleton on a tour of East Africa and the Palace got immensely upset by this and she was recalled. Now I mean it couldn't happen now.

q:  What was the Palace's objection to her remark?

a:  Well that it was the wrong way round, that it was not a Royal tour by Valerie Singleton. It was a Royal tour by Princess Anne and that got them terribly upset.


q:  Can you sum up what royal reporting was like in the 70's?

a:  Well it was the usual stuff of Prince Charles girlfriends during the seventies because all this is in, it matters of what age people are you see and Prince Charles was at that age where he had a series of girlfriends including Susan George I think. And so there was a there was a sport in trying to find out who they were but it was a fairly gentle one.

And by the end of the seventies what had happened was that people had run out of interest. Charles was getting balder, Princess Anne was married Prince Andrew wasn't doing a lot and there was no real Royal who was particularly interesting. So come 1979 or so you had a situation arise where the Queen was going on a Royal tour I think to Scandinavia and no one went at all, no one - no television, no newspapers, not even the Press Association and this was seen as terrible because there's one thing worse than having self-pride and that's not being bothered about at all.

q:  Do you remember at that period the Palace Press Office actually asking reporters or people who were paid to actually cover them?

a:  Oh yes, I'm sure that is the case. I mean it wouldn't be me because I wasn't a Royal Reporter but oh, I'm sure that was the case. I don't think they quite got to offering to pay for it but they were certainly very worried.

q:  What was the Palace's concern about the lack of the press interest in the Royal Family in the seventies? How did that manifest itself?

a:  Oh the Palace would have been very worried because if there was one thing worse than prurient interest, it's no interest at all and they were getting to the situation where nobody was going on Royal tours. And there was certainly one of the Queen's to Scandinavia where nobody went - no television, no newspapers, not even the Press Association. So she was left high and dry with nothing and that's a devastating problem.

q:  Why is that?

a:  Because if the Royal Family is not being reported on -- it becomes irrelevant and, if it becomes irrelevant, it will die.

q:  So in a sense publicity is the oxygen by which the Royal Family, the Monarchy, survives in your view?

a:  Absolutely. If the Monarchy is not seen and seen by a lot of people and enjoyed by a lot of people, then there is no reason for it being there and it will get into considerable trouble as indeed Queen Victoria did at the end of the nineteenth century when she stuck herself in Osborne and wouldn't open anything and there was a very strong Republican movement as a result.

q:  Now given the situation described, what was the impact of the arrival of the Princess of Wales on the Royal road show?

a:  The impact of the Princess of Wales was immediate and stunning and the first picture of her wearing her long dress, which was see-through, and that sort of set of tone for what life was to become. It was a remarkable introduction and what -- take the soap opera analogy for example -- it was like a tired old soap opera suddenly have a whole new storyline being brought in and what a storyline.

q:  How did the Royal Family -- the sort of born Royals as I think they're called - respond to her arrival?

a:  Well I think that at first the Royal Family was extremely pleased that suddenly in one hop that they'd gone from no interest to mega interest and not just here but throughout the world -- that they'd discovered this young girl, who was only whatever she was, nineteen or something, where she was appearing on all the front pages and with a Royal fairy tale wedding to come. I mean they couldn't have bought the publicity that they were getting and they loved that but the problem with them was that they thought that she was just going to be an adjunct to the Royal Family when in fact she was going to become it and that was a problem for them.

q:  What were some of the difficulties you had when dealing with the Palace press office in getting stories confirmed.

a:  Well the, the first instinct of the Palace Press Office at that time - and indeed it hasn't really changed very much over the years - was to deny it -- quite often before you'd even asked the question. I would have thought that they're likely to get a denial. A lot of this was deliberate evasion. A lot of it was ignorance I suspect that they just did not know and that the reporters knew a great deal more than the Palace Press Office but the Palace Press Office job was to limit damage and to try and avoid any bad story going in newspapers and as a result they came unstuck on several occasions.

q:  Discuss the dilemma that occurs between the Palace press office's need for publicity and their desire to draw a line completely around unpleasant facts?

a:  Well the problem is that if you've got a Royal Family with a huge film star in the middle of it and you've got an on-running soap opera, clearly you're going to get some storylines which they're not going to want and they would have liked to have gone back to the 1950's where everybody was obsequious and you had some jolly nice stories about Diana and didn't she look nice as an adjunct to Prince Charles and what a charming couple and then they went back to Buckingham Palace and that was the end of it.

Times have changed and there was, there was no way that this was going to happen. Television created it. Once they created a great super star the newspapers came in and that brings with it not just the adulation but also the look into the private life and unfortunately for Buckingham Palace she became a much greater star than he did.

q:  Can you give some examples of the 1980's press officer -- Michael Shea -- denying things that subsequently turned out to true?

a:  Well virtually the whole of the saga of the marriage was denied by Michael Shea and others of because it started going wrong - and certainly the signs were there early on about Diana and her health problems and the fact that they weren't getting on very well. This was denied throughout the eighties and in quite pejorative terms that the reporters had got it wrong -- that they were behaving badly, that they were inventing things and as we now know of course the reporters were spot-on and the Palace wasn't.

Unfortunately that kind of approach set the seal on how the reporters were treated and perceived when in fact people like James Whittaker, Harry Arnold, Ken Gavin and Arthur Edwards are the best of their profession. I mean they are top reporters and photographers and they would knock most of the reporters and photographers in the broadsheets into a cocked hat.

q:  Can you describe the reaction of The Mirror readers to the wedding of Fergie and Andrew in 1986?

a:  They loved the wedding of Andrew and Fergie because it was another bit of soap opera or spectacular, the same as the Charles and Diana one had been, and people love a good wedding and it was good and she was bubbly and it was all excellent stuff. However that's what it was. It was a soap opera and when the make up comes off in the end -- I mean you got back to ordinary human beings with all the tensions and particular tensions of the Royal Family.

q:  Can you put your finger on where Fergie began to go wrong in terms of her press ?

a:  Well I suppose it was the way that she behaved unroyally really. I mean people liked to have an out-going Duchess but they've got to behave royally or regally and I don't think she did that and over a period of time people became antipathetic towards her. And however unfortunate Diana's illnesses were, she never really behaved unroyally. She might well have been ill but it was ill in a Royal tradition. She wasn't seen to be a Princess behaving badly.

q:  In your actual experience, did Fergie brief the Press directly, which is something she's been accused of doing by the Palace?

a:  Oh yes, I'm sure she did, but then of course the Palace was also briefing reporters about Fergie weren't they? There was the famous occasion when Charles Anson briefed the BBC about Fergie and really stuck the knife in, so I don't think they can complain about her briefing back.

q:  What impact did the Morton book have on the popular press and how they felt about the Royal family?

a:  Well the Morton book was cataclysmic for the Royal Family because it confirmed virtually ten years of the reporting of the kind that James Whittaker, Harry Arnold and others and Morton himself had been doing. So that was very important and it vindicated what had been going on in the terms of the tabloid papers because it's difficult to imagine the amount of stick that the reporters and therefore the papers and the editors were getting for revealing the state of the marriage -- Prince Charles and how he treated the Princess of Wales. It was extremely difficult at that time, so it was seen as a very strong vindication which it was and the broad sheet papers, which had been vilifying the tabloid Press with the complete conviction of the totally ignorant, of people like Peter Preston, Max Hastings, who knew absolutely nothing about what was going on and just assumed that the reporters were making it up, when in fact those reporters could report any of the broad sheet reporters out of the window.

q:  Did the Mirror have any direct evidence of the reaction of Prince Charles' camp to the Morton book?

a:  James Whittaker once again was I think briefed by Aylard about the state of the Princess of Wales and this was after the Morton book, but before the Camilla tape, and it was at a time when they were about to go on their Royal tour, the appalling Royal tour of Korea, and what Aylard was saying is "Well, we've got to we've got to make sure that she's seen through this very difficult time and Charles is doing his best and it's a very difficult time for her but she will try and get through.

And so the result of that was that stories, supportive stories started appearing in the paper about how Charles was seeing Diana through and they were going on a second honeymoon and all this what turned out to be complete nonsense. And it was rather difficult for us by this stage because we had actually got the Camilla tape -- which we had for three to four months before we published and I held it up because, if this was what was really going on and that they were trying to get the marriage together then I don't think we'd have been thanked very much for sticking a huge great spike through it but the tour of Korea eventually showed in this disastrous series of pictures how much they loathed each other and couldn't stand being in the same picture frame together.

q:  How did you introduce the Camilla tape into the public domain?

a:  The way that we did the Camilla tape was because it was such an extraordinary tape with the Prince of Wales -- at one stage suggesting that he might be a Tampax -- you know, this is an extremely difficult thing to print in a newspaper -- just putting it down like that. So what we did was that we decided to do a series called Camilla Confidential because at that time nobody knew very much about her. She was a shadowy figure in the background. Charles and his team had always said that it was just a matter of friendship. Diana and her team had always claimed it as a great deal more than that so the tape clearly showed that there was an affair. We took it to a QC who gave his opinion that it was very strong evidence that there had been adultery and that we went on that basis and what we did was introduce bits of the tape while doing a rather big feature, three-part big feature on Camilla.

So bits of the tape were introduced and then we eventually started saying they were lovers and round about Day Two or Day Three the opposition began to realize that what we'd got here was hard and fast evidence, and then that's when the balloon went up.

q:  How do you react to people from the quality Press who said this is a disgusting and horrible thing to do to publish tapes of people's private phone calls?

a:  Well that I would tend to agree with if it was just that but it isn't just that. What you've got is the Royal Family via their Buckingham Palace Press operators saying that the marriage is back on, everything is fine and dandy and that's -- that's the truth of it and you go away and behave yourself.

Well no, --we'd got absolute proof that there was an affair going on, that Charles was cheating on his own family, that Camilla Parker-Bowles was cheating on hers and that both of them were cheating on the country. Now it would be appalling if a newspaper knew that at the time when the marriage had clearly fallen to pieces to say that everything was fine and dandy. It's an absolute nonsense. The tape exists. We didn't publish the whole tape and in fact we never did but what we did do was to say "This is the truth of what is going on" and that is exactly what you should do. That's what a newspaper is there for. It is to tell people things that they don't know and to tell people things that other people want to suppress and it was desperate that Charles and Buckingham Palace wanted to suppress it. The Princess of Wales was being vilified by Charles and the Buckingham Palace team for claiming that Camilla had an affair with Camilla when it was clearly true and that needs to go, be in the public domain. There's no doubt about that.

q:  To what extent do you think different newspapers have divided up in the War of the Wales between pro-Charles and pro-Diana, that this is a class and a Republican thing? It's Royalist versus Republicans or sort of popular Press and the common people pro-Diana and the nobs pro-Charles?

a:  I think it probably is a matter of the common people and the popular Press being on the side of the Princess of Wales because a lot of people identify with her. A lot of wronged women identify with her and Charles is seen to be with what he is as sort of fairly thick, a well-intentioned, muddle-headed patrician who has always had it his own way. He's emotionally stunted and doesn't really understand what life is about, never mind his own wife and he is personified by his spokesman, Nicholas Soames. I mean really need one say more?

q:  Now the Sun had the so-called Squidgytape for quite a long time, I think it was a year and a half before it finally came out. Why do you think it came out at the time it did, the, your competitor's scoop if you like?

a:  The Squidgytapes probably came out following the Fergie pictures. I think that they'd had that for some time and decided that the time was right following the Fergie pictures that they could do that tape because I think they'd thought before that they couldn't, that it was that it would rebound on them and from then on I think that it was fairly open season for revelations that again were true. You know we have to remember that all these things are true and the floodgates opened.

q:  And again did Morton have an effect on the opening of that floodgate?

a:  Yes, I think the Morton book certainly, certainly set things going because it gave more confidence to the reporters that everything that they had been saying was in fact true that the Princess of Wales had now confirmed it because it was pretty obvious that she had at least encouraged the book, at the very least encouraged it and encouraged her friends to talk about it and everything that these reporters had been saying for ten years, nearly ten years, had in fact shown to be so, and that these reporters had been kicked about by both the broad sheet papers and by television and they were seen to be right and, and of course by Buckingham Palace Press Office as well. A campaign against them had been launched and it was a cam, campaign of, of obfuscation and untruth.

q:  Now one of the interesting things is that no matter how much other members of the family were criticized prior to 1992, the Queen always seemed to escape unscathed. Do you think that changed in 1992 and, if so, why?

a:  I think the reason why the Queen began to come into the firing line, and it is right to say that she had largely been kept out of it for good reason. I mean she wasn't doing very much wrong but the trouble with both the Morton book and then the Windsor fire was that the Queen was seen to be taking a view. Now the way that the Queen had become involved in the treatment of the Princess of Wales and taking Charles side all the time was, was seen to be wrong and then the Windsor fire with the idea that somehow we should pay to stump up sixty million pounds to pay for a castle that we couldn't even go into was too much for people and it was a big misjudgment by both the Government and by the Queen and she was not very, very well advised and I think she, she had realized or she failed to realize that the world had moved on and that her horrible year was set to continue.

q:  Sir Peregrine Worsthorne thinks that the popular papers are run by Republicans, people who actually want to destroy the Monarchy. What's your reaction to that?

a:  Whether the popular papers are run by Republicans or not I think is, is a nonsense -- I really don't think that's the case. I've no doubt the sentiments of Rupert Murdoch would be more Republican than Royal. That doesn't necessarily mean his editors are and I don't think it's true of the majority of people in the country.

This is the old Prince Charles argument that somehow the reason that all this stuff has appeared in the paper about Charles and Diana is because of what the papers really believe, that they've got some sort of Republican agenda. This is nonsense. The reason it appears is because that's what they've been doing and if people don't like it isn't the fault of newspapers and some strange agenda. It's the fault of the Prince of Wales. This is a typical Buckingham Palace reaction and that's all Peregrine Worsthorne is doing is to repeat what Charles says to his cronies that somehow this is all the fault, all been got up by the newspapers. Well the affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles was not got up by the newspapers. Fergie's dalliance with John Bryan was not got up by the newspapers. The Buckingham Palace campaign of rubbishing the Princess of Wales on behalf of the Prince of Wales was not got up by the newspapers and the whole debacle was created by, largely by Buckingham Palace and the Royal Family and to suggest that this is, there is, this is all done because of some Republican agenda in the popular Press is just nonsense. It's the wrong way round.

q:  People say that if you care for an institution like the Monarchy in a way that you ought to because of its value to the country-- then you should apply different journalistic standards to report it. In other words you must always report the truth and that the truth is a...

a:  Oh I see, like 1936 you mean, and the abdication? Well this is absolute nonsense isn't it and he's living in cloud cuckoo-land if he believes that's the case. In 1936 newspapers kept quiet. They didn't, it didn't stop them. It had all been reported in America and nowadays anyway simply, even if you wanted to it would be simply impossible that all this stuff would get reported across the rest of the world. It would come back via satellite, CNN and it is, it is an absolute nonsense to suggest that and for any journalist to suggest that you should have two sets of values - one for the Royal Family and the rest for everyone else - is cloud cuckoo-land.

q:  Now when we talked to people who were working in this area in the 1950's -- there was a sort of taboo about reporting on Prince Phillips extra-marital relationships or whatever they were and there were rumors about them that surfaced in the American Press again particularly in 1957 but this was never really picked up and followed up in the British Press. If the same thing was going on now, what would you as an editor now be doing do you think?

a:  If it was, if it was true that rumors were being reported of affairs that Prince Philip's had and I've no idea whether he did or he didn't -- then no doubt they would be investigated but it is incredibly difficult to prove that somebody's having an affair. I mean the admission on one side wouldn't be enough. It might be if it was the Prince of Wales, but it wouldn't be if it was the other party.

So the only reason that this has come out is largely because of tape recordings of mobile phone conversations. So it isn't just a matter that different mores applied. It's also the physical problems of getting it. I mean if you suddenly had pictures presented in sort of grainy black and white in 1957 it would have been very interesting to see what would have happened.

q:  Can you talk a little more about the dilemma posed for the Royal Family by the fact that on the one hand they crave and need publicity to survive really but on the other they want to pull up the drawbridge when it suits them?

a:  The problem for the Royal Family is that they want the publicity because if they don't have the publicity they become irrelevant and it will die. The problem then is that they want to control it. Now this may well have been possible in the 1950's but it is no longer possible in the1990's when you've got all pervasive television, you've got loads of newspapers looking into private lives, you've got a star in the case of the Princess of Wales and people want to know everything about her, and you've got a marriage that was clearly in difficulties. Now there is no way that you're going to stop that publicity and it's a nonsense to believe that somehow you can have the fairy tale without the big, bad giants I'm afraid.

q:  What was the effect of Morton book -- the sort of reader type feedback -- on the standing of the Princess of Wales? To what extent was she a sort of Teflon princess, nothing seemed to touch her adversely?

a:  I think the effect of the Morton book was twofold. One to show how the Royal Family were fairly indifferent to the genuine suffering that she was going through. And secondly I think that she became a touchstone for many, many women in a much less privileged position than she was who felt that they'd been let down by husbands by the husband's family and by people who had genuine distress and I think that came across not only in the Morton book. It came across in the Panorama interview and I think many women and quite a few men felt that this was a very genuine point that she was making and a very modern problem.

q:  Prince Charles' friends and his office are always complaining that his serious concerns and his worries about architecture and so on are not taken seriously.

a:  My feeling with Prince Charles is that he is desperate to become a very serious bloke. I think he's very muddle-headed and he gets himself up some very strange blind alleys. His big problem, however, is that however much he wants to talk about Islam, about architecture, about Third World, it will come back to the big problem he's got -- which is his relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles. And that will be a problem for certainly the foreseeable future.




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