Here's why the papers are filled with tales of adultery - it's easy

The ethics-free multitude prefer stories about the Royal Family to having an opinion about, say, the NHS
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The Independent Culture
IMAGINE, FOR one moment, that the stamp collectors have taken over. In this dream, these mild obsessives - whose hobby is generally restricted to specialist magazines and their own leisure time - now run many of our newspapers, TV stations and publishers. And not only do they believe philately to be interesting, but they have also convinced themselves that it is important. So minor disputes concerning the print run of the Fiji 1902 twopenny green now dominate the headlines.

The BBC Stamp Correspondent, looking suitably solemn, stands outside Stanley Gibbons and tells us that sources are worried about the impact of this controversy on the reputation of the British Philatelic Society. Meanwhile The People is serialising a sensational account of how some enthusiasts have been prepared to offer sex for stamps, and The Mail has discovered a whole batch of supposedly virginal World Cup issues, that are not - as it primly informs us - "in mint condition".

For those uninterested in stamps, such a world would be maddening. It would be like an eternal dinner party spent stuck between someone who has just had his first baby, and someone else who has - that week - given up smoking; hope as you might, your neighbours would never move on. How unbearably tedious!

Just substitute "monarchy" or "Royal Family" for stamp-collecting, however, and you can see how it is that the anoraks already rule the world. For this week has begun with newspapers, broadcasters and some politicians all behaving as though a new book concerning a marriage between two people (one now dead), to whom the author has not even spoken, is somehow of more account than anything else happening on the planet.

The new book by Penny Junor, serialised in Adultery News on Sunday, is variously described as sensational and controversial. There is now said to be a "frenzy" as a result of its publication. People are angry, palaces are aghast and there are dark things bruited about the future of the throne.

Well, I haven't read the book, but I ploughed through the acres of stuff in Adultery News on Sunday with much the same dutiful resignation as I would through back copies of WindSurfing Today, if I thought an article required it. And what did I discover? That a dead woman might have had an affair with a dead bodyguard (and then again, maybe not); that this dead woman was not quite as nice or as innocent as she had made herself out to be; and that she might have made unpleasant phone calls years ago to her husband's mistress. Penny Junor has not spoken to Camilla Parker- Bowles either, but can nevertheless imagine the terror of sitting in a country house, alone except for the servants, wondering whether the night undergrowth is - as the unwelcome caller suggests - crawling with would- be assassins.

Whatever significance these "revelations", resting as they do on the contributions of 30 or so anonymous collaborators, might have had, is surely diluted by the fact that their true subject, Diana, Princess of Wales, is dead. Something that, despite her reputation for mild obtuseness, Penny Junor has presumably spotted. So what is she up to?

Touchingly, Ms Junor is worried about us. "My book," she writes, "tries to explain what really happened in that marriage... Not for the sake of the Prince of Wales, who, like Diana, is not entirely blameless, but for the sake of the millions of people who have lived through the royal soap opera and have never had an alternative account on which to form a judgement for themselves." This is public-spiritedness of a high order. We await only the announcement that Ms Junor's enormous earnings from the book (minus reasonable expenses) are to be donated to a charity.

In the past Ms Junor has been more concerned with her role in helping the Royal Family than in saving the nation from a lopsided understanding of who screwed whom and in what palace. In a recent television programme she spoke of reactions after she had written in defence of Charles. "I then rang Buckingham Palace and I said, `Look, you know, would you like me to do some more?' And they said, `Write something, if you like. Yes, please. But the Prince is not terribly keen. He has warned everybody off. He says Don't, but actually, secretly, we would be quite grateful if - if something positive were to - you know, if you were to carry on saying what you're saying.'"

Imagine a political journalist telling the story of how she had asked No 10 whether they would like her to do "some more".

Truth! Everyone wants the truth. But just look how the newspapers have lined up. In yesterday's Adultery News, the respected commentator Simon Heffer, whose very fibre must have revolted against the Junor book, had a problem, because it had been serialised in his sister paper. Look and learn from how he dealt with it. "In history," claimed Heffer, "there are two sides to every story. That is the consolation we should take from the new revelations by Penny Junor... however distasteful they may be to some." And later on, "You may agree with Junor's view, you may find it highly offensive. But whatever else, she has at least reminded us that there was another side." One possible translation of this is: "I know this is tripe. You know this is tripe. But it sells a lot of newspapers." I like to imagine how Heffer would have dealt with Junor had she been writing in, say, The Express.

Or how The Express would have dealt with such a scenario itself. There, a cartoon showed Penny Junor, draped in her manuscript, dancing on the grave of Diana. The People, meanwhile, carried the headline, "Charles in vile attack on Diana", despite having no real idea whether he was behind the book or not: story; counter-story; extra sales.

Given that Penny Junor was completely wrong about the royal marriage in her earlier book, opining that it was rock solid even as Andrew Morton's devastating tome was at the printers, the one thing of which we can be sure is that her book is of no genuine importance whatsoever. She doesn't know what happened in that marriage, and it may well be that neither the living Prince nor the dead Princess really knew either.

What she knows, though, is that she is a beneficiary of the royal industry, and that it is speculating about other people's tragedies that has helped send her son to Eton (where he can swap parental tales with his contemporary, Prince Harry.) And also benefiting are the schlock papers, the royal correspondents and authors, the lazy journalists, the venal editors and the nosy, Springer-fed, voyeuristic, stupid, ethics-free multitude, who buy this stuff because it is so much easier to have an opinion about than, say, the Health Service, or welfare reform.

God, how it all makes me, previously a constitutional agnostic, yearn for a republic. I want to be free from the mad embrace of the royal train- spotters. The trouble is, of course, that this article appears in the wrong place. For one of the good things about Independent readers is that they know exactly what they're missing.