Anxious Princess of Wales courts Rupert Murdoch

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The Independent Online
THE PRINCESS of Wales has been seeking the private advice of Britain's press barons in an attempt to restore her dented public image. She fears her reputation may be further damaged by the new 'authorised' biography of her estranged husband. Some of the advice has been tendered by the man often blamed for wreaking the most damage on the British monarchy, Rupert Murdoch.

In recent weeks Mr Murdoch, an American citizen and proprietor of the Times, Sunday Times, News of the World, Sun and Today newspapers, has been for drinks at Kensington Palace after an invitation issued at the Princess's personal request. Last Monday Sir David English, the chairman of Associated Newspapers (the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and London Evening Standard), met the Princess for lunch at the palace, again at her personal request. She has also frequently met Lady (Meriza) Stevens, the wife of the proprietor of the Daily and Sunday Express.

The Princess is particularly concerned about the contents of Jonathan Dimbleby's biography of Prince Charles which is being published on 3 November and serialised today in the Sunday Times, a Murdoch newspaper, which is said to have bought the rights for pounds 500,000. She is also likely to have been dismayed by Anna Pasternak's book, Princess in Love, giving an account of her affair with James Hewitt.

Her meetings with Mr Murdoch and Sir David are part of the increasingly public feud between herself and Princes Charles, from whom she separated in 1992.

She allowed her friends to talk to Andrew Morton about the unhappy state of the marriage for his book Diana: Her True Story. Mr Dimbleby's book is in effect the authorised version of the Prince's side of the story. It will be published just five days before another Morton book, Diana: Her New Life. This, too, will be serialised in the Sunday Times.

The newspaper originally intended to publish extracts from the two books simultaneously but were persuaded by the Prince's advisers to print his account first.

Buckingham Palace (including Prince Charles and his aides) also tried to persuade the publishers and the Sunday Times to delay serialisation until the Queen had completed this week's visit to Russia. But this plea was unsuccessful.

'We regard this as the most important royal visit since the Queen visited China in 1986,' a palace spokesman said last week. 'In an ideal world it would have been preferable if publication had been delayed - in the interests of the family and in Britain's national interest.'

While the Prince's advisers believe that Mr Dimbleby's book will lead to greater public understanding and sympathy, other royal advisers at Buckingham Palace are increasingly anguished about the effect of it - and the serialised extracts - on the image of the heir to the throne and the future of the monarchy.

At Kensington Palace, maintained by Historic Royal Palaces, a Government agency, the Princess has a suite of four reception rooms, a dining room, master bedroom, two guest bedrooms, a nursery suite and staff accommodation. Other tenants include Princess Margaret.

Though the Princess of Wales lives rent-free she receives nothing from the Civil List. Her money comes from her husband, whose income comes mainly from the Duchy of Cornwall.

Leading article, page 22

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