Charlie is no one's darling

Being press secretary to the boorish Prince of Wales is a thankless task, says Jennie Bond
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Just imagine being the press secretary to HRH the Prince of Wales. Sounds glam doesn't it? Looks good on the CV, too. And it's been suggested to me more than once that I could be cut out for the job. After all, with 14 years experience as a royal correspondent, I should know the ropes. But let me assure you - I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.

Just imagine being the press secretary to HRH the Prince of Wales. Sounds glam doesn't it? Looks good on the CV, too. And it's been suggested to me more than once that I could be cut out for the job. After all, with 14 years experience as a royal correspondent, I should know the ropes. But let me assure you - I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.

The insurmountable problem is the raw material you would be working with. A man who holds the media in such contempt that every encounter with journalists is torture. The eternal cry you hear from Prince Charles is: "Do I really have to do that? What's the point? Haven't they got enough pictures?"

And now, after his petulant outburst on the ski slopes of Klosters, the whole world knows that he regards the press as those "bloody people", and the BBC's Nicholas Witchell in particular as that "awful man".

If Prince Charles ever had any faith in journalists, which is doubtful, he lost it some 20 years ago when the unwritten rules of a media reception were broken. One of the hacks invited to share a drink and a brief chat with the prince during his travels abroad reported the details in his paper.

It is, of course, inevitable that bits and pieces from "private" conversations of this sort will leak into the gossip columns. They're usually totally innocuous snippets of trivia - and it's a hazard the Queen has learned to live with. But Charles was affronted by this breach of trust and has since refused to hold any press receptions during his tours. In fact, as his marriage to Diana began to break down in a welter of damaging publicity, there were occasions when he couldn't bring himself to talk to journalists at all. In the early 1990s, he managed to complete a 10-day tour of central Asia without saying a single word to the small group of reporters travelling with him on the same plane. It wasn't just immature, it was plain rude.

Journalists have a legitimate job to do and their work is crucial to the monarchy. There would be little point in having a Royal Family who were invisible. If they are flying the flag abroad or doing good works in the UK, they need to be seen and heard. Otherwise, they may as well not exist.

It was largely due to Sandy Henney - the best press secretary Charles ever had - that he gradually accepted that facing the foe was a better option. Sandy would persuade him to come down to our end of the plane for a joke or two and a chat. Sometimes it almost seemed as if he was enjoying our company as we compared notes on the trials and tribulations of a royal tour. "Never again!" I remember him groaning, after a particularly arduous visit to Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia. "I'm never going to agree to four countries in one go again. It's too much. Aren't you all exhausted?"

As if he cared! But at least he was making contact with us and opening up some sort of dialogue. Losing Sandy because of a mix-up over William's 18th birthday pictures was a huge mistake.

In fairness, it has to be said that Charles does generally make an effort to give the media a decent camera shot or photograph. On a Caribbean tour he put on so many hats for us - mostly backwards - that his own office fired off a fax urging his aides to stop him. On the plane home we surprised him by suddenly whipping out 30 Rasta hats and wearing them back to front - just as he had. He roared with laughter. In Sheffield on his 50th birthday, he tentatively tried the Full Monty dance for the cameras - though his clothes stayed firmly on. It made great TV.

I've been to tea with the prince twice at Highgrove and enjoyed our conversations. But you can never break down the barrier between a journalist and a royal. We are the enemy and they are supping with the devil.

Anne - the Princess Royal - doesn't even sup. She simply looks at you with a pained expression that says: "Yuk! I've trodden in a journalist. It's all over my shoe". The closest I've come to a meaningful conversation with her was when a lady-in-waiting told me the princess had vowed to shoot me if I went anywhere near her. I still have no idea why.

Nor do I do not have a clue as to why Prince Charles finds Nick Witchell so unbearable. The Klosters photocall is a well-trodden charade whereby the three princes pose for a few pictures, answer a couple of daft questions and then trot off to the slopes in the hope they won't be followed. Nick's harmless inquiry as to how the princes were feeling about the impending wedding was hardly a surprise - in fact it had been pre-arranged. So what was with the big sigh, the exasperated look and the not-so hush-hush slagging off of the journalists who'd been invited to be there by Clarence House? What's the point of having a photocall if you can't do it with a modicum of good grace? Journalists have tough skins and being liked is not part of the job. Everyone has had a field day with the prince's unguarded remarks and he has come out of it looking both foolish and naive.

Perhaps Camilla will calm him down and make him see reason. She's become quite adept at turning on the charm for the cameras. With her at his side, Prince Charles may yet be able to avoid the destiny that seems ineluctably to beckon: his metamorphosis into a fully-fledged Grumpy Old Man.

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