Ratpack who fought royal publicity war by proxy

Kim Sengupta on how the leak machine worked for favoured journalists
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The Independent Online
It is a rather tired cliche for tabloid newspapers to describe a chosen hack as "the man who really knows the Royals". Some of them, according to their colleagues, know more about the goings-on at Crystal Palace than Kensington Palace.

Yesterday one of them who really did know at least one of the Royals extremely well went public. In the Daily Mail Richard Kay described his relationship with Diana, Princess of Wales and said she had called him just six hours before her death to discuss her future.

It was the last of many calls over the years and in retrospect must have been rather poignant for Mr Kay. Thanks to the Princess he had not only got a series of noteworthy scoops , but the pair had built up a close friendship. As the soap opera of "Charles and Di" unfolded across the media, the Mail's good-looking and urbane Royal reporter led the field in exclusives. The reason was simple - he had unique access to Diana. Not surprisingly, this led to accusations by some jealous rivals that he had become nothing but a "mouthpiece .... a poodle", charges which did not unduly worry his editor and, by proxy, his bank manager.

Charles and Diana had been sold by the Press as a match made made in heaven, a fairy- tale romance ending in the spectacular Wedding of the Century. It was a media production and thus it was perhaps fitting that its imploding should become public through the work of a journalist, Andrew Morton, former Daily Star royal reporter, in his book Diana, Her Own Story.

From then on the Press and later television was to be the conduit for the bitter acrimonious battles between the Prince and Princess of Wales. Newspapers divided into camps and their journalists were seen by the two sides as sympathetic and to be fed with juicy morsels or feared and avoided.

Stories about Royalty, especially the younger ones, and especially Charles and Diana, sold newspapers and became ammunition in the circulation war between the tabloids. Here The Sun had a natural advantage. Its editor, Stuart Higgins, had known Camilla Parker Bowles ever since he was a West Country district reporter for the paper and had kept in assiduous contact. This paid off handsomely with a series of exclusives, some but not all buttressing the Charles-Camilla camp.

The Sun's contribution was recognised in with a commendation in the Scoop of the Year category for l994 in the UKPG awards. This time the recipient was their highly praised Royal reporter, Wayne Francis, for a story he had brought in about Camilla Parker Bowles getting divorced from her husband.

The following year Mr Higgins himself got an award on another divorce story, about the Queen writing to Charles about parting from Diana.

Other Royal journalists also picked up their share of exclusives as each camp jockeyed with the other for the most favourable publicity. Clive Goodman, of the News of the World, found himself at home carrying out a mobile-phone conversation with Princess Diana in which she told him about her night-time mercy visits to hospitals. The paper had been staking her out in the hope of catching her seeing another man.

Other members of the Royal family have their own favourites. Charles Rae, formerly of Today and now on The Sun, has broken a number of stories about the Duchess of York, while The Mirror's James Whitaker has brought in exclusives from both the Charles and Diana camps.

However, one of his most famous scoops was about the very old members of the Royal family when he revealed how relations of the family had been locked away and hidden from the public in a mental home.

One broadsheet journalist who had built up a special relationship with the Prince of Wales' camp is Charles Clover of the Daily Telegraph, who shares the prince's interest in conservation.