Prince's charm offensive rebounds

A CAREFULLY crafted PR offensive to endear the Prince to his future subjects, more than a year in the making, has ground to a halt - throwing up embarrassing headlines in the run-up to Charles' 50th birthday celebrations, and even giving rise to rumours of a rift with the Queen.

Such now is the disintegration of the Charles rebranding campaign that "But it was all going so well" should be themotto hanging in his private office this week - along with the heavy heads of some of his closest advisors. At least one of these heads is expected to roll in the next few days.

The PR breakdown began at the end of last week with news that a London Weekend Television documentary, screened on Sunday, contained the view of a "senior royal aide" that Prince Charles would be "privately delighted" if the Queen was to abdicate.

The Prince issued a heated denial, though he said he would stand by his advisers.

By yesterday, accusatory fingers were pointing at Mark Bolland, the Prince's deputy private secretary and supposedly his closest aide.

Amidst the now standard royal round of hints and denials from all sides, the picture has emerged of a mini court surrounding the Prince that is a long way from the polished, professional image promoted, largely successfully, since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales last year.

Makers of another documentary, by BBC's Panorama strand, shown last night, talk of months of vacillation from St James's Palace, the Prince's headquarters, when they tried to fix dates for interviews. When the Prince finally did turn up to talk to the programme's reporter in Sofia last Friday, the meeting was held in the back of an embassy van to avoid detection by other media representatives.

"Our impression was that nobody in St James's outfit was able to commit to anything, because only the man at the top can do that and he blows hot and cold all the time," said one member of the Panorama team.

In general terms, the image is of a group of advisors falling over each other to push the Prince's cause, and with it their own influence preferment, in a scenario that would do justice to a Shakespeare history play. As any student of these will know, the favour of princes is a fickle thing which is prone to chill at the slightest reverse.

"I reckon that one or two heads will roll over this. There's going to be blood spilt," said one veteran royal watcher yesterday. "Charles may say, `Will no one rid me of these turbulent personal staff?'"

The whole idea that the Queen would abdicate was "nonsense" he said, as was the notion that the Prince would want her to.

"It's people within the Prince of Wales' office being too ambitious on his behalf. They have always had a fascination for TV, absurdly so," the royal watcher added.

"They would be strangely flattered and seduced that LWT would want to do a programme, and would go too far in trying to help, because they would wish it to be sensational rather than simply a success."

Others talk of a "huge fight" for influence going on between St James's Palace and Buckingham Palace, with the Prince's personal advisors actively pushing him into setting up a separate court.

The story of how all this came about goes back to the need to "rebrand" the Prince following his bruising over the Diana affair and, in particular, from the nadir of his public image following her death.

The hand of Peter Mandelson, the Labour Party's spin doctor in chief, was widely seen in a number of changes to the St James's staff, which heralded a shiny new image for the Prince.

The first major success was a year ago on his visit to South Africa, when he was pictured on the same stage as the Spice Girls and a rather bemused-looking Nelson Mandela. Royal correspondents were surprised by the Prince's new, informal manner and his willingness to actually talk to them.

Since then a new picture has been steadily built up - with the Prince portrayed as a caring and loving father to his two young sons, and including the appointment of the first black member of the Royal Household to his staff.

Even the once no-go area of Camilla Parker-Bowles was handled deftly, with her slow but sure introduction into public view at the Prince's side.

An illustration that nothing would be allowed to get in the way of this positive image making came with the swift sacking of the personal assistant to Ms Parker-Bowles following a leaked story in July that she had met Prince William privately.

Again the initial suspicion fell on Mark Bolland, whose brief includes the Prince's "communication strategy" and who has been described variously as "Machiavellian", "charming" and "shrewd" by observers.

Whether or not he survives this row, it is clear that a lot of his work has been undone.

But the show goes on. Today the Prince will announce the setting up of his own official website to enable fans around the world to follow his life and his work. It is fair to assume, however, that details of the internal machinations of his beleaguered staff will not be given extensive coverage on its 354 net pages.

POSITION

MARK

BOLLAND

Prince Charles's Deputy

private secretary.

STEPHEN

LAMPORT

Prince's private secretary.

SANDY

HENNEY

Prince's press secretary.

SIMON

LEWIS

Buckingham Palace's director

of communications.

PETER

MANDELSON

Trade and Industry Secretary.

STUART

HIGGINS

Consultant to the LWT documentary.

ROLE IN

THE ROW

Current favourite culprit for the "abdication" briefing.

Attributed with whole PR

revamp of Prince Charles. Was it a briefing too far?

Had a meeting with LWT over the programme. Says previous briefings only about the Prince's love of art and

architecture.

First port of call for all media inquiries about the Prince. Gave briefings to LWT in the preparation of the programme.

Handled coordination of denials between the Queen and Prince Charles.

Not known, but seldom far from public relations front line.

Paid a pounds 10,000 a month contract to find clued-up people for programme makers to talk to.

CAREER

SO FAR

Son of a bricklayer, born in Canada came to Britain aged eight.

Attended the local comprehensive in Middlesbrough, and is a chemistry graduate from Toronto University. Previously worked for the Advertising Standards Authority and the Press Complaints Commission.

Went to St James's Palace on secondment from the Foreign Office. He was promoted to the most senior post after the departure of Commander Richard Aylard, the hapless private secretary who had encouraged the Prince to make a public confession of his adultery.

A former press officer at the Crown Prosecution Service, who is married to a retired senior police officer, Miss Henney, is a popular figure among journalists for her down-to-earth style.

Former director of corporate affairs at Centrica, the supply arm of British Gas, where reportedly paid pounds 150,000. Appointed after opinion polls and focus groups showed that Royal Family had badly misjudged the public mood. Paid-up member of Labour Party. Comprehensive and Oxford- educated.

Close friend of both Bolland and Lewis. Widely attributed with identifying the need for a strategy to "re-brand" the Royals in general and Prince Charles in particular.

Former editor of the Sun newspaper, and long-time employee of Rupert Murdoch. Also former editor of the New York Daily Post. The Sun carried the July story about Camilla meeting Prince William which led to her personal assistant being sacked.

WILL

HEADS ROLL?

Survived previous accusations of a leak. But this is serious.

FO man, could do the honourable thing if culpable.

More firefighter than one to be burned at the stake.

The Queen's man most needed to sort out the mess.

Hell may freeze over first.

The more controversy generated, the better. No

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