Royals Besieged: Sources close to Kitty Kelley reveal it's all muck-rak ing

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Kitty Kelley, the controversial American biographer, will set the world gossiping this week about the loves and private lives of the Royal Family.

But is it all tawdry hype rehashing ancient and unproven gossip? Paul McCann talks to some of the people cited as `sources'.

The veracity of the Kelley muck-raking book The Royals crumbled yesterday after her named sources emerged as professional gossips, left- wing republican journalists or were simply dead.

Much of the information in the book is attributed to "confidential sources" in the royal household, but many of those who are named denied yesterday providing Ms Kelley with any useful information while others turned out to be the third-hand reminiscences of dead aristocrats.

The Duke of Leeds, who is the source of very intimate details of the Queen's early married years, actually died in 1964. Instead his testimony is reported third-hand through Nigel Dempster, the Daily Mail gossip columnist, who is married to the Duke's daughter.

Indeed the book's index reads like a who's who of Britain's highest-paid gossips and includes Ross Benson of the Express, Peter McKay of the Daily Mail and Taki, columnist at the Spectator.

Dame Barbara Cartland, the romantic novelist, is quoted as the source of information on Earl Mountbatten and Prince Charles, but she denied ever having met, spoken to or corresponded with Kitty Kelley: "My secretary told me she wasn't safe," said Dame Barbara yesterday.

"So she wouldn't let me speak to her." A close reading of The Royals reveals that Dame Barbara's information is in fact lifted from an old interview.

Michael Cole, the former BBC court correspondent and spokesman for Mohamed Al Fayed, refused to help Ms Kelly yet found himself in the book as the source of a quote by Andrew Morton, writer of Diana: Her True Story. In fact Mr Cole's quote was lifted from a letter he wrote to The Independent in 1992. "It rather indicates the essence of the techniques that have been used." said Mr Cole yesterday.

The provenance of other material may be difficult to ever substantiate. John Barratt, former private secretary to Earl Mountbatten, is quoted on the Royal Family's alleged parsimony. Mr Barratt died in 1993 just when Ms Kelley started her research.

Some of the less "establishment" sources named in the book include Rosie Boycott, editor of the Independent on Sunday, the writer Christopher Hitchens and Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye.

"I told her zip," said Mr Hislop yesterday. "She came to one Private Eye lunch, she got an indifferent steak above the Coach and Horses in Soho and that was it.

"I am not in the business of giving other people stories and I am not an intimate of the royal great and good. Rather I was interested to find out what she had. She didn't tell me."

Ms Boycott said yesterday that Ms Kelley's choice of informants seemed wide: "If she's quoting me as a source it makes one shudder to think about the quality of her sources. I've only heard the same codswallop that the world has heard. I met her twice and suggested she talk to a friend who told her nothing."

"I think she found it very difficult to get information here compared to in the US where everyone eventually gave in to her. It just didn't work like that here which is why the book was extended beyond just Prince Philip.'

However, Christopher Hitchens, who is based in Washington DC and has read the book, believes it has some merit: "It is the best single account of how their reputation got to the state it is in now. It contains at least a mention of everything you've ever heard. It's all in there and there is also some added value. Some rumours she chases down and disproves, others she makes a good case for."

Despite the lack of named royal sources Ms Kelley's reputation for conducting massive research means each book contains some great stories. No one has yet sued Ms Kelley for claiming Nancy Reagan domineered her husband and had an affair with Frank Sinatra in the White House. A story missed by the rest of the world's press.