Legal clauses and threats of fines can't stop royal servants writing 'tell-all' tomes

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ever since an injunction was served on a royal printer in 1848 for trying to sell copies of private sketches of Queen Victoria and her offspring, the Royal Family has fought a running battle to stop employees from betraying its personal secrets.

Using a range of legal tools from confidentiality agreements to the law of copyright, the House of Windsor has had little compunction in the past about taking firm steps to try to gag servants, from former bodyguards to housekeepers, who it sees as profiting from their private affairs.

The modern era of royal privacy battles began in 1950 when a former nanny to the Queen, Marion "Crawfie" Crawford, published the memoirs of her 17 years of service. Crawfie, the name given to her by the young Princess Elizabeth, made £30,000 from her book, The Little Princesses, but she was banished from the royal circle. When she died, the Royal Family did not send a wreath. The episode led to the introduction of confidentiality clauses to contracts for royal workers, consigning to history the tradition of relying on the discretion and silence of poorly paid flunkies.

It did not stop several employees selling their stories abroad. During the 1970s, a valet to the Prince of Wales earned £100,000 from two books based on his experiences, which were published in America. But Wendy Berry, a former housekeeper at Highgrove, was the first to start making revelations about Prince Charles's adult life, and in so doing attract his ire.

WhenThe Housekeeper's Diary: Charles and Diana Before the Breakup was published in America in 1995, St James's Palace obtained an injunction that entitled the Prince to all profits and in effect banned Mrs Berry from living in Britain by threatening her with jail for contempt of court. The Prince forgave her when she gave an undertaking not to make any further disclosures. The book, which gave details of the relationship between Diana, Princess of Wales, with James Hewitt, still cannot be sold in Britain.

Such incidents have led to reviews by the royal solicitors, Farrer & Co, of the contracts signed by members of the Royal Household. The latest review, after the publication last month of the former butler Paul Burrell's memoirs, reportedly resulted in the insertion of a clause imposing a £250,000 penalty on employees who "tell all" in a book. Criticspoint to inconsistencies in enforcing the agreements. Despite quoting from letters written by the Duke of Edinburgh to Diana in his book, Buckingham Palace has taken no action for breach of copyright.

Three years ago the Palace declined to act against Patrick Jephson, Diana's former private secretary, for his book, Shadows of a Princess, which portrayed the Princess as a lonely rebel. The author escaped legal action after it transpired he had worked seven years for Diana without signing a secrecy clause.