Can HRH the Groom recover from his 'nightmare on skis'?

Friends of the Prince have rallied round, explaining away his Klosters clanger as the actions of a man baited by the press. But the damage done days before his wedding may be irreparable
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The Independent Online

The irony for Prince Charles is that it was for the sake of the press that the venue for the traditional Klosters photocall was changed.

The irony for Prince Charles is that it was for the sake of the press that the venue for the traditional Klosters photocall was changed.

Had it taken place, as usual, on the slopes, the Prince's whispered asides would probably have remained private, a joke between a father and his sons. But the weather on Thursday morning ruled out a mountain-top rendezvous - and the Prince dug himself into yet another PR pit.

After driving from his hotel in Klosters to the nearby village of Monbiel, Charles was clearly not in the best of moods. Even by his standards, his private commentary, picked up by highly sensitive microphones, was dyspeptic. "These bloody people," Charles said through gritted teeth, "I can't bear that man. I mean he's so awful, he really is." That man was, of course, Nicholas Witchell, the BBC's diplomatic and royal correspondent who had been nominated by the pack to ask Charles how he felt on the eve of his wedding.

It was an innocuous enough question, but as the Prince's bared teeth and furious muttering made abundantly clear, one that deeply angered him.

Friends of the Prince leap to his defence this weekend. He has been baited, non-stop, since news of his nuptials leaked two months ago, they say. "Even with his long experience of these things this has been a baptism of fire," says Jonathan Dimbleby. "And there have been some pretty unpleasant arsonists."

Supporters insist that there is "no history of animus" with Witchell. It is the BBC that he dislikes. "He has disliked every one of their royal correspondents," says a friend. "He regards it as statist and left-leaning: an example of everything he dislikes."

Witchell, the "bionic carrot" as his peers call him, may only have been doing his job but for the disinterested it has been hard, on occasion, not to feel a stirring of sympathy for Charles and Camilla.

Their every reverse has prompted gales of tabloid laughter. Muddles over legality, venue, guest-list and subsequent titles have been a godsend for knocking copy.

Charles's supporters also say that he has been ill-served by his press secretary, Paddy Harverson, and "the man who pulls his strings", Sir Michael Peat, Charles's chief aide.

Paddy Harverson was last week reported to be close to the exit door - and that was before the latest bust-up with the media. Had Harverson had a little more clout he would either have insisted that Charles, Harry and William were wearing microphones - and therefore were aware that every word was being recorded - or he would have banned them entirely. The compromise was typical of recent muddles and indicative of a lack of strategic thinking in Clarence House. Some blame Charles directly for the affair, however.

Anthony Holden, another of Charles's biographers, called his behaviour in Klosters last week "typically graceless".

Following hard on the heels of news of a memo about "child-centred learning" that began, "What is wrong with everyone nowadays?", the irritable Prince is not exactly confounding caricature.

"Eight days," Charles was heard to mutter even before Witchell's question at Thursday's photocall, suggesting that he is counting down the days until his marriage to Camilla on Friday.

However, most expect that day to pass off well. The couple's honeymoon in Scotland and the coming election should ensure that in media terms Charles and Camilla fade into the background in the coming months.

The hope is that after all the controversy, the fact of their marriage will lead to a process of acceptance among the British public and consequent easing of media pressure.

One friend of the couple regards this view as deeply complacent, however. "The questions in five years' time must be, what has Camilla added to the Royal Family, what has she brought that was not there before?"

At the very least, the new Duchess of Cornwall (whose legal title will, in fact, be Princess of Wales) must improve her husband's mood. She has already made him less susceptible to the procession of "single-issue bores", who friends say queue up to feed the Prince's prejudices. But that is not enough - a hostile public will want to see more than evidence of marital contentment if it is to take to its heart the woman who will one day, whatever the Palace might say, become Queen.

Camilla, a product of her class and generation, is not known for her work ethic and, in any case, is rightly fearful of being presented as seeking to usurp Diana's charitable legacy. Then there is the question of the press's changing relationship with William and Harry. The deal brokered between Fleet Street and Buckingham Palace that protects their privacy is running out of time. The Press Complaints Commission stretched its own rules to the limits for the Princes but can no longer afford them any special treatment, and now that William is leaving full-time education the tabloids sense imminent release from the last traces of their obligation. Nothing demonstrates this changing reality more clearly than an "interview" with Prince William, which The Sun published on Friday.

In fact, William had wandered over to the reporter who had followed him to a Swiss disco and asked him to leave. Assuming normal rules of engagement, under which the reporter was "off limits", William had what he thought was a private conversation with the tabloid's writer.

"William World Exclusive," the red-top screamed the next day on its front page.

"He breaks ranks to talk to The Sun", said the paper.

Paddy Harverson, who is having what one fellow PR expert described as a "nightmare on skis" in Switzerland, is said to have been "apoplectic" over this latest breach of the frayed agreement.

The gulf between what he is being asked to sell and the reality grows wider each month. The high jinks of the young Princes and their friends at Casa Antica was described by one observer as "pure Eurotrash".

Prince Harry's best friend, Guy Pelly, an agricultural student who last came to public consciousness by dressing up as the Queen, on this occasion ran around the nightclub in his underpants.

"The Klosters story's changed," sighed one veteran. "It's not the dad with his kids any more. The dynamic is different."

"We desperately need a new compact with the press," said one friend of the Royal Family, "But we don't know how we are going to get one."

It may be that Prince Charles and his sons have a cunning plan to win back public affection through dint of hard work and authentic connection with ordinary Britons. Or maybe not.

The poor bloody PR

Paddy Harverson must wonder what he's got himself into. He probably thought dealing with Sir Alex Ferguson and David Beckham when he was press officer at Manchester United would prepare him for anything. He had clearly never met Prince Harry. Hired as Charles's communications secretary last year following the departure of Mark Bolland, Harverson has had enough on his plate with Charles's upcoming wedding without having to worry about his boss's views on education, William's new girlfriend, and pretty much everything Harry does. The youngest Windsor has been the source of most of 41-year-old Harverson's concerns. There has been the nightclub fracas, the bar-hopping Argentina trip, and, of course, that Nazi costume party disaster.

How the story unfolded

Photographer: "Look like you know each other."

Prince Charles: "Do I put my arms around you?"

Prince William: "No, don't but you can take the horrible glasses away."

Charles: "Do not be rude about my glasses, I couldn't bear it if you were."

Charles: "What do we do?"

William: "Keep smiling, keep smiling."

BBC reporter Nicholas Witchell asked how the Princes were feeling about the wedding.

William: "[I'm] very happy, very pleased. It will be a good day."

Witchell repeated his question for Prince Charles.

Charles: "Well it's a nice thought. I am very glad you have heard of it anyway."

The three Princes then chuckled among themselves.

Charles: (under his breath) "These bloody people. I can't bear that man. I mean, he's so awful, he really is."

William: (responding to another question about the wedding) "So long as I don't lose the ring, it will be all right. My one responsibility. I'm bound to get something wrong."

Reporter: "As this is your last holiday together before the wedding, I was wondering, William and Harry, if you were planning any kind of appropriate send-off for your father?"

Prince Harry: "It's been and done."

William: "You've missed it. It was good fun."

Reporter: "He wasn't chained to anything?"

William: (laughing) "No."

Charles: "What makes him think that?"

William was asked about photos published in British tabloids of him with his girlfriend Kate Middleton.

William: "I haven't seen any of it. I'm just gagging to be on the slopes. Simple as that."

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