Those who live by publicity often die from it too

'Mr Jephson purports to analyse Diana as if he were a psychiatrist rather than a private secretary'
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The Independent Online

Having argued for the right of the former private secretary of the late Princess Diana, Patrick Jephson, to publish his memoirs, I turned to the four-page serialisation in a Sunday newspaper yesterday with a certain degree of apprehension.

Having argued for the right of the former private secretary of the late Princess Diana, Patrick Jephson, to publish his memoirs, I turned to the four-page serialisation in a Sunday newspaper yesterday with a certain degree of apprehension.

I have found it a rule in journalism that whenever you fight for a principle, the actual subject of the crusade is far from inspiring. I first learned this in the early days of The Independent, when the newspaper championed Peter Wright, the former MI5 officer, in publishing his accusatory recollections, Spycatcher. He mixed up too much spite with his revelations of skulduggery. And how could one confront the Government's lawyers on behalf of someone who persisted in wearing Australian-style hats with corks hanging down from the brim?

Moreover, I have always greatly disliked the soap-opera aspect of Royal family coverage. Yet as the royal family is an important institution of the state, I hoped that a former private secretary of a leading member would be able to shed some light on its workings. If politicians recently out of office, or even in the process of leaving, can publish their memoirs, quote from state papers that are supposed to remain under lock and key for 30 years and criticise their erstwhile colleagues, we can surely be allowed to hear from a high official of the court - even if the Queen and the heir to the throne publicly state that they do not want a book of this kind to be published.

In the event, Mr Jephson's account is disappointing. Private secretaries are the link between state and royal family. In effect, they are - or they should be - state officials whose job is to organise, guide, watch, advise, warn. In Mr Jephson's memoir, we see a bit of this going on, but only to discover how ineffectual he was.

Instead of what I had hoped for, the book has two disagreeable aspects. In the first place, it is mainly a work of amateur pop psychology. Can there be anything worse? Mr Jephson purports to analyse the Princess's behaviour as if he had been the psychiatrist to her household rather than private secretary.

He speculates about unconscious childhood memories, a notoriously difficult area for even the most seasoned experts. He writes that the Princess developed so many persona that sitting in the car with her was like dealing with a minibus of princesses. In other words, the author is suggesting multiple personality disorder. Come off it!

My second doubt concerns who actually wrote the book. It feels ghost-written to me. The tale is well told, but its very skill suggests that much rewriting and moulding has gone on. It is exceptionally well-edited. It is as if the two Murdoch publishing houses, HarperCollins and The Sunday Times, knew exactly what they wanted and had got it out of a willing Mr Jephson.

The Sunday Times has treated Mr Jephson just as Princess Diana did. The former official describes what he called the Princess's particular style of aggression - sinuous dexterity combined a radiant smile with a knife between the shoulder blades. And so also with the profile of the author which accompanied the serialisation, unpicking as it does some of Mr Jephson's dubious assertions about his own background.

I supported publication because it was clear that the author was not in breach of any legal bar and because I hoped he would add to our store of knowledge. The more difficult question was whether the work would needlessly distress the Princess's sons. As it turns out, I strongly hope that they do not read the book. An unjudgmental factual account of seven years spent in advising the Princess of Wales would have been one thing, but an analysis that seems designed to lead to the conclusion that she was mentally unbalanced is quite another.

Yet I am afraid that the families of celebrities are always vulnerable to reading unpleasant things about those they love. As a matter of fact, both Prince Charles and the late Princess herself, for instance, came close as can be to confessing adulterous behaviour in interviews on television. Imagine also what the bereaved children of Paula Yates must have thought of recent accounts of their mother's life.

Those who court publicity, or use it to further their own ends, or those who do jobs about which there is great public curiosity, must learn to live with the unforgiving rules of public life.

The benefits and the perils alike are enormous. Unfortunately, the wives, husbands, partners and children who generally have no appetite for publicity, who wish only to lead private lives, must also bear the humiliation and the pain inflicted upon their famous relative or companion when it comes. The media have no method of absolving them. I was right to be apprehensive.

aws@globalnet.co.uk

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