Why shouldn't Diana's private secretary tell his story?

'If you treat your "servants" badly, I am not sure that you can demand loyalty'
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The Independent Online

What is this great betrayal, this most despicable treachery that has caused the Queen and the Prince of Wales to issue a public statement deploring the act?

What is this great betrayal, this most despicable treachery that has caused the Queen and the Prince of Wales to issue a public statement deploring the act?

It is Patrick Jephson's decision to write a book about his time as Diana, Princess of Wales's private secretary, a six-year period which included the princess's divorce. And accompanying the royal disapproval has been a smear campaign designed to ruin Mr Jephson's reputation.

We are informed that he was a pompous fellow, dazzled by the princess's glamour and bitter about the manner of his departure from her service; that he subsequently failed as a PR executive and is now short of money and involved in sordid marital troubles of his own.

Indeed, so fierce has been the anonymous briefing against Mr Jephson that it is almost impossible to determine whether this former lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy is or is not a rat.

So far as the legality of Mr Jephson's actions is concerned, he seems to be in the clear. He was not asked to give any undertaking of confidentiality until 1995, a year before he resigned. And it lapsed on the princess's death. Moreover, Mr Jephson claims that when he first discussed his plans with the Palace, he received mild approval. Then the Prince of Wales made plain his total hostility to the project.

This explains the weak phrasing of the statement issued by the Queen and Prince Charles. They limit themselves to observing that "Her Majesty and His Royal Highness do not want a book of this kind to be published, a view which was conveyed firmly to Mr Jephson in February 1998".

Actually, the members of the Royal Family see those who work for them, at whatever level, as servants rather than employees. After all, their place of work is described as a royal household, and there is a sense in which staff are working for families in their homes.

I have no idea how Mr Jephson perceived his status, but there is no question that he felt himself badly treated. He resigned in protest at the princess's decision not to tell him, who was officially her principal adviser, that she was to going to do the famous Panorama interview; by then, it seems, she had already stopped reading the memorandums he sent her. If you treat your "servants" badly, I am not sure that you can demand loyalty from them after they have left your service - unless it had been a condition of your employment, which it was not.

The Queen and the Prince of Wales assert that Mr Jephson is exploiting "for personal profit" his employment with the Royal Family. This would be a much stronger point if the Royal Family observed the principle themselves and applied it consistently to former members.

Sarah Ferguson makes a good living from trading on her royal connections. Prince Edward exploits his royal relationship for TV documentaries. And I ask whether the Prince of Wales's habit of taking free holidays on luxury yachts isn't also an example of benefiting from his royal status. The Royal Family is a state institution largely financed by taxpayers. From this it follows that any profits made from it, by any member or servant, should be accounted for to the state.

The final step in the royal case against Mr Jephson is that "the book is likely to arouse fresh speculation about the life of the Princess which can only be upsetting to the feelings of Prince William and Prince Harry, and to the Princess's family". That is a natural sentiment. Many teenagers must be similarly distressed when they see their parents in the press in unflattering articles.

But this also reveals the assumption behind the campaign to stop publication. Never mind that Mr Jephson describes his work as a "truthful and balanced account". The Prince of Wales, for one, seems to me to be convinced that Mr Jephson's revelations will be damaging to him personally and, by extension, to his children.

As a matter of fact, so strong has been the campaign against publication of the book, involving as it does a rare public statement signed by the Queen as well as the blackguarding of Mr Jephson's character, that I suppose Prince Charles must be thoroughly alarmed. He must, I speculate, believe that his reputation is going to be seriously compromised. This, if true, has constitutional implications. For the slow waning in the Royal Family's popularity will, if unchecked, sooner or later bring to an end their historic role of supplying successive heads of state.

That is the point about Mr Jephson's book; it may hasten, by however small a degree, this decline - or at least that is the outcome that is feared. How else can one explain the violent reactions it has already caused, even before publication?