The ups and downs of the paparazzi life

After the party, couldn't Harry have slipped into the gents, put on a disguise and walked home
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The Independent Online

There are ways and ways of saying goodbye. "Cheers mate" is one, "Good night sweet prince and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest," is another. Not being acquainted with Chris Uncle, the photographer recently involved in a by now infamous royal spat with Prince Harry outside a Piccadilly nightclub, I am not entirely sure which style of valediction Mr Uncle favours but my instincts tell me that if it had been the latter he would not have been involved in a bust-up with the prince.

There are ways and ways of saying goodbye. "Cheers mate" is one, "Good night sweet prince and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest," is another. Not being acquainted with Chris Uncle, the photographer recently involved in a by now infamous royal spat with Prince Harry outside a Piccadilly nightclub, I am not entirely sure which style of valediction Mr Uncle favours but my instincts tell me that if it had been the latter he would not have been involved in a bust-up with the prince.

Mindful of this newspaper's deliberately restrained coverage of royal events I should perhaps remind you that Prince Harry has ginger hair, is third in line to the throne, got a B in A-level art and starts his officer training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, next year. I don't know anything about Chris Uncle except that he is a member (and by the sound of it a very new member) of that much vilified species known as paparazzi, which, as a former royal reporter, I do know something about having spent longs days penned up with them in official royal enclosures outside airports, palaces, parliaments, cathedrals, opera houses, hospitals and, in Princess Diana's case, the more exclusive department stores all over the world.

We called them snappers. They called us scribblers. Sometimes to while away the time, the six hours for instance we spent standing outside La Scala Milan to witness the arrival of the newly married Prince and Princess of Wales for a gala performance of La Traviata and their departure thence to some poncy banquet, we discussed the relative merits and disadvantages of our chosen crafts.

Snappers had it made we said. All they had to do was take a few pictures while we had to wrestle with syntax and similes and sub-editors. Listen, they would say, you can make up a story but if we don't get the picture that's it. On the other hand if they did get the picture, the definitive picture of say, Fergie getting her toes sucked on the Cote d'Azure, or Prince Andrew spraying the press corps with white paint in America or Princess Anne's corgi savaging the Queen's corgi or Prince Edward - well maybe not - they would make a fortune overnight. Their picture would be syndicated around the world, the profit would be split two ways, 40 per cent for the agency, 60 per cent for the snapper who, next time you saw him, would be driving a Ferrari and talking about property prices in St Lucia.

The definitive picture on that Italian tour if my memory serves me right - it was 20 years ago - was the world's first glimpse of royal knickers, Diana's not Charles's. This, I was advised by hopeful cameramen from at least 17 different countries, could only be got if the Princess was wearing a mini skirt, getting either in or out of a low-slung sports car and, most important, if the photographer happened to be in exactly the right place at the time. Like the gutter, I quipped, which did not go down a bundle.

The fellow who eventually pulled off, in a manner of speaking, the knicker scoop, in Rome I believe, bought himself a substantial estate in Scotland on the proceeds.

My abiding memory of the paparazzi is the enormous length to which they went to get these definitive pictures. The smaller ones carried lightweight, fold-up aluminium ladders which they would balance precariously on café tables or scaffolding or branches of trees to get long angled shots.

I wasn't intending to pontificate on Prince Harry's conduct. But at the risk of inviting hate mail from royalists the length of the kingdom, it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that if an unemployed 20-year-old behaves like a rock star, goes to nightclubs frequented by celebrities, and has much the same spending money as the lead singer of a successful boy band, he should expect to be treated as they are.

My son, who is the same age as Harry, frequently gets into fights in clubs, but mercifully does not have two bodyguards and a limo, just his fists and his wits to bail him out.

Now there's another thing. Piccadilly to Clarence House couldn't be much more than 500 yards. When the party was over, couldn't Harry have slipped quietly into the gents, put on a simple disguise (royals anxious to remain incognito have been doing it for years) and walked home?

Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who later became the Buddha, favoured rags. Bonny Prince Charlie dressed up as a lady's-maid. Prince Harry in drag? Now that would have made a great picture.

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