Is Prince Charles doing a Diana?

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FAR be it from me to come between Prince Charles and Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. The Prince is lodging a formal complaint with the PCC over last Thursday's Mirror front page, half of which was filled with the banner headline, "HARRY'S HAD AN ACCIDENT." A letter from the Prince's deputy press secretary, which covered much of the rest of the front page, said: "This episode is not in our view in the public interest." I have no intention of prejudging the PCC's decision by offering an opinion on the complaint. Yet it does raise certain interesting issues.

If Prince Charles were preoccupied with his own dignity, then he would, I think, have lodged a complaint about an earlier Mirror front page, that of the previous Saturday, which, headed "YOU SEXY KING", was almost wholly occupied by a photograph of the Prince, in a dole queue at a Sheffield Jobcentre, trying to do the dole queue dance featured in the film The Full Monty.

Since Prince Charles is certainly preoccupied, very properly, with the welfare of his sons, Princes William and Harry, it would be interesting to know what he made of the "Sun Royal Exclusive" which occupied the front page and two succeeding pages of last Monday's Sun. The front page was dominated by an immense headline, "WILLS AND HARRY DO FULL MONTY AT DAD'S PARTY." The story described how "Saucy princes William and Harry did a Full Monty strip at dad Charles's 50th birthday bash", with the brothers performing a partial (and entirely decorous) striptease to a tune from the film.

Half a page, too, was taken up with another banner headline, "PRINCES WATCHED HAPPILY AS DAD AND HIS MISTRESS DANCED TO ABBA." Page three included a continuation of the Full Monty story, together with, side by side, large pictures of a bejewelled Camilla Parker Bowles and of Prince William in combat gear and a woolly Aston Villa hat.

Let me make clear that I regard this material in the Sun as perfectly reputable journalism, skilfully presented. But the combat gear worn in the picture of Prince William derived from his education, since he was still wearing it after all-night manoeuvres with the Eton College Army Cadet Corps; and Prince Charles's spokeswoman has said that the complaint against the Mirror has "everything to do with the privacy to which Harry and William are entitled during their education".

Moreover, it would be interesting to have an explanation from the spokeswoman of how these Sun pages were in the public interest when the Mirror's story about Prince Harry was said not to be. Of course, although the Sun's story was not only reputable journalism, but also independent journalism, it did happen to suit Prince Charles's purpose.

It was often alleged that Diana, Princess of Wales sought to manipulate the press. Can it now be claimed that Prince Charles is perfectly ready to accept coverage of the young princes's activities, even when they derive from their education, when his own purposes are served, but complains when they are not?

Everyone in public life, from back-bench MPs upwards, would welcome the ability to manage press coverage according to their own criteria and convenience. Is Prince Charles on his way to succeeding where even Alastair Campbell cannot?

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