They cannot let His Royal Hulk lose his fig leaf

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THE Establishment has used its might to protect the unpretty prince's body from public scrutiny. It has worked. We have been spared the fuzzy photographs of His Royal Hulk - though samizdat copies are circulating from France and Germany - because the Prince of Wales's body is too important to be seen.

But the defence of the Prince's privacy has nothing to do with decorum. Why did the press, which has been keen to expose the bodies of the unruly Royal daughters-in-law, shrink last week from showing us the future king in the raw? This uncharacteristic modesty revealed the degree to which the media dissemble and become disoriented when the opportunity to strip the Royal Family of its final fig leaf concerns the body of a man.

Clothes draw our attention to the power of men-who-would-be-kings. To strip the Prince of his power-dressing directs us inexorably to his sexuality. Millions of people are thinking about his precious bits and his pectorals, taking ownership of him in their fantasies, comparing him with the Chippendales, with Arnie, with themselves and their lovers.

That is what cannot be borne. Partly, of course, this is because men have long protected their own bodies from sexual scrutiny while maximising their collective right to subject women's bodies to surveillance. The world watched the sexualisation of the Princess of Wales; she was penetrated by the power of the look. The world gazed and desired this ill-educated and ill-used ingenue - even if her husband did not.

Her virginity and fertility were crucial commodities for the man with a mission to be king. Her body was the only qualification she required; the aristocracy, uniquely, dooms its daughters to marriage as destiny. When this foundling from from the shires was handed over, the world watched her sexual metamorphosis. Her reputation and her secrets became public property, and her self-hatred and her body became the object of the public gaze.

But the prospect of pictures showing the Prince in the altogether has drawn our attention to something few can have contemplated: the unpretty prince as a stud. His nakedness emphasises the ancient destiny he shares with his wife. And his willy is one of the stud prince's most important possessions: he can be stupid, corrupt, dumb or deceitful, but he must protect the line by providing heirs.

It was not the media's intrusiveness that ruined the Royal Family's reputation. What matters is neither the nakedness nor the privacy, but who is protected and who is disposable.

It was the distress and dissent of the royal daughters-in-law that did for republicanism what it had not been able to do for itself. After Andrew Morton published his revelations about the Prince's marriage, the troubled, victimised heir was reinterpreted as an aristocratic Andy Capp. Defenders of royal privacy were left trying to exempt the Prince from criticism by a society that expects more from men.

Observers were wrong when they represented the depressed Princess of Wales as merely a disco-dancing Sloane ranger with a penchant for Thatcherite car salesmen and art dealers. It was not who she was but what she had suffered in this careless and cruel family that was important.

Diana called a halt. Sexual politics - the scandal of his behaviour - began to undermine the popularity of the Royal Family. It was revealed as being, despite all its members' splits and divorces, out of synch with society. That was what created the conditions in which the Royal Family's economic exploitation of the public purse could become the object of searching political scrutiny. Now the Queen is doing what used to be unthinkable: she is taking legal advice to cauterise public questions about private patronage.

No political party has had the courage to match Princess Diana's audacity. They did not recognise the importance of her protest: that, in an era when the reform of men's relationship to women and children is a great public and political theme, the Prince and his family deceived her about the most important thing in her life - him.

He was a duplicitous husband and a bad father.

All the Establishment's best efforts to save the Prince's reputation - including the misty propaganda by Jonathan Dimbleby - have been an extravagant failure. Nevertheless, it is with His Royal Hulk that the future of the constitutional monarchy lies, and so, as the Prince knows, his body remains important.

The press complies with this public-interest immunity for the Prince's body. It is, of course, wary of the threat of legislation to curb intrusions into private life. But that threat has been around for a long time, and it is the intrusion upon the Prince, rather than the royal women, which the media judge to be beyond the pale. The women are disposable; he is not. That is why the Establishment protects the emperor, even when he has no clothes.