Media: The man behind Operation Ritz

He has long been grooming Camilla to take her place at Charles's side. But just who is Mark Bolland?

Stuart Higgins
Tuesday 02 February 1999 00:02 GMT

The royal spin surgeon Mark Bolland touched down at Heathrow just 24 hours before the curtain went up on the Charles and Camilla show, ready to weave his own stitch of magic into the historic day. Mr Bolland, deputy private secretary to the Prince of Wales, is the true architect of Operation Ritz, in which 15 seconds of blinding flashbulbs ended at least 12 years of ducking and diving.

Together in public at last, and mission impossible is mission accomplished, without as much as a hundred quid changing hands for the photo that the paparazzi had tagged as worth over pounds 1m. The next day's headlines and editorials told a remarkable story of rehabilitation, tolerance and forgiveness, testimony to the triumph of the St James's Palace "spinformation" department.

Reports in The Sun and The Mirror were warm - the two newspapers together represent over 17 million readers, so their editorials sent powerful messages to the whole of Britain, actively encouraging and supporting Charles and Camilla. The Mirror's instant poll did show a 4-1 or 77 per cent vote against the "coming out" but an identical poll a year ago would have been running at 8-1 against. As far as St James's Palace is concerned, public opinion is heading in the right direction.

Mr Bolland, former director of the Press Complaints Commission, had returned from Los Angeles to take personal control of Operation Ritz, and had privately assured his contacts at The Sun and Daily Mail by telephone that Thursday 28 January was T-Day, or Together Day.

His information, when supplied, is like a golden nugget falling from the sky for the hand-picked assortment of editors and reporters he chooses to entrust. Newspapers are more conscious than ever of keeping costs down but this little gem of knowledge was reliable enough to send the veteran royal photographers to seek out the best vantage spots in front of London's Ritz Hotel from Tuesday afternoon - probably the first time such an advance party has been launched since the heady days of Diana's public engagements. It was also a poignant reminder of her own last hours at the Paris Ritz.

Mr Bolland has been in charge of the "Camilla Factor" - as it was referred to in private Palace meetings - since before Diana died in the summer of 1997. He speaks to her every day and has introduced her to influential people such as Peter Mandelson, who she thinks is "absolutely charming and great company". In turn, Camilla has enormous respect for Mr Bolland, who has cunningly and discreetly positioned the royal mistress under the Palace wing. But he has also been shrewd enough to close down areas of risk to her as she becomes more of a public figure. She is careful with her choice of friends and the nature of her conversation, although her earthy sense of humour is regarded as one of her finest attributes.

At one stage she stuck a cartoon on her fridge door which appeared in a newspaper at the time part of the ceiling fell in at Buckingham Palace. The cartoon depicts the Queen knighting a subject and looking up towards the debris; the caption reads something like: "Can you keep the noise down, Charles and Camilla?" It made Camilla and her house guests laugh out loud.

Mr Bolland has also worked assiduously behind the scenes at wining, dining and briefing editors at The Sun, the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, which he feels are key fields of influence for Camilla's safe and steady passage from relative obscurity and notoriety to controlled fame and understanding. He is never short of an invitation from a journalist who fancies his chances of picking up the crumbs of a story but Mr Bolland's agenda - on behalf of his master - is far greater and not necessarily in step with his crusty counterparts at Buckingham Palace.

Indeed, it is true the Queen did not know in advance any detail of the momentous events unfolding round the corner from her London home. Her most senior courtiers, such as private secretary Sir Robert Fellowes, have openly disapproved of the relationship and even encouraged the Prince to end it. Sir Robert is to be replaced next month by Sir Robin Janvrin who, with Mary Francis, is regarded as "more enlightened" on the Camilla issue. One senior aide said the Queen was "relieved" that the couple had made a public appearance together at last - "but it has not changed her views on the matter which are private".

The actual "coming out" ceremony had several "false starts", principally due to fears of a backlash over the suitability of the occasion. The Prince's advisers were anxious not to be seen to "hijack" a high-profile event and use it as a convenient vehicle for their public debut.

A first opportunity arose at a gala for Camilla's charity, the National Osteoporosis Society, in late 1997. The invitation list had been sent out to politicians, celebrities and friends of the charity but the sudden death of the Princess of Wales made the event a non-starter and it was Camilla herself who instantly cancelled it.

Camilla will be taking an active public role in fund-raising events over the next three months as well as openly accompanying the Prince to the opera and his beloved theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. There will be a holiday, which could even involve an organised photocall, similar to the "take your pictures and clear off" deals at Klosters but it is unlikely they will be seen together in public more than three times this year.

The two other occasions ruled out as potential T-Days were a 50th birthday party event for Prince Charles at Hampton Court Palace and the wedding of Santa Palmer-Tomkinson - the daughter of Camilla's best friend Patti. After much consultation and soul-searching it was agreed Charles and Camilla's appearance would be perceived as insensitively upstaging the wedding day. There could be no royal occasion where it would happen because of the dignatories involved so Camilla, Charles, Mr Bolland and private secretary Stephen Lamport earmarked the 50th birthday of Camilla's sister, Annabel Elliot.

The event was considered "perfect" because Annabel is a private person who does not chase publicity. She was "delighted" to be chosen as the vehicle, which will now ironically elevate her stature to the history books, simply because it was her bash that made the splash!

But the most important step in Camilla's inevitable drift towards a public debut came at a secret reception for the National Osteoporosis Society on 3 December at the south London home of Kip Forbes, a member of the Forbes publishing company. It was hosted by Camilla, Kip and Jane Weinberger, the wife of the former American defence secretary Caspar Weinberger. "The idea was really to help build up Camilla's confidence and reassure her," said one guest. The other motive was to allow Camilla to mix with a carefully chosen group of "media types" who could help bolster her nervous spirit. They included Sir David Frost and his wife, Lady Carina, the Daily Mail columnist Anne Leslie, the deputy editor of The Sun, Rebekah Wade, and her now ex-partner, the EastEnders star Ross Kemp.

It has been well documented that the historic event had to take place now so as not to overshadow the 19 June wedding of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones. And if there is another royal wedding in 10 years' time, perhaps Mark Bolland will be best man, or perhaps he will be waiting in the wings of the TV studio as Charles and Camilla tell Chris Evans all about their love.

Stuart Higgins was editor of `The Sun' from 1994-1998. He is now a media consultant

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in