William, Kate, and the Murdoch Mess

Mr Murdoch cares little for royalty, nor they for him. No doubt he relished the Sun's publication of the Camillagate tapes back in 1993, and sees the latest developments merely as déjà vu.

Historians may yet come to describe the current travails of Rupert Murdoch as the War of William's Knee, for without that inconvenient and trivial sports injury back in 2005, matters might be very different.

Mr Murdoch cares little for royalty, nor they for him. No doubt he relished the Sun's publication of the Camillagate tapes back in 1993, and sees the latest developments merely as déjà vu.

But it's a curious fact that despite Murdoch's papers inflicting indelible damage on the royals, the House of Windsor always seems ready for more. While the Sun whooped with joy at their Camillagate scoop which exposed the Prince of Wales to ridicule, it wasn't too long before Charles was back, wheeling out his latest gripe or enthusiasm to the Sun's stablemate the Sunday Times.

Each, it would seem, needs the other. Big time.

Murdoch minions may, in more recent times, have hacked royal phones and blagged royal contact numbers, but so far we have heard no word of complaint from the Palace. Why? Because the supply-demand balance between Clarence House and Wapping remains unaltered by the current imbroglio. For the family of Milly Dowler things will never be the same again, but for the House of Windsor, life goes on.

A new generation of royal spinmeisters, headed by the Prince of Wales's spokesman Paddy Harverson but ably assisted by the young princes' own man, Miguel Head, have for the first time in royal history come to terms with the needs of the modern media. Obscured behind the sashes and tiaras, the palaces and the potentates, are hardened professionals who know a photo-op when they see one and, these days, never miss a trick.

Harverson in particular has reined in some of the wilder excesses of the redtops by biting back at their editors. This and other initiatives has helped banish the memory of some of those woefully hamfisted PR initiatives emanating from royal quarters during the post-Diana wilderness years.

Who recalls now, for example, Operation Parker Bowles - designed to improve the image of the (now) Duchess of Cornwall in the aftermath of Princess Diana's death? As a PR exercise it was spectacular in its failure, with her popularity ratings at precisely the same low point seven years on as when the campaign started out. Some fairly shameful attempts to garner support for the Prince of Wales's long-time love - often through the pages of the Sun and News of the World - produced an episode which everyone connected with it would now prefer to forget.

Harverson, a former spokesman for Manchester United, has moved things on boldly and brusquely. In addition Miguel Head, the young princes' PR man, has done much to promulgate an image which is at one with the changing age, allowing Prince William to be seen in chinos and open-necked shirt and for Harry to look as scruffy as he likes.

Thus the royal image has improved dramatically in the past decade. The wedding in April between Prince William and Kate Middleton can be counted a 100% success, and the tour of Canada and California a deft and charming debut to public life.

But one swallow does not a summer make. Behind Palace walls, all are determined that William and Kate shall now sink back into obscurity to pursue their idyll in north Wales, untouched and unimpeded by the raging tabloid thirst they created during the last leg of their American tour.

Having done their work so spectacularly well so far, the Palace spin boys must be aching for a rest. But this they do not know - that once the genie is out of the bottle, you cannot put it back. Give the tabloids William and Kate on a plate, and you can't suddenly whisk them away.

If the PR men believe they can, they should, perhaps, look back to Operation Parker Bowles. Then, the campaign which rationed Camilla's highly-staged public appearances created in the press and public alike a sense of alienation which before too long descended into contempt (it took some sterling work by Harverson to turn the tide).

In a vacuum, tabloid newspapers - and not just Murdoch's - create news. Moreover, they create moods. Starved of access to William and Kate, the honeymoon - and I mean the one between the Cambridges and the press - could be over quite quickly.

In the present climate it would take a madman to hack royal phones, but before too long the irrepressible urge to scoop their competitors may prompt the redtops to do damage to the young marrieds, unless a more enlightened campaign is dreamed up by the managers at Clarence House.

It would be fair to say that the unsavoury practices highlighted in recent days are not the purview of News International journalists alone; the reluctance by some newspapers fully to report the events leading up to the closure of the News of the World implies a wider culpability.

So far those publications have got off, scot-free, while Parliament goes to work on dismantling the Murdoch empire. It does not mean that they've forgotten how to source a story using, shall we say, modern and ingenious techniques.

Clarence House in particular should bear this in mind when they slam the door shut on William and Kate. Fleet Street does not like the fact that north America has had a chance to mix and mingle with royalty's hottest couple, while their readers back home have not.


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