Reinventing the Royals: spin in the house of Windsor

Steve Hewlett reveals how “The Firm” used spin doctors to fight back after the death of Diana – but are the Windsors ready for the modern age?

Royal biographer Penny Junor describes Bolland as: “A genius. He was very good at pulling strings, playing with the press. The princes called him Blackadder.” Jenny Bond says he was “clever, sly, slippery, but a man you could get on with”. In any event, a very far cry from “never complain, never explain”. 

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He immediately set about trying to repair his client’s battered public image, taking every opportunity to show a different side to Charles’s character – a single parent and caring father.

But his other principal objective was to try to bring about a degree of public acceptance for the woman the prince had now described as a “non-negotiable” part of his life – Camilla Parker Bowles. 

This campaign was known to palace insiders as “Operation Mrs PB”. And critically important to that would be the attitude of William and Harry to their father’s one-time mistress. And so it was that just ten months after his mother’s death and just before his 16th birthday, Prince William met Camilla for the first time at St James’s Palace. This would have been an important moment in any family divided by divorce, but its public significance was also huge. So when news of it – along with highly personal details – was splashed across the pages of The Sun, William was distraught.

Sandy Henney

Meanwhile, the first Sandy Henney over in the press office knew of the meeting was when Sun reporter Charles Rae telephoned her. She had to break the news to William that The Sun had the story. “He was understandably really upset because it was private. And apart from being angry and upset that this had got out, he wanted to know how it had happened.”

In fact, news of the meeting had leaked accidentally from one of Camilla’s staff, but all the detail, Rae says, was furnished by Bolland – a version of events Bolland wholly rejects. In any event, Henney describes it as a “defining moment” for Prince William, who felt as if he had been used to further his father’s interests.

There were many more bumps and scrapes, but over time, through a series of highly choreographed public events – such as Charles and Camilla’s first public outing at a “private” party at the Ritz – covered by hundreds of journalists and camera crews from all over the world, Charles was eventually able to marry Camilla, put the Diana era behind him and refocus on his interests and public duties.

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But what of William and Harry?