Britain's careful crafting of a future king

Second in line to the British throne, the young, photogenic Prince William is a boon to a royal family that has declined in popularity.

Authorities at Scotland's venerable St. Andrews University are already working on what they call their "royal strategy."

When Prince William, elder son of Charles, Prince of Wales, and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, arrives next year to begin studies toward a four-year fine arts degree, a spokeswoman says, "We hope to give him as normal an education as possible."

Britain's mass-circulation tabloids have other ideas, however, and are developing a "royal strategy" of their own. Local residents of St. Andrews say the Sun and the Mirror have already purchased houses in the town, to use as bases for covering Prince William's activities on and off campus.

Stuart Millar, who covers the royal family for the London Observer, predicts it will be the "biggest tabloid frenzy since the death of his mother, Diana," three years ago. Public relations guru Max Clifford agrees. "The tabloids will have to tread carefully at first," he says, "but they are mad keen to get him, particularly with girlfriends or at parties."

Eagerness for access to the photogenic young prince was evident last week, as he concluded a 10-week "action holiday" in southern Chile. When the BBC heard TV footage was available, it ordered a last-minute change in programming and ran a 30-minute report in a bid to best a rival commercial channel.

The Prince of Wales, meanwhile, has a full-time public relations team devoted to shaping media coverage of his son. In addition to providing a measure of privacy for William, the carefully managed media access will clearly benefit his relatives. An opinion poll last summer showed the favorability of the scandal-prone royal family at its lowest point in modern history.

And while most clamor for coverage, some in the broadsheet press are showing signs of acute irritation with the monarchy.

The left-leaning Guardian newspaper is running a campaign aimed at persuading readers to eschew the monarchy. Last week, the paper threw its weight behind a court suit aimed at challenging the ancient Act of Settlement, which bars Roman Catholics and other non-Anglicans from occupying the British throne. The paper claims the act violates the European Convention on Human Rights.

Last week, TV outlets and newspapers in Britain and around the world were given a taste of the kind of image Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, wants to foster for his teenage son. Photographs from his expedition in Chile showed William chopping wood, playing with local children, working as a disc jockey on a local radio station, and even scrubbing bathrooms.

A spokesman at St. James's Palace, Charles's London headquarters, said the aim was to depict William as "a normal, modern 18-year-old."

The key to what Mr. Clifford calls "a brilliant PR success" was iron-tight media control. Only three hand-picked journalists were permitted to report and photograph William's activities. The results were distributed only after Charles's media advisers approved them.

The only exception was a set of unauthorized photographs of the prince hiking, published in the celebrity magazine OK!

The Sun described "the future king" as "tall, handsome, sensitive, artistic, and cool." The Mirror urged readers to apply "a large dollop of cynicism" to such tributes, but still put the image of a toilet-cleaning prince on its front page.

Writing in the Independent newspaper Dec. 13, however, senior columnist David Aaronovitch said papers that ran pictures of William in Patagonia were "fawning at the feet of the golden boy."

Harold Brooks-Baker, editor of Burke's Peerage, says, "Clearly, the aim is to make [William] appear normal and natural, but there may be limits to how much can be achieved." He adds: "It will depend on whether or not editors are willing to play fair."

Until he turned 18, British newspaper editors agreed to adhere to a set of guidelines in covering William's activities. These committed editors to "avoid invading the privacy" of the royal princes. They still apply to Prince Harry, William's younger brother.

Andrew Pierce, royal watcher for The (London) Times, notes that keeping a low profile may prove well nigh impossible. "By the time [William] arrives at university, the media will already be projecting him as the world's most eligible bachelor," he says.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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