Royalty Magazine Newsletter 2001-11-16

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Prince Edward and Sophie stumbling through the minefield

The Way Ahead group was set up within the British Royal Family in the aftermath of the wave of criticism that almost engulfed them in the wake of the death of the Princess of Wales in 1997. Its purpose was to examine the ways in which the House of Windsor could “modernise” to meet the demands it would face in the about-to-dawn 21st century.

Its “modernising” has tended to move at a snail’s pace – after all, it’s difficult to teach old dogs new tricks – until early this year when the latest addition to the House of Windsor, Sophie Rhys-Jones, was caught in a classic tabloid newspaper “sting” in her role as a director in her own PR company. At last, the Way Ahead group had something they could really get their teeth into – is it possible to combine being a Royal with a life in the big, bad commercial world beyond the Palace gates?

The Royal Family was split – one faction, led by Prince Charles, was adamant that combining both roles meant venturing into a minefield and therefore must be avoided. After all, there had already been mutterings about Prince Edward – Sophie’s husband – and his TV production company, Ardent which had hardly set the TV world ablaze.

It seems, though, that Charles was outvoted – if that’s how the Royal Family goes about these things – by the faction headed by his father, Prince Philip. The Lord Chancellor’s report and advice on the problem meant no change to the status quo. So Sophie, although relinquishing some of her corporate responsibilities, was still adrift in the minefield of PR while Edward, obviously seen as the favourite son, was allowed to try to make it in the ruthless world of TV production.

Just how ruthless that world is – and how much of that ruthlessness Edward might have taken on board – suddenly re-emerged when Prince William started his university career at St Andrews in Scotland. While the world’s media stuck by the arrangement to film only in agreed situations, days after William’s arrival he was complaining to his father that he was being “stalked” by a camera team as he tried to settle into his new environment. And now the plot thickens – the camera team were working for Prince Edward’s Ardent!

Call it ruthlessness, call it cynicism – but perhaps the best word is stupidity. The proverbial hit the fan and the connection between Charles and his youngest brother’s cellphone glowed red-hot. The result, for the moment, you can read about elsewhere in this RoyaltyWatcher e-mail. But Charles feels that his attitude of the impossibility of combining Royal and non-Royal activities in the commercial world has been vindicated and is determined to place it on the Way Ahead group’s agenda.

Both Edward and Sophie were cast as pioneers in this experiment cobining the roles for what the Royal Family felt was the strange, new 21st century world they were having to inhabit. The tragedy is that the non-Royal worlds they inhabited were TV production and PR, both strewn with mines. And they have failed to find their way through the minefield.

Royal plea gets flower attacker out of jail

The 16-year-old Latvian anti-war protester who slapped Prince Charles with a flower has been released from custody pending trial. Alina Lebedeva is facing charges of threatening the life of a foreign dignitary. Police spokesman Didzis Smitins said the decision to release the high school student was influenced by reports that Charles had called for leniency for Lebedeva, a supporter of a fringe, pro-communist group called the National Bolsheviks. Lebedeva, who was released from the Central Police Station in Riga after spending three days in custody, faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail if convicted, said Smitins. She hit Charles with a red carnation last Thursday as he stopped to greet schoolchildren during a tour of Riga, the capital of this ex-Soviet republic. She said she was protesting at Britain’s involvement in the Afghan war. A spokesman at the prince’s office in London last week described the incident as “unfortunate but trivial,” adding that “we hope and trust the Latvian authorities will take that into account when looking into this case.” Police defended the move to file charges, rejecting criticism in some British and Latvian newspapers that her imprisonment and prosecution were out of proportion to the incident – in which Charles was unhurt.

Jordan’s king warns ‘Middle East cannot take a decade of conflict’

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has sounded a warning about peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He says the people of the Middle East cannot wait “another 10 years” for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. He added that US terror attacks would be a landmark in history saying the international momentum exists to reignite the peace process in Israel. Speaking to journalists at a London news conference, Abdullah commented: “We cannot wait another 10 years. If we wait another 10 years there will be more calamities, more violence and more bloodshed. I think there is a consensus that it is important to move on the Israeli-Palestinian track. In the light of September 11 there is renewed vigour to move in that direction.” He explained that it was important to develop two concepts – firstly that there should be a viable Palestinian state and secondly that the future security of Israel should be assured. The king said: “We know Israel will never vanish but we need to know that Palestine will appear. “I think the United States is very aware that the world has changed after September 11.”

Prince urges Muslims to reject extremism

Prince Charles has appealed to British Muslims to reject violence and extremism. He was addressing Afghan relief workers at the London office of Islamic Relief. Charles said the events of September 11 had emphasised that violence and extremism are driven by ignorance and fear. He expressed his concern for the suffering of refugees left in Afghanistan. The Prince said: “It remains, more than ever, the task of moderate people of all faiths and creeds – in other words, the vast majority of us – to speak out against those who hold extreme views.” Moderates of all faiths must “make that extra leap of imagination away from the ignorant certainties of bigotry towards a genuine attempt at mutual understanding and respect,” he added. “I can only urge everyone to do what they can to help tackle what is fast becoming a humanitarian catastrophe of unimaginable proportions,” he said. “Of course, this suffering did not begin only in the last month. Islamic Relief’s appeal to help victims of drought and famine in Afghanistan has been longstanding.” Nearly half of all Afghans – 12 million out of 26 million – had been adversely affected in some way by three years of drought and two decades of war.

Diana fund gives £2m for war victims

UK-based organisations working overseas to help war-torn communities are to get a £2 million boost. The cash has come from the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. The latest grants bring the total amount pledged by the Fund to £45 million since it was founded after the Princess’s death in 1997. Among the new grants is funding earmarked for landmine clearance in Afghanistan although this has been put on hold during the present crisis. Last week, the Fund and Landmine Action led a public protest against the use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan. Other funding has been given to help young people in Sierra Leone, Colombia, Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, Gaza, Kosovo and Albania. The Fund’s special tradition of support for people injured by landmines continues with a grant to Handicap International to help survivors in Guinea-Bissau.

Al Fayed loses Diana crash damages claim

Mohammed al Fayed has lost a claim for damages over what he had called a flawed part of the inquiry into the death of Princess Diana. The Harrods owner claimed the two French investigating judges erred when they didn’t immediately investigate a charge of invasion of privacy against the photographers at the scene. The crash in 1997 in Paris killed Diana, al Fayed’s son Dodi and driver Henri Paul. An investigation into the invasion of privacy claim began only this year, with another judge. Under Judge Muriel Josie, eight photographers who were cleared in the main probe have been placed under investigation for photographing the victims in the car. Mr al Fayed and his lawyers were not in the Paris court for the ruling. In its ruling, the court acknowledged “some malfunctioning and lack of diligence” on the part of the original investigating judges, Herve Stephan and Marie-Christine Devidal. But it said that according to the basic principles of justice, Mr al Fayed “has seen his rights recognised”. The court also said that he cannot claim he has been the victim of a judicial violation, because ultimately the invasion of privacy claim was indeed examined. Even if he had won his case, the main investigation into the high-speed crash would not have been reopened. In September 1999, Judge Stephan threw out charges of manslaughter against nine photographers and a press motorcyclist, saying that drugs and alcohol taken by Henri Paul, as well as excessive speed, caused the deaths.

Northern Alliance ‘broke promise to King over Kabul’

The Northern Alliance has been accused of breaking a promise with Afghanistan’s exiled king by entering Kabul. King Mohammad Zaher Shah’s aide Hamid Sidig said the rebels made the promise when they met the king last month in Rome, his home since he was ousted in 1973. The anti-Taliban alliance entered the Afghan capital in the early hours of Tuesday. The Taliban abandoned the city without fighting. Sidig said: “I hope they only entered Kabul to maintain security and not to take over political power.” The 87-year-old Zaher Shah is seen as a unifying figure in creating a transitional, post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. At the centre of intense diplomatic activity since the September 11 attacks in the US, the monarch is set to meet top US diplomat James F Dobbins. Earlier this month, Zaher Shah and the opposition Northern Alliance struck a deal to form a council that would later call a national assembly in Afghanistan.

BOB HOUSTON – Royalty’s founder and Editor at Large reads between the week’s Royal headlines (16 Nov., 2001)

Bob Houston Royalty's founder and Editor at Large reads between the week's Royal headlines