Prince of Wales “momentary lapse”

Just catching some of the TV coverage of today’s marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, I saw a brief BBC TV interview with the Prince’s communications secretary, Paddy Harverson.

Amongst the tame chit-chat about today’s event (eg, was the Prince feeling nervous and how many letters of support there have been from the public) came an interesting comment regarding the Prince and a press photo call last month.

The Prince and his two sons took the photo call while on holiday in Switzerland. Posing at the resort of Klosters, an ill-at-ease Prince muttered, "Bloody people. I can’t bear them" in reference to the assembled press photographers and reporters, which was picked up by microphones. He also muttered, "I can’t bear that man. I mean, he’s so awful, he really is" in reference to BBC reporter Nicholas Witchell.

I remember thinking when I saw the broadcast: I bet the communication people will be cringing about this! It is bound to be spread across all the papers the next day (it was), presenting yet another potential PR headache for the royal communicators. It’s not really much different from a commercial scenario – you organize the event and your client spokesman royally (pun wholly intended) screws it up in some way.

So the interesting comment from Harverson in today’s BBC TV interview was his reference to that event by saying the Prince had a "momentary lapse." He said it with a broad smile on his lips, but that smile didn’t touch his eyes.

Probably all he could say publicly, really.

I wonder what he’s thinking about Prince Charles’ latest gaffe – shaking hands with Robert Mugabe at the Pope’s funeral yesterday.

See also: Royal wedding press pack (PDF).

6 thoughts on “Prince of Wales “momentary lapse”

  1. I’d hate to be “royal” in the 21st century. No upside:
    * The money is good, of course, but you can’t deploy it in a thoroughly fun, vulgar way (i.e. lubricants, sunny climes and tacky yachts).
    * You’re locked in the job from birth (so you can just go ahead and purge yourself of dreams).
    * The world hangs on your every word, because they hope you will say something remarkably stupid.
    And, to top it off, you can’t actually “do” anything without checking with the Government.
    I wonder how any of them stand it.
    Perhaps the 20/30 somethings of Europe’s royal families will find themselves together at some happening and decide, collectively, to say “enough: declare republican governments, or we’re going to be truly obnoxious!”

  2. Good one, Allan!
    Re the Prince shaking hands with Mugabe gaffe, I was reading further news reporting about this. My commentary could be interprested as that Prince Charles shook hands with Mugabe in a normal way, ie, he went up to him and greeted him.
    Not like that at all, it seems. Looks like Mugabe came up to him which took him by surprise and he reached out his hand to shake before he twigged who the other person was. By that time, too late to change body tactics.
    The thought that then sprang to my mind was whoever organized the seating, etc, at the event should have ensured that the Prince was nowhere near someone like Mugabe (which, according to news reports, was precisely what happened for Tony Blair). However, I can imagine the logistics nightmare of such event planning.

  3. I believe protocol leaves little room for not shaking hands with Mugabe if you are seated beside him. Charles Windsor may think Robert Mugabe as much of a toad as the rest of us do, but the man is the head of state of a country Britain has diplomatic relations with. Britain is, “officially”, polite to Zimbabwe, so the British rep on the spot must also be.
    But, there you have it again: being “royal” means being put into all sorts of situations you a) would rather not be in and b) would deal with a different way if you weren’t “on the job”.
    You mention the seating planning. From all accounts, the Vatican is masterful at protocol. I struggle to believe that the seating was entirely coincidental. But to what purpose?

  4. From all the news reports I’ve read, it just looks like a very unfortunate circumstance. It seems that Mugabe made a bee-line for the Prince, so it looks like there was no escape!

  5. I also think we’re missing a big point here about a major improvement in Charles’ communications. Sure, he’s had a few awful blunders in the run-up to the wedding – I bet he couldn’t believe it as each gaffe unfolded before him.
    BUT, the coverage with Paddy Harverson is a lot more significant for the future. In the UK we don’t give much prominence to official spokesmen: Alistair Campbell never had his own TV slot like Ari Fleisher, and I bet few people could name Campbell’s replacement. That has traditionally been all the more true for the Royal Family, who have communicated through statements but seldom through spokespeople.
    However, over the weekend, what we did we have but Paddy H appearing on radio and TV explaining the Prince’s position. He is an inspired choice – he is tremendously proficient, but also totally down to earth. He is the kind of man anyone in the pub could relate to. Suddenly, Charles has found a way of creating a connection with the general public that gets around his rather stiff and formal manner. I think the US model of official spokesperson (carefully selected) could be the answer the Royals have been looking for to head off all the criticism of them being out of touch.

  6. Good points, Marc. I would agree with you that Paddy Harverson makes a smooth spokesman, judging from his brief TV interview I saw on Saturday. From his bio on the Prince’s website, he looks like he has all the credentials to handle such a role.
    I’m not sure, though, that contrasting him and his role with that of Ari Fleishman at the White House is a valid comparison. Unless you’re thinking that Harverson would conduct regular and frequent press briefings. To what end, though? I’d say Harverson would have an unenviable job in that he has a ‘product’ that isn’t really ready for that type of PR, and probably never will be.
    Your mentioning Prince Charles having someone to really connect with the general public is the key point, I think. Part of the problem, too, as the royal family in general are simply too remote and detached from the general public. That’s a pretty simple view, I know, but I contrast that with the Dutch royal family. Now there’s down to earth and with universal respect. I don’t see that in the British royal family.
    Which raises a good question – why would we expect the royal family to be anything other than aloof and detached? That’s history and they don’t look as though they really want to change that. I was reading a rather good column yesterday by Brian Walden on the subject of why Prince Charles gets a slamming all the time, on the BBC website ( A good assessment of what’s happening today.

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