Prince William and Prince Harry were sold out to the tabloid press by one of their father’s closest aides while they were still kids, according to a BBC documentary broadcast on Thursday.
The young princes were said to have been stunned and angered when they discovered that one of their father’s advisers had deliberately placed personal and negative stories about them in the newspapers.
The first violation of the boys’ privacy came when they were aged 16 and 13, just 10 months after the death of their mother, Princess Diana.
The Machiavellian character at the heart of the BBC documentary, Reinventing the Royals, which was pulled from its original air date after a dispute with Buckingham Palace, is Mark Bolland, one of the Prince of Wales’ most trusted courtiers for seven tumultuous years.
A BBC spokeswoman denied reports that the show was originally halted by Palace lawyers, telling The Daily Beast it was delayed by “mutual consent.”
Members of the royal family were reportedly most alarmed by the appearance of Sandy Henney in the documentary. In her first interview since serving as the Prince of Wales press secretary, she has gone on record to describe some of the extraordinary PR tactics employed by Prince Charles’ staff.
In the wake of Diana’s death, the British public had a largely negative view of a man who had cheated on the mother of his children and appeared nonplussed by her death.
Bolland would attempt to overturn that image and build a new reputation for his boss no matter who else had to be sacrificed to make him look good.
Charles’ consigliere is accused of helping to write a book that described Princess Diana as a serial adulterer with mental health issues, as well as sanctioning a story that would run in the News of the World claiming Prince Harry had taken drugs, in exchange for an editorial praising Charles’ fabricated reaction to the revelation.
The first time Bolland allegedly briefed against the teenagers, Henney says it was left to her to explain to Prince William what had happened.
In 1998, the 16-year-old agreed for the first time to meet Camilla Parker Bowles, the woman with whom Charles had cheated on William’s mother. Every moment of that traumatic first meeting was subsequently described in vivid detail in The Sun newspaper.
“He [William] was justifiably and understandably really upset because it was really private,” Henney said. “Apart from obviously being angry and upset that this story got out, he said, well, ‘How has it happened?’”
The BBC also spoke to the reporter who had written that story for The Sun. “We got all the details, her [Camilla] drinking the gin and tonic, her having a sneaky fag [Brit-speak for surreptitious cigarette] beforehand because she was nervous and everything else,” said Charles Rae, the paper’s royal correspondent from 1995 to 2002. “So all the detail came to us and was, if you like, absolutely kosher. Apart from Camilla and William telling us, you couldn’t have got it from a better source…It was Mark Bolland.”
Bolland, who refused to be interviewed on-screen, described this account as “utter rubbish.”
Steve Hewlett, who fronts the two-part documentary, was editor of the BBC’s Panorama show when it featured the famous 1995 interview with Diana in which she claimed there had been three people in her marriage to Charles. “In that media game, she beat him hands down,” he said.
Jennie Bond, who was the BBC’s royal correspondent for 14 years, said both sides were “leaking like sieves and singing like canaries” in the years before her death. It was in this environment that Prince Charles decided to cast aside the ancient royal maxim: never explain, never complain.
Henney, who was running the official media office at St James Palace, concedes that they needed help. “You’ve got a middle-aged balding man and an incredible, beautiful princess. It’s a no-brainer as to who’s going to get the media coverage. When I joined his office in ’93 he was going through some pretty virulent criticism—‘Bad father; unloving husband.’ I think he was pretty hurt,” she said.
When Bolland was promoted to deputy private secretary, he began to bend the negative narrative that had taken hold after Diana’s death. Prince Charles was recast as a doting single father, doing his best to raise his boys in adversity.
“Brilliant manipulator,” Henney said. “Regardless of whether or not sometimes we might agree or disagree with what [Bolland] did, he got the result that he wanted.”
It wasn’t just Henney who had issues with Bolland’s scorched-earth style. William’s fury at the coverage of his meeting with Camilla was an early sign of ructions between Bolland and the boys.
“He [William] didn’t like being used by anybody and he felt, from what I remember, that he was being used by his father’s staff,” said Richard Kay, royal correspondent for the Daily Mail, from 1986 to 2007. “I’m sure he was. I think it explained a lot about what happened in subsequent years when he decided to break away from his father’s people.”
Harry was the next brother to be exposed. Reinventing the Royals claims Bolland had “done a deal” with the News of the World over the drug revelations despite Harry’s outright rejection of a raft of claims made by Rupert Murdoch’s former newspaper. The one thing he couldn’t deny was that he had ever smoked marijuana.
Tom Bradby, a former ITN royal correspondent and friend of the princes, said Harry had felt trapped by Bolland’s alleged arrangement in which the palace agreed not to contest the drug allegations if the editorial flagged up the way Prince Charles had supposedly responded by taking his youngest son to a drug treatment center as a warning. In fact, the coincidental royal rehab visit had taken place months earlier.
“Harry knew he’d done the wrong thing, he felt very bad about it, he felt he’d let people down, but I think he was quite angry that stuff had not happened in the way it had been said,” Bradby explained.
Never mind, explained Hewlett. “A very bad story for Harry had turned into a very good story for Charles.”
The premature death of Charles’ wife apparently did little to dissuade Bolland that she, too, must be targeted in order to bolster Charles’ public standing.
The author Penny Junor told the show that Bolland had helped her write her book, Charles: Victim or Villain, which among other things claimed Diana was the first of the couple to have an affair and had threatened to have Camilla killed.
Richard Kay recalled that there was serious fallout once the book was published. “It was quite nasty,” he said. “It’s quite possible that Camilla and Charles didn’t know what was going on, in fact, I’m almost certain that they didn’t know precisely what was going on. Charles knew virtually nothing about media relations. He tolerated the media, he didn’t particularly like the media, so he really allowed himself to be used, if that’s the right word, by Mark.”
Whatever the truth about Charles’ direct involvement in the apparently nefarious briefings going on in his name, the rest of the royal family knew perfectly well that it was his staff planting all these stories in the press. And yet Bolland retained his lofty position.
By 2002, the growing sense of frustration had come to the boil, the rest of the family was sick of being collateral damage in Prince Charles’ black ops.
Bradby, who is almost certainly the closest journalist to Prince William, said it was the Queen’s intervention that heralded the end of Charles’ right-hand man. “The Queen is quite marvelous in all kinds of ways, but she’s quite ruthless when she needs to be,” he said. “It seems to me she decided ‘Enough’s enough.’”
Bolland stepped down, and set up his own discreet PR company, Bolland and Associates, after leaving the palace. He entered into a civil partnership with Guy Black, Baron Black of Brentwood, a conservative grandee and executive at The Telegraph media group.
The Palace has yet to comment on Reinventing The Royals. Prior to its broadcast, a spokesman said, “We have not seen the program yet and have no comment to make.”