Beatrix Campbell in The Independent on Sunday interpreted Paul Burrell’s latest revelations as further fuel to the republican cause, and one more nail in the house of Windsor’s coffin.
Cynics would say that since this is a soap opera society, a thoroughly modern monarchy needs to reflect the spirit of the age. These latest ructions are therefore an exemplary demonstration of royal modernity.
The Mirror’s serialisation of Burrell’s book, A Royal Duty, treads the well-worn pre-publication marketing and publicity path, as established by publishers determined to recoup their sizeable advance investment. Burrell gives us a measured portion of the juicier stuff in a process that’s the print equivalent of a free 10-minute teaser on a pay-to-view porn channel.
There the analogy ends. No porn trailer is interrupted by contrary opinion from moral majority campaigners and a deluge of commentators dissing the whole show, casting aspersions on its contents, construction, plot and ramifications, and speculating on the ethics, looks, abilities and motives of the performers involved.
The Observer has chosen to view Burrell as a hard-bitten media manipulator who learned his art from his erstwhile mistress. Other papers have opted for a comprehensive slagging, on the basis that they weren’t able to buy him, so they needed an angle as damage limitation to sustain circulation while the Mirror’s presses rolled into overdrive to meet prurient public demand.
The Mirror (more particularly reporter Steve Dennis) played a canny game, and looked after its man. The Mirror and Dennis convinced Burrell and supposedly his agent his needs would be best served by writing the blockbuster Burrell Bites Back and – hey, here’s an idea – why not sell the serialisation rights to The Mirror? Because Paul, and I mean this most sincerely, all of us here at the Mirror really like you, we care for you, and we think you’ve been treated atrociously. We’re your mates. Talk to any of those other bastards and they’ll rip you to shreds.
All of this must have made perfect sense to Burrell, because he wanted it to, and because the sums and celebrity involved stacked up very nicely. The old deal with the devil point barely needs making: celebrity is a fickle thing, and while it offers rich returns, those returns come at a high personal price.
I don’t know what kind of a man Paul Burrell is. I don’t know whether he has the strength to ignore the intense public and media hatred and contempt that is now, in some quarters, his lot for life. He may be thoroughly resilient, and so convinced of the justice of his case and the probity of his actions that continuing adverse criticism will have no effect upon him whatsoever. If this is the case, there will be no personal price to pay and he should be able to invest his millions, turn his back on the world and its natterings, and rest easy til the end of his days.
I doubt this is his intention. My suspicion would be that here is an autograph hunter, a collector of trifles and an inadvertent party to secrets who has thoroughly lost touch with reality. He’s been removed from reality by the plausible voices of his paymasters. His life and presentation will be determined for him, by them, until he’s fulfilled his useful function and has been spat out by the media machine, or until he has been milled back and forth through it that any sense of his own identity has been wrung out of him.
If Burrell was adept at the PR game and had stopped to take a proper, strategic comprehensive overview of his situation, he would never have found himself in this position. It could have been different. He could have taken his secrets to the grave. He could have stood as an embodiment of honourable conduct – there lies a real industry. If the house of Windsor had behaved differently and thought about caring for him, history might have a different story to tell. It would have been a dignified transaction, and his integrity would have remained intact.
Why didn’t that happen? Because neither party in the case showed any integrity.
Instead, we have a shoddy fight between a disgraced butler with a princess’s knickers in his drawer and claims to have a stash of dirty Windsor washing neatly folded in the wardrobe, and a monarchy needing an industrial cleaning exercise to restore the shine to its heavily tarnished reputation.
Integrity and honourable conduct don’t make good soap opera material. Those who think these events presage the collapse of the monarchy are, like Burrell, failing to take a proper overview.
The piranhas of the tabloid press will stop short of picking the flesh off a hallowed, multimillion pound institution. But as for Burrell, he’s going to be eaten alive – and soon. He will learn that if God chooses to curse you, he makes you a rich celebrity.