Putting a spin on the prince

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 August, 1998, 12:00am

While he is unlikely to ever be known as the people's prince, 12 months after the tragedy in Paris the prospect of Prince Charles becoming king is proving more popular than it has for years.

As he approaches his 50th birthday in November his public image has been rehabilitated, even though there are many who still see him as being out of touch and intellectually vain.

The campaign to project the Prince of Wales as a more caring member of the royal family has been carefully planned.

His two principal spin doctors, Mark Bolland, his private secretary, and Tom Shebbeare, director of the Prince's Trust, have been arranging photo-opportunities and trying to persuade newspaper editors to take him more seriously.

The battle to rebuild his public image started before Princess Diana's death, in the months after his divorce. But now Diana is no longer there to upstage him he has appeared more comfortable in the public eye and less threatened by press attention.

His office denies there has been any deliberate attempt to make the Prince of Wales appear more human.

'He is just doing all the same sort of things he did before. He is connected to about 400 charities so he meets an awful lot of people but there has been no attempt to make him look different,' a St James's Palace spokesman said.

But the spokesman said Prince Charles's diary had been altered to allow him to spend more time with his sons. 'Last November Harry was due to spend some time with his mother while Prince Charles went on an official tour of Africa. That was changed around so that Harry could accompany him and they were able to go on safari together, there are lots of instances where we have had to make those sort of arrangements.' The first signs of Prince Charles' media rehabilitation appeared on that tour, where journalists said he seemed able to chat with them informally for the first time in almost 10 years.

Publicity peaked on that tour when he allowed himself to be photographed with the Spice Girls at the home of South African President Nelson Mandela.

The picture revealed a prince who appeared relaxed and confident and was compared with a previous meeting when one of the Spice Girls pinched his bum and left him looking ridiculous.

Earlier this month he visited Omagh to express his sympathy for the people of a town where 28 had been killed and more than 200 injured in a car bombing.

Some questioned the value of the trip but residents of Omagh, who identified themselves as republicans, said they were grateful for the support and admitted they had waited beside the road for several hours to get a glimpse of the royal visitor.

A public opinion poll earlier this month found 54 per cent of people thought he would make a good king, compared with just 40 per cent in November last year, the first time in four years the majority had given him their approval. But the queen has made it clear she has no intention of abdicating, and it may be a long time before the public faces the reality of seeing Charles sitting on the throne.