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Diana Sunday, 1 March, 1998, 15:22 GMT
The changing face of the monarchy
royal family
Happier times: the royal family in 1996
Six months after the death of Diana, BBC court correspondent Paul Reynolds analyses the way the Royal Family is re-examining its role in society.

Paul Reynolds
Paul Reynolds
The news that the Royal Family is considering the appointment of a "spin doctor" to take control of its public relations shows just how far the monarchy has been forced to consider its image and role.

The crisis of confidence was thrown into dramatic focus after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Many people were saddened or even offended by what was seen to be the family's slow response to the public mood that week.

In her broadcast on the eve of Diana's funeral, the Queen said that "lessons would be learned". A senior Palace source confided to me later: "We nearly lost it." What, therefore, is being done?

The way ahead

To start with, the re-examination had begun before Diana's death. Several years ago, the royal family set up a discussion procedure known as the Way Ahead Group. Senior members of the family, with the Queen herself in the chair, got together twice a year, during the holidays at Balmoral and Sandringham.

One of the first decisions was that the Queen should pay tax. Then, after the Windsor Castle fire of November 1992, it was agreed that the tax payers should not pick up the bill for restoration, but that Buckingham Palace would be open to the public in the summer and the money raised in that way instead.

The Way Ahead Group also examined whether the royal family was casting its net wide enough in its visits. Were there sections of society being "left out"?

There was a brisk spring cleaning of royal finances, with the appointment of a hot shot City accountant, Michael Peat.

The Civil List was cut back and now only the Queen, Prince Philip and the Queen Mother are supported by the taxpayer. Even royal travel was changed, with a budget now set each year and flights for visits abroad even put out to tender.

The Royal Yacht Britannia was scrapped and the Queen did not press for a replacement.

So a great deal was done long before Diana's death and indeed some people in the Palace felt that the worst was over. Then came the events of August 31, 1997.

The sudden outpouring of public emotion took royal officials by surprise. It was realised that all the changes which had been made were not enough.

"Touchy feely" future?

What the public appeared to want was a more "caring" monarchy, something in the style of Diana herself.

Their problem was that the royal family has been trained from infancy to hide emotion and to present the traditional stiff upper lip. Yet suddenly, people were demanding that the family became more "touchy feely".

The response has been to try to react in some way to this demand without throwing over all the old virtues. Prince Charles, who has a fine record of work among the young unemployed with his Prince's Trust, is now talking more easily with the media.

Two years ago, he managed to go on a trip round Central Asia for nine days without saying hello once to the small press party with him. On a recent visit to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, in contrast, he chatted away quite easily.

But, clearly, there is a way to go. The discussions among the focus groups have shown an ambiguous public response.

The royal family is felt to be an important part of British public life but is seen as too remote. So now we have the prospect of a super communications chief. His or her role will not be easy. The royal ship of state can only change direction slowly.

BBC News special report online:
Death of a Princess: Six months on...

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