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The BBC's Nick Higham
"Last week's stories about the princess have caused a frenzy"
 real 56k

Sunday, 8 April, 2001, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Minister says royals are 'bonkers'
The Count and Countess of Wessex
The Countess of Wessex caused a media storm
Consumer Affairs Minister Kim Howells has widened the row over Sophie, Countess of Wessex, by describing all royals as "a bit bonkers".

Downing Street distanced itself from the comments, but not before one Conservative MP condemned them as "the latest round in New Labour's republican agenda".

Consumer Affairs Minister Kim Howells
No more talking : Kim Howells MP
The countess stood down as chairman of her PR firm on Sunday after her full interview with an undercover reporter posing as an Arab sheikh was published in News on the World.

Last week two newspapers described derogatory comments Prince Edward's wife was said to have made in the interview about public figures.

No attraction

Dr Howells told The Daily Telegraph that he had "never understood the attraction of royalty".

He added: "This isn't the first generation. They're all a bit bonkers.

"They choose very strange partners, they're not managing the modern world very well."

He has so far refused to make any further comment.

At his home in Pontypridd, south Wales, he refused to be interviewed, telling reporters: "I've said all I'm going to say. I've got no further comment."

They're all a bit bonkers... they're not managing the modern world very well."

Dr Kim Howells

Downing Street made clear that Dr Howells' thoughts did not reflect government policy.

Asked about the comments, a No 10 spokeswoman would say only: "The prime minister's support for the monarchy is well known, and that remains the case."

Young and vulnerable

Gerald Howarth, Conservative MP for Aldershot, said ministers should be supportive of the "young and vulnerable" countess, who runs a PR company.

"Their attacks on her, and the Prime Minister's silence, could be seen as the latest round in New Labour's republican agenda," he said.

Murray Harkin
Preparing for revelations: Sophie's business partner Murray Harkin
"First they removed most of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords, now they seek to discredit minor royals and then they will leave the sovereign isolated."

Mr Howarth added: "Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, should take a grip instead of standing neutrally between press entrapment, blackmail and betrayal and a young and vulnerable member of the royal family."

Hangers on

His party colleague David Davis took a different view, urging junior members of the royal family to support the dignity of the monarchy - or "shut up."

Mr Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden, said: "It is very important to support the Queen, the Queen Mother, Prince Charles - but all the other hangers-on, I think we have to take a slightly different view on."

Mr Davis said he believed Sophie and other junior royals should earn a living but in a way that did not undermine the monarchy.

Their (ministers') attacks on her, and the Prime Minister's silence, could be seen as the latest round in New Labour's republican agenda

Tory MP Gerald Howarth

The News of the World devoted ten pages to the story, including the transcript of conversations between Sophie, her business partner, Murray Harkin, and its undercover reporter Mahzer Mahmood.

Details of the conversation reported to have taken place between Sophie and Mr Mahmood, were printed in two newspapers last Sunday.

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