Of all the nasty effects of spin doctoring – and there are many – the worst is that you don’t know who to believe any more. It’s a bit like life in the Elizabethan court or Soviet Russia, where nothing was as it seemed, no one was to be trusted, and everything said or whispered had layers of possible meanings, none of them to the listener’s advantage.
It makes cynics of us all, even a trusting fellow such as your correspondent whose belief in the essential worth of his fellow man, not to mention the essential beauty and goodness of his fellow woman, remained unscathed by a lifetime in the bruising, treacherous world of putting pen to paper. Until recently, that is. Now, I read the papers like an English batsman trying to read Shane Warne. I pat the crease nervously, mouth dry, brain throbbing. Will it be the leg break, the flipper or the googly? One thing is certain – its true intention will be wrapped in devious spin. Soon I shall be trudging back to that great pavilion where the gullible, the banjaxed and the bewildered huddle together in a shared ignorance.
This shameful Mandelson-bred disbelief that spreads like a canker, destroying confidence and giving the lie to every truth, has, I tremble to confess, led me to doubt the trustworthiness even of the Queen herself.
Why, I wonder, light-headed from the poisonous cynicism that comes from swallowing the spin doctors’ medicine, does Her Majesty suddenly spring from the printed page, a lively, relaxed, jocular old bird, given to all manner of practical pleasantry, when previously she was the embodiment of stiff formality and solemn protocol?
The first inkling that all was not as it should be came with the revelation that the Monarch is a soccer fan, something not hitherto suspected by even the most ardent royalist. Horses, yes. But muddied oafs? Apparently so. Her Majesty watched the World Cup match between England and Argentina on a television specially installed at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh whose butlers, footmen, chambermaids, ladies-in-waiting, and keepers of the wardrobe were taken by surprise.
When the Queen asked for a TV set to be put in the drawing room there was panic. “Like most of the more prestigious rooms in the palace, there is no aerial point in the drawing room,” explained a source-in-waiting. “So the picture was terrible.” Immediately the call went out for engineers from Historic Scotland (so much more dependable than Dixons) who put a temporary aerial on the roof. It was touch and go. “With minutes to spare before the Queen arrived, the men were feeding the wire discreetly down the outside of the building and in through the window,” adds the source. (See what I mean? A Dixons man would not have a clue how to feed a wire discreetly. It’s not in the manual.)
Next we have an unprecedented insight into the Queen watching televised footie. When Michael Owen scored, she cheered. When Campbell’s goal was disallowed, she leapt from her seat, threw her hands in the air and declared, “One is not amused.” (The royal equivalent of “I’m dead gutted”.)
Here was an historic moment to rival any in the long pageant of our national story. The unveiling of a monarch who, unbeknown to her subjects, shares their joys, their sorrows, their passions. A monarch who is, in spirit anyway, a lager drinker and a pizza basher. A monarch who can see beyond Alan Shearer’s tendency to stick his elbow in an opponent’s eye to the greater purpose that guides us all, namely an England victory.
As if that was not enough to make one warm to the People’s Queen, next we learn she has a talent for mimicry and specialises in a wicked take-off of the Reverend Ian Paisley. I hope her impersonation is not the one favoured by a journalist acquaintance of mine who, on greeting the great Ulsterman at London Airport with the inquiry, “Dr Paisley, why are you here?” was rewarded with the booming response, “I am here on God’s work. So piss off!” However, should Her Majesty wish to add that story to her repertoire, I am sure my informant would be honoured and the people who watch soccer in the company of their sovereign would have added cause for merriment during the half-time interval.
There’s more. Remember the man who was hurt when a piece of the ceiling at Buckingham Palace fell on his head during an investiture? Well, he too reports that the Queen is very charming and amusing. He hasn’t watched football with her or seen her do her Tommy Cooper, but he’s met her at a garden party. “Stay out in the open,” she warned him with a smile, earning the headline “Queen jokes with ceiling man”. Admittedly, as gags go, it wasn’t the boffo (the joke that kills), but it served once again to shed new light on the Queen.
And that is what makes me suspicious. All three of these stories appeared within days of each other and with each, the Queen seemed more accessible, more relaxed, more – dammit – matey than one would have believed possible. Can it be a coincidence that Her Majesty has recently appointed a “communications secretary”. He is Simon Lewis, a former gasman, and no stranger to leaks.