Iain Murray: Prince with common touch or a touch of the common?

Panic is spreading over the appointment of Prince Andrew as an ambassador for trade. What effect will his gaffe-prone personality have on trade?

In an extraordinary act of lèse-majesté, people are questioning the suitability of the Duke of York as chief marketing representative for British exports.

In July, Prince Andrew will succeed his second cousin, the Duke of Kent, as a roving ambassador for the Government-sponsored body British Trade International. And already the whispering has started. Several unnamed, high-ranking Palace officials are said to be pursing their lips and muttering.

When people do both those things together, it is difficult to make out what they are saying, but the gist of it is that the prince is bound to make a hash of the job.

Apparently, he has let it be known that he is looking forward to what he sees as a high profile job. In truth, mumble the officials, the post amounts to little more than accompanying boring business persons on trade missions. The prince, it is whispered, will soon weary of this task and before you can say “bill of lading”, will have nipped off to practise his ambassadorial skills in the local flesh pots.

Here we come to the nub, gist and pith of the criticism levelled at Andrew, namely that, though many and admirable are his qualities, they inc

lude neither tact nor diplomacy. In common with his father, he has a propensity to allow his first thoughts to escape untrammelled into speech. At the recent party to mark the tenth anniversary of the Press Complaints Commission (Whatever next? A party to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the litter bin?), the prince spotted David Yelland, the bald editor of The Sun and a man he’d never met and shouted out, “I thought you were Duncan Goodhew”. The unfortunate Yelland, who suffers from alopecia, was not amused.

However, as gaffes go, this hardly registers. Apart from the fact that no editor of The Sun, past or present, is qualified to take offence at anything at all, the prince might have been far more indiscreet. He could, for instance, have quipped, “I thought you were a billiard ball.” Or “Omigod, I hadn’t realised this was a fancy dress do. What are you? Don’t tell me, a belisha beacon on a wet night. Am I right?”

Other charges levelled at the prince are that his tastes run to the louche. To the pursed lips at the palace, add flared nostrils and rolling eyes when memories of his recent trip to Thailand are evoked. The nation, you will recall, rejoiced in pictures of the Queen’s second son reclining aboard a yacht amid, as the tabloids put it “a bevy of topless nubile young women”. (It is perhaps because “nubile” has connotations of supple, lithe sensuality that it has come to suggest “sexually appealing”. In fact, it means “marriageable” and since two of the prince’s companions were already legally mated, they were victims of a misnomer. They were, however, unquestionably topless.)

Andrew later explained that he was just reading a book and was not really aware of what everyone else was doing. I, for one, am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. “The Exporter’s Handbook” is an addictive read. No eager mind could fail to be engrossed in its contents (the chapter on GATT is especially gripping) that a whirligig of frolicking, naked and nubile-save-for-the-wedding-ring womanhood would pass unnoticed.

So let’s hear less of this carping. After all, what is it that we sell abroad? Cashmere jumpers and Scotch whisky market themselves. Invisible exports, particularly financial services, are a specialised business in specified markets. Which leaves us with fashion and popular music, the products of Cool Britannia so favoured by our leader, himself the glass of fashion and mould of form.

And who better to promote our ascendancy in these fields than the Duke of York? A glance at the reviews of the recent London Fashion Week confirm this assessment.

According to one report, the collection shown by designer Maria Grachvogel used “boudoir-inspired lace, chiffon and sequinned frocks looking as if they had been designed purely for the bedroom”.

Outfits included “mini-dresses cut to the thigh, draped seductively around heaving cleavages. Evening gowns exposed not only the entire back but also the builders’ cleavages of the curvaceous models. Dresses were secured in place by spaghetti straps or daring corsets…”

Bootless to put the marketing of products such as these into the inept hands of some dusty technocrat from the Department of Trade and Industry. No, when it comes to propounding the technical specifications underpinning a heaving cleavage what you need is the touch that is the unique gift of the Blood Royal.

Sales conventions can be stuffy, stilted occasions. What better to thaw the ice at a party than one of Prince Andrew’s jocular asides? I can see him now, nudging the rib of a Japanese buyer and bellowing, “Phwooar! Clock those spaghetti straps! Pasta and two bouncing blancmanges! I’ll have a portion of that!”

A nation so inventive that it can take a builder’s cleavage and turn it into a marketable asset deserves a prince among salesmen. In Andrew we have one.

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