PRINCE PHILandering? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink: Why the tabloid protection racket has revived old insinuations...

What a squalid affair... I mean... uh... redacted.

“Nice Royal Family you’ve got there, shame if anything were to happen to it.”

Accusing the newspapers of being racist was seen as the main reason the tabloids lost their minds over Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview, but there was a second claim that actually angered them more.

It was when Harry explained how in hock to the tabloids his family actually are. He explained plainly:

I am acutely aware of how scared my family are of the UK tabloids… if you as a family member are willing to wine and dine and give access to these reporters, you will get better press… the institution survives based on that perception… For so many of my family, there is a level of control because they are afraid of what the papers are going to say.

I covered this in a newsletter edition in the aftermath of the interview. Now it’s time to revisit the issue as a shockingly blatant example of the protection racket in action appeared this weekend in The Mail on Sunday.

Nestled in its acres of coverage of Prince Philip’s death, The Mail on Sunday went out of its way to write a story about one particular darling friend of the Duke. But why?

The story is headlined Carriage-driving friend Penny mourns privately in print and the more luxuriously insinuating lead-in Prince Philip's carriage-driving friend Penny Brabourne privately mourns his death after being a regular visitor to Sandringham in recent years online.

A “regular visitor”, hey lads? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Now let’s take a look at the subheads from the online version, in which I’ve helpfully bolded up the code words:

  • Penny Brabourne, Countess Mountbatten of Burma was Philip's close friend

  • The pair shared a love for the exhilarating equestrian sport of carriage-driving

  • She was also a regular visitor at Wood Farm, where the Prince retired to  

The open paragraphs of the main copy really push their luck:

As the Queen mourns her beloved husband, one of Prince Philip’s closest friends and confidantes, Penny Brabourne, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, is also grieving.

The Countess was a regular visitor at Wood Farm, the cottage on the edge of the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk where the Prince spent much of his time after retiring from public life in August 2017.

Prince Philip was 99-years-old when he died and had accrued a lot of friends in his long life, so the question again is why the MoS is dedicating a whole story to this particular friend.

The Mail and Mail on Sunday have published articles having in both ways about the Duke of Edinburgh’s ‘friendship’ with the Countess for years. They heavily insinuate that something more than friendship occurred while clutching their pearls at the disrespect of others who engaged in base gossip.

For example, back in 2015, The Mail ran a story headlined One's still got it! As he flirts outrageously at 93, friends say Philip's bond with a blonde aristocrat keeps him young. But what DOES the Queen think? 

Bylined to Richard Kay, who has written much of the paper’s coverage of Prince Philip’s death, the article begins:

Who else but Prince Philip, just three weeks short of his 94th birthday, could get a look like this from a beautiful woman? And make no mistake, even at 62, Penny Brabourne remains striking.

Tall, slender and blonde — and separated from her husband — she and Philip have been close ever since he took it upon himself in 1994 to teach her carriage driving.

Gossip about them has never been allowed to spoil their relationship. Indeed, it is said that Penny's enthusiasm for the sport has been crucial in keeping Philip's aged hands on the reins.

Because, of course, the heavy implication of “but what DOES the Queen think?” in the headline was not even remotely close to gossip.

The paper stepped close to the edge of admitting that Prince Philip conducted affairs other than of state during his marriage to the Queen without actually coming out and saying it:

The Queen, sitting just feet away, was relieved to see her husband of 67 years looking so relaxed and contented.

She has always known, and accepted, Philip's fondness for the company of beautiful women, and he has never made a secret of it.

'Flirtatiousness at his age is quite good for him,' says one of the Queen's oldest friends. 'It keeps him chirpy.'

Over the years Philip's name has been linked with many women, from the late Jane, Countess of Westmoreland and Alexandra, wife of brewery heir Lord Tollemache, to the actresses Anna Massey and Merle Oberon.

Later in the piece, a ‘source’ allegedly close to The Queen goes further:

At the same time, she is also worldly enough to accept, as her close friend puts it, that: 'Some men have certain needs and that doesn't mean they love their wives any the less.'

Now, ordinarily, I couldn’t give a toss about someone else’s marriage, but since the Duke of Edinburgh’s death, we have been sold a propagandistic bill of goods about his honourable nature and steadfast commitment to the Queen, even as the tabloids tease “those who know” with tidbits of gossip.

The use of euphemisms in the 2015 Mail article is particularly ludicrous:

'[The Queen] accepted that he took a lot of amusing,' says a close figure. 'I've always felt his need for amusement outside his marriage had something to do with him being such an active and demanding consort, while having to take a back seat to his wife.

How’s your amusement life? Have you amused anyone other than your partner recently? You know, given someone a good hard amusement.

Prince Philip’s taste for extra-marital amusement wasn’t just a topic taken up by the Mail titles either.

In 2017, spurred on by the release of the second season of The Crown, a piece appeared in The Sun headlined PHIL-ANDERER? Prince Philip may have cheated on the Queen – but ‘Lilibet’ is his only love. That’s the same Sun which has dedicated hundreds of pages in its recent editions to the ‘enduring love story’ of Liz and Phil.

Similarly, The Evening Standard had huge fun in 2004 when it reported on ‘revelations’ in Gyles Brandreth’s biography of Prince Philip (which is set for a refresh and reprint in May):

The Duke of Edinburgh enjoyed a 'highly-charged' relationship with a beautiful aristocrat 25 years his junior, according to a highly authoritative biography.

The Duchess of Abercorn admitted to royal author Gyles Brandreth, a friend of Philip, that she had a 'passionate friendship' with him for more than 20 years, describing him as someone who 'needs a playmate'.

The book gives credence to rumours that the 83-year- old prince has been unfaithful to the Queen by quoting another aristocrat as saying he 'has had fullblown affairs, and more than one'.

These details are easily found so why is The Mail on Sunday engaged in insinuation? Because it’s all part of the protection racket.

Prince Philip is gone and The Queen is unlikely to be focused on the tabloid press discussing his dalliances. But the MoS’s message is intended for younger royals who might be considering ‘doing a Harry’ and refusing to quietly comply with the newspapers incessant hunger for royal scoops.

The foreign press — free from the snarl and bite of British libel laws — has reported extensively on Prince William’s alleged peccadillos, which are not a new line of nuts from Duchy Originals… The British newspapers are well aware of these rumours and probably have more they could report.

But papers like The Mail find it far more useful to have William and Kate onside; to be able to print calendars of the royal couple’s children without censure and to get them to support tabloid charity campaigns and drip news into the eager ears of the royal correspondents — like, for instance, this week’s tidbit about Tom Bradby being out in the cold after displeasing Wills.

The Mail On Sunday piece about Penny Brabourne ends with a particularly loaded paragraph…

Members of the Royal Family, the Queen in particular, were reportedly full of admiration for the way the Countess insisted that life on the historic estate must go on as normal after her husband’s affair.

… which has all the chemical sharpness of a Sherbet Lemon.

The article’s protection racket vibe is designed to hit celebrities and well-known people of all kinds too. Like government whips, the newspapers also have plenty of dirt stashed on prominent politicians.

Back in 2011, Hugh Grant nailed the way that part of the protection racket works during an appearance on Question Time:

I think you were frightened of falling out with, for instance, Murdoch, because at that time you probably still thought he could get you elected. But more importantly — this is the sinister business — there’s an individual threat going on. MPs were terrified individually of taking on any of the tabloids but especially anything from News International…

MPs have been on an individual basis absolutely terrified. It was, after all, Chris Bryant… who asked Rebekah Brookes, the question ‘Have you ever paid the police?’, and when she made her terrible gaffe and said yes. Six months later, what happens? Chris Bryant is outed by The Sun as being gay. This is a protection racket and this should not be called anything else.

The other reason for the MoS’s insinuations is to show off that it knows and that others “in the know” can decode that barely hidden information. It makes a mockery of the love story it has been telling in its Prince Philip tribute coverage but that’s not surprising — nothing the Mail titles do is in good faith or free of a thick coating of bitter cynicism.

The British newspapers are telling us a confected, fairytale story about the monarchy because it suits them and the firm alike. But they also cannot stop themselves from winking to the real truth which is that the Windsors are more nuclear waste than nuclear family.

Whether it’s allowing Prince Andrew’s public rehabilitation to begin — as I covered yesterday — or telling us that there was loyalty and love where in fact there was loutishness and lotharioism, the tabloids continue to piss on our heads and assure us it’s raining.