Hold the front page! Sophie can't get her shoes on


It was a wedding palpitating with paradox. A dress medieval yet modern. A private affair watched by 200 million people on television. Would Sophie's shoes be remade in time? Would Prince Philip deliver a gangsta-rap wedding oration? Does Sophie look more like Jill Dando than Princess Diana? And would any newspaper astrologer dare to predict marital failure?

Media-watchers debated an even more searching array of questions. Having grovelled over its photograph of a part of Sophie's body that many feel sums up perfectly the character of its editor, how would the Sun behave? Would anyone get a picture of the reclusive Prince William? How would Rosie Boycott's right-on Express behave: would it light up a fag in church? Would Piers Morgan, new man-of-the- establishment, insist his staff wore evening-dress to work all week? And how would the Palace's new, improved public relations hold up?

The build-up to the wedding was slow. Even as late as Friday, several newspapers ignored it, as royal correspondents complained about the lack of usable leaks from the Palace. The Queen was shown attending Ascot as usual, round the corner from Windsor, proving that Sophie's PR instincts were right in choosing to hold the wedding there. But the Sun had the best royal story of the week. Its MORI poll showed that most of us now think Camilla Parker Bowles should appear at Prince Charles's side at public events and should live with him, though only a third of us wants them to marry. Crucially, Camilla is no longer seen as an impediment to Charles's becoming king, though only 17 per cent think Camilla should be queen. So how did Camilla do at the wedding? Well, actually, she wasn't invited.

Given that Friday saw rioting in the City of London and the end of an eventful week in Kosovo, the serious Saturday papers had plenty of big stories to choose from. So the Times led with Sophie's shoe problems and then, being the official paper of the Poet Laureate, devoted a whole page to discussing Andrew Motion's "Epithalamium", a mostly well-received 12-liner that formed the entire basis of the Independent's coverage and the sole topic of comment for the Daily Telegraph's editorial.

Being plus royaliste que le roi obliged the Telegraph to show respect for the couple's (and the poet's) preference for non-intrusion into private matters, but this surely cannot explain the Sun's lack of interest in the wedding. It contributed a dingy two-page guide and a lifeless page one report that Sophie was looking "tan-tastic" after a couple of days in Italy. The award for most banal front page of the week, however, goes to Monday's Mirror, which revealed that Prince Edward had become an "earl twice over" in Windsor, because his initials are EARL. Well, fancy that.

This should not diminish our admiration for Lord Piers Morgan of Canary Towers, who gave his readers two special souvenir sections on Saturday, a level of enthusiasm sustained by his colleagues at the Sunday Mirror and the People and then across 11 pages in Monday's Mirror. The New Statesman's lawyers wish to make it clear that there is no suggestion that Morgan is seeking to take advantage of the low esteem in which his rival, David Yelland, is currently held in royal circles.

Sunday's coverage was plain tedious, though I was surprised that no one used the best picture - of Sophie in swirling veil - on its front page. I concentrated upon the hunt for Will Windsor, who has developed to an advanced level the schoolboy art of avoiding having your picture taken. He was not visible in a single group shot in the Sunday papers and snapped only once alongside his brother with a long lens. We learnt 48 hours later that the official photographer had felt obliged to digitally engineer a grinning William into the official family shot. I propose that he be made head boy at once.

You are still wondering how the Express came out? Actually, not badly. Its coverage characteristically combined the most fatuous banality - not least in its editorial column - with genuine energy and invention. Ed Docx may look like a misprint, but his spoof best-man speech was the funniest of the wedding and, in assessing Sophie's career, Topaz Amoore rose a few centimetres above the mush about ordinary working couples too busy to honeymoon.

The Palace, I'm sure, is purring. Having stuffed the Sun's throat with confetti, courtiers will be weighing, not counting, the editorials that looked forward to a happy, glorious, sexually faithful and appropriately modern royal marriage. The only flaw in the royal diamond is the lingering debate about the new titles, through which the Palace is trying to tell us that, while Edward and Sophie are recognised royals, their children will not be. The Guardian grumbled about the Ruritanian "Duke of Lymeswold" character of the handles, but only the Daily Mail was sharply dyspeptic. In requiring Edward and Sophie to shed their status as "ordinary private citizens", the Palace showed it had "not yet fully learnt from past mistakes", it said.

It's curious that it takes the royal-loving, marriage- moralising Mail to remind us that, for all the astrologists' predictions, the chances are that the newspapers will eventually find trouble in this new branch of the royal family and that then, because of the titles, the institution of the monarchy will be hurt just a little more than would otherwise have been the case.

Or maybe the Palace believes the astrologists.

The writer is professor of journalism at Cardiff University

This article first appeared in the 28 June 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Buy your home and kill a job