As Thomas Markle has discovered, the royal relatives are easy tabloid prey

All the immediate members of the royal family have battalions of press officers. Not so their relatives. 

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There was James Middleton and his cupcakes, Ronnie Ferguson’s nocturnal wanderings and Gary Goldsmith and his temper, so you will forgive me if I don’t now get all hot and bothered about Thomas Markle making a few quid out of posing for the paparazzi.

Of course there is a scale of sins when it comes to the conduct of royal relatives and I would certainly put what Thomas is alleged to have done on the lower rungs of it – certainly closer to, say, commercial cupcake-making than knocking your wife to the ground. 

I would also say that, while money may never have changed hands in the past, what Thomas has done is not without precedent. Talk to a lot of the old Fleet Street snappers and they will tell you how the late Diana, Princess of Wales, would often actively connive with them to get the sort of photographs she wanted on to the front pages of the tabloids.

What I would therefore like to say to Thomas Markle – not a bad man, from what I hear, who I hope will yet decide to walk his daughter down the aisle – is that all he has managed to do is to lose out in a no-win situation.

It works like this on newspapers, particularly the tabloids. All the immediate members of the royal family have battalions of press officers and image consultants – not to mention policemen – to keep pesky journalists at a safe distance.

On the rare occasions that we are ever granted access, it is on their terms. We must have been vetted over a long period of time for them to be absolutely certain we will be friendly. If these encounters are going to be embarrassing for anyone, then the royal press team makes damn sure it is the toadying hack.

Relatives of those marrying into the royal family – particularly in the early days, before they get wise to how it all works – make much easier prey. They have more often than not had no experience whatsoever of dealing with the press, and still quaintly believe that they know how to handle themselves around journalists. 

Their telephone numbers and addresses are often publicly available. It’s generally possible just to drop by on them. They will generally have friends, and, better still from the journalists’ point of view, enemies, who are also all happily accessible and generally amenable to making a few quid on the side.

What the relatives seldom, if ever, twig is that they are deemed to be fair game by editors from the moment news of a royal romance breaks. The techniques employed are always the same: move in quickly, try to befriend them by flattery, maybe even run a few positive pieces to start with to lull them into a false sense of security, and then strike at the first sign they are doing anything remotely naughty, or can, if necessary, be pushed into doing.

It is all a game to the journalists, of course, but sadly it tends to be profoundly traumatic for their victims. Towards the end of his life, I talked to Ronald Ferguson – who was photographed emerging from a dodgy club in Wigmore Street – and, more recently, James Hewitt, Princess Diana’s lover. They both reeled off the names of journalists they had once thought of as friends, but subsequently felt had betrayed them. They had both been pretty tough guys in their day, but I would say they were broken by what they were put through: weary with life and heartily sick of it all. I hope very much that the same fate does not now befall Mr Markle. It’s not, after all, his fault who his daughter is marrying.

Tim Walker is the diary editor of The New European