Prince Harry Spare Toxic Symbiotic Relationship Fleet Street Buckingham Palace – Deadline
After more than 30 years writing a column about celebs and pop culture at the London Daily Mail, Baz Bamigboye moved to Deadline and today, we launch Breaking Baz. This will be a regular column of scoops and perspective from Baz’s London-centric perch. What better way to start than with Spare , the biting memoir by Prince Harry. The gossipy revelations have been spilled here and everywhere. Bamigboye is uniquely positioned to comment on this Royal rumble, the pressure to dig up dirt and the complicity of Fleet Street and Buckingham Palace played in the daily scrum that led to the death of Harry and William’s mother Princess Diana, and created the rupture between Harry and his family that led to their exit to California, and to spill the tea in unprecedented fashion.
The call came from an editor on the night news desk in London. It was about Randy Andy. Prince Andrew would later be known by his formal title the Duke of York, but in 1982 this was his tabloid handle, long before he was disgraced by his association with paedo Jeffrey Epstein. The caller said that Randy Andy was headed to the Caribbean with an actress named Koo Stark. And a rival tabloid, the Daily Express, was on that plane with them.
My assignment: fly over and find them, and take a monkey with me. That was what they called their photographers back then, but you wouldn’t do that now, quite rightly. There was no reason for my editor to add that I had better scoop the competition. That was a given, as were the unspoken marching orders: do whatever necessary, without getting arrested.
It was Fall in New York, where I was based at the time. I scrambled out of my fifth floor walk-up on Greenwich Avenue, grabbed a taxi and headed for JFK. By the time we reached Barbados, my editors at the Sun learned that the prince and his showgirl, booked under the alias of Mr. and Mrs. Cambridge, had touched down in Antigua and were now en route to Barbados. The betting was they were headed to the private island of Mustique. Nestled in the Grenadines, this was the holiday hideaway often used by Andrew’s aunt, Princess Margaret, sister of Andrew’s mother, Queen Elizabeth.
We were told that we’d be denied entry if we flew to Mustique. I decided to pool resources with the Daily Mail’s U.S. correspondent, who’d also taken that red-eye from New York. It was a tight fit on the yacht we chartered. We bunked in small quarters, packed like sardines. I still remember the indescribable odour of the Daily Mail snapper’s feet wafting up my nostrils. So glamorous.
The local police informed us that we could either row a boat or swim from the yacht to eat and drink at the famous Mustique haunt, Basil’s Bar. But we had to sleep on the yacht. And stay away from Andrew and the actress. We’ll jail you if we catch you, the cops warned, and they weren’t kidding.
A day or so later, a flotilla of charters bobbed away at Basil’s hangout. Instead of going back to the yacht after breakfast, a few of us slipped away to where we’d heard Mr. and Mrs. Cambridge were holed up. The place had a high fence and security patrols. I’m not well suited for crawling around in undergrowth. I’m 6’2” tall, and my hair was long and bushy, like Michael Jackson wore his. I could feel bugs tagging along to find their way to chew on my scalp. And mosquitoes? They just loved the taste of my regal Nigerian blood.
It all seemed for naught, as there was no sign of our quarry. We were spending heaps of money at Basil’s, and to show his appreciation, the owner went over to nearby Bequia by boat to collect a suckling pig to roast in a pit for us. That little piglet was delicious. We ate, we drank, told stories, we belched.
But not all of us were doing that. The plan was for two of the monkeys, working with me and for the Mail, to scoot off into the night and bury themselves by the house where we believed Andrew and Koo were ensconced. The other journos at Basil’s shindig wouldn’t notice. They were all blotto.
Next morning as I rowed over early to Basil’s, I started to hear rumours that our monkeys had somewhat appropriately been caught up in a tree, taking pictures. Along with the Mail reporter, I raced to the jail to try and get our guys released. My heart was beating because I was praying that he’d gotten more of a result than getting arrested.
The self-satisfied officers at the island’s tiny police station told us that after searching the photographers, they found two rolls of film and exposed them, ruining whatever photos they took.
I asked what it would take to get them released. Could one of us speak to them?
I nudged the Mail’s chap outta the way and I was escorted to a cell. They looked forlorn.
The Daily Mail photographer kept scratching the front of his shorts. I had some insect repellent cream in my bag and asked permission to give it to him.
As I approached the cell with the cream, Peter reached through the bars and cupped my hands in appreciation. As I withdrew them, I realized he’d snuck a roll of film into my hands. I quickly pocketed it along with the cream and told our monkeys I’d be back later to get them released.
The Mail’s guy asked if I’d been given anything. I confessed that his photographer had given me some film and the reporter demanded I hand it over because, strictly speaking, it was taken by his monkey.
Trouble is, it was in my pocket and there was no way I was handing it over. His monkey had given the film to me. Nonetheless we agreed to share the results. We concocted a story about needing to go to Barbados to help secure the release of the photographers. Once there, we found an agency stringer, who developed the film while we stood guard over him. We’d spent too many thousands of our newspapers dollars to get screwed now. The photos were not good. But there was one grainy long-lens shot of Andrew and Koo. Randy Andy was bare-chested and Koo wore a swimsuit, amid bushes and trees. It was clear enough where, despite his protestations he does not sweat, Andrew seemed to be glistening in the heat. The solo photo was wired to the Mail and the Sun’s picture desks and I cobbled together some copy.
The Sun carried the photo on the front page with the blaring headline: Me Tarzan, You Koo.
The Mail decided to play it safe and held back. Not wanting to be accused of stalking, they deliberately waited for the Sun to publish. Extremely generous considering that I’d ‘borrowed’ their exclusive photo.
All hell broke out. The prince was ordered back to London by the palace and Koo swiftly departed for Miami. Along with other members of Her Majesty’s press, I accompanied the prince back to Blighty. I and other journalists asked Randy Andy if he cared to comment. Bugger off, came the not so polite response.
Through a spokesman, Andrew later complained that his holiday had been ruined by photographers who stalked him everywhere, and lurked about in the bushes. As I came out of customs and into the arrivals area at Heathrow, one of the waiting TV news folk asked me to justify having spoiled the war hero’s well-deserved holiday, since Andrew was a helicopter pilot in the Falklands, and was on a 5-month leave. I opened my gap-toothed mouth and smiled.
I could weakly justify that it was taxpayer money that enabled Andrew to jet off to Mustique. Certainly, his security was paid for by us. Pompously, I could add that as the U.S. reporter for the Sun – at the time Britain’s biggest selling daily newspaper — I represented the British taxpayer.
I can’t deny that it felt good to step into the Sun’s newsroom to see the Mail’s photo scoop on the Sun’s front page. I received a nice hero-gram from the news desk and a pat on the back from colleagues. The managing editor grumbled something about the cost of the yacht. Couldn’t I have booked a row boat to sleep on, he wondered? I figured he was joking but somehow sensed that he wasn’t. I gave him my best baby Bamigboye gleaming smile which seemed to mollify him. I can only imagine his reaction when he saw my full expense submission. Luckily, by then I was mid air on my way back to NYC.
I did several further tours of duty chasing Andrew as he island-hopped around the Caribbean. There were trips to Canada and later on, one to Newport.
I’ve thought about those heady days, the visceral thrill that the chase left me with as a young man, and how little thought I had that my victory came at the expense of a Royal who was unmarried at the time, and had the audacity to date a pretty starlet. I’ve pondered this again after just reading Spare, Prince Harry’s memoir of a damaged man born into this fishbowl life, and whose shrapnel includes losing his mother in a tragic car crash, and now his relationship with his brother, father and the monarchy. All because of the crushing pressure exacerbated by the kind of thing I did back then, and reporters do every day.
My Randy Andy-Koo scoop came pre-internet, when Fleet Street was thriving, competition was fierce, and delivering that surveillance photo meant the difference of which tabloid commuters bought that day. Dish on Royals sold as many newspapers as dirt on movie and TV stars.
Today the landscape is different. The Daily Mail, where I moved and spent the bulk of my career, is now the UK’s biggest newspaper, selling over a million copies and double that on weekends. The Sun no longer publishes its circulation figures, but they are rumored to be under 1 million a day, far below its 1980s heyday of 3 to 4 million.
The internet rules now, click, click, click all day and all night. That’s what tabloid owners want from its readers, to click on that story about Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, doing, well, anything.
I think it was the New York Post’s Steve Dunleavy who, back in the early 1980s, told me to always look for the most arresting photo to grab the reader’s attention. He explained that you want the man of the house to look at the front page, swallow his pipe, and shout out to his wife, ’Hey, Martha, come and look at this!!” Now it would be, Hey, Martha, look at this story I’ve clicked on about, why oh why does Meghan Markle wear impractical white clothes? Or, why did Meghan Markle make Kate, Prince William’s wife, burst into tears?’
The media slakes that thirst every second of the day, or someone else takes those pounds and shillings that come with the clicks.
The landscape has changed dramatically in the relationship between Fleet Street and Buckingham Palace.
The comment from Andrew’s reps in 1982 was I should “Bugger off.” They are more complicit now, writing books, doing TV interviews and serving those tabloid audiences by telling their stories to generate their own ‘Hey, Martha’ clicks. Harry’s memoir Spare has been all over the news and the accompanying excerpts and interview revelations have become the steady diet for Martha and her husband.
In Harry’s mind, the book exposes the toxic swirl of Buckingham Palace and the story planters there. He was unable to save his mother, but he was not going to watch the cycle consume his wife Meghan, and their children from being forced to live under those conditions, even if they are not chased by paparazzi into a tunnel in Paris. In Spare, Harry takes aim at Fleet Street and its murky co-dependent relationship with Buckingham Palace, where pearl clutching reactions of story subjects are done with the full understanding that some leverage-seeking insider was the source. Harry takes potshots at his father, King Charles, his brother prince William and his stepmother Camilla, the Queen Consort who replaced his mother at Charles’ side.
Sure he insists that he loves them but he’s not very nice about them. And he did cash a check of $20 million or more to ensure he, Meghan and their offspring are no longer dependent upon the Palace for income and a security staff.
As a former vet of this symbiotic relationship, I find myself thinking this could have been a seminal moment for Harry to use Spare to shine a spotlight on the unholy alliance between the royals and the press, particularly concerning matters of race. Spare brings some transparency, but lacks the detail necessary to be considered a direct hit. The palace and the press emerge with mere flesh wounds. Harry and Meghan remain in the crosshairs of Fleet Street, perhaps more so because declaring war on the media makes one more of a target.
They will want revenge.
The war continues.
Peace may not come in our time.
WHAT’S IN A COLUMN NAME?
In a roundabout way, Breaking Baz was Baz Luhrmann’s idea.
For awhile I’d been searching for the right name for this column that launches today.
My helpful friends, colleagues and other associates offered suggestions like these: There’s no Bazness Like Showbazness, Um, hell no!
Then, someone came up with Showbaz, which happens to be my Instagram handle. My wife hates it, so no go.
What about… Lunch with Baz, Brunch with Baz, Cocktails with Baz, Dish with Baz, All that Baz, Showbiz with Baz? And there were titles that conveyed all sorts of things you could do to poor Baz which must remain unprintable in this space. For my own protection, you understand.
One night I opened a message from my Deadline colleague, Damon Wise. Hey, what about Breaking Baz?
I liked the sound of that. But what if I came up empty and had zero to write about? Would the page become Blank with Baz?
Mrs. B went full Walter White on me and objected on the grounds that people might think I was flogging narcotics like the bloke in the tv show Breaking Bad.
I caught up with Luhrmann in Los Angeles after an event for Elvis. I read out the various titles for the column, since, after all, how many of us go by the name Baz?
His eyes twinkled when I came to Breaking Baz. Let me mull it over, he said.
Weeks later we bumped into each other in London. Had I sorted out the name, he asked?
Before I could answer, he said he’d been doing some thinking and liked the sound of Breaking Baz.
Its got some…juice, he declared.
“Go with Breaking Baz, as endorsed by Baz,” he decreed.
And here we are.
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