Opinion: Bowing, saying ma'am, being discreet

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief

The Prince of Wales's court action to secure privacy for his writings, which have instead now been widely reported, has given another chance for former associates to seek their places in the sun.

The roll call of once-trusted people who have tried to make money or fame from their association with the royal family seems endless; it makes you wonder what microbe is in the water supply of the royal households.

So much intimate reporting in recent years has almost turned royalty into just another kind of celebrity, exposed the minutiae of private lives and made gossip the everyday currency. Whatever your constitutional inclinations, the reputation of the royal family matters to the voluntary sector because so many charities have one of its members as a patron, including my own. But in spite of the corrosion, royal patronage gives reassurance to many supporters and a personal appearance remains a powerful magnet.

During the seven years I worked for the MND Association, the Duchess of York was president of this small but potent cause. The years included most of her high-profile wrong turns, and there was a period when there were so many headlines my eyebrows got stuck in a raised position. Many of her charities jumped ship, but the association felt that her unqualified dedication to the people we cared for outweighed any peccadillo - we stuck with her.

She seemed to be surrounded by people on the make, trying to capitalise on her position. The charities were a potential route to exploitation, too, and the media tried to use me. In a hotel one day, I listened to journalists at the next table concocting the day's Fergie story. After they discovered my identity, I had to check the corridor outside my room and stopped answering the phone. As I arrived at a friend's house in Australia, a British tabloid reporter rang to get my take on the latest twist in her affairs. An Israeli reporter phoned every hour for days.

Brought up in a republican family, I managed to grow up without learning how to say ma'am or bow - but I got used to both. I wasn't the closest confidant, though we worked side by side and I heard much that didn't make the media. But I don't think it's for the public domain. I'm old-fashioned enough to believe that trust is an obligation. And it isn't just me; among all the blurters and traitors of the past few decades, I can't think of a single one who worked for the royal family's charities.

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