Outside Edge: Staff, not royals, are the stars

As royals attempt to justify their privileged positions through charity work, voluntary groups should be wary, says Nick Cater.

It says something about the insular charity world that no sooner has the dust settled on the Charles and Camilla wedding than one newspaper has a royal aide claiming: "We have been inundated with requests for her to take on charity work."

True, the newspaper is the Daily Mail - say no more - but even the usually cautious official spokesman at Clarence House confirmed to Third Sector that there had been "interest". Expect more Camilla charity news after 5 May as the couple tour England and Wales in May and June in a PR assault aimed at winning over an underwhelmed public.

So far, Camilla has four charities. She is patron of the St John's, Smith Square music venue, a trustee of Wiltshire's Bobby Van trust for vulnerable and elderly householders, patron of the New Queen's Hall Orchestra, and president of the National Osteoporosis Society. Already the latter has faced unwelcome headlines after Camilla postponed a charity-related hospital visit in what was to have been her first solo official outing. A panic attack, said some; avoiding election controversy was the official explanation.

As queen in waiting and keen to lose her "three in this marriage" notoriety, Camilla would hardly be alone in using charities to attract a positive profile or atone for past errors. Even Charles offers as a key justification for his privilege his helping to raise more than £100m for 360 causes.

As his website puts it: "Working for charities and voluntary organisations and making a difference for the better, both in this country and internationally, is a central part of the Prince of Wales's role and contribution as heir to the throne."

From Profumo to today's cynical teen popsters, good works go down well.

But why do charities now bidding for Camilla's attention think a woman who attracts so much opprobrium will attract support and money? Or do far too many crusty charity trustees and senior staff figure that being nice to the ex-mistress is a fast track to an honour?

And who would want Camilla, the marriage-wrecking, hunting, drinking on-off smoker? The League Against Cruel Sports? Action on Smoking and Health, Cancer Research UK or the Portman Group Trust? Relate?

In this build-'em-up-knock-'em-down tabloid world, any celebrity can easily become a liability, not an asset. Each charity's challenge remains to ensure the story of its mission is compelling and make its hard-working staff and needy beneficiaries the stars - not a shop-soiled royal-come-lately.

Of course, faded celebs and those who slip from grace have an alternative route into public favour. Could Camilla become Queen of the Jungle with an appearance on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here?

Nick Cater is a consultant and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk.

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