A ROYAL FLASHBACK: WHEN PRINCE ANDREW TRIED TO EVICT ME
While Prince Harry’s future in-laws continue to be a royal embarrassment as the wedding looms, I am having a flashback.
Thirty four years ago, the shoe was on the other foot: his uncle, Prince Andrew, was being a royal pain.
I was the target of his contempt. He was attempting to evict me from an event I was assigned to cover.
I was working in Los Angeles as the Associated Press’ coordinator of coverage of the 1984 Summer Olympics. A few days earlier I had been cleared by Buckingham Place to cover a black-tie British fundraising gala for British Olympic athletes at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
A protocol officer told me the prince, who was on a five-day visit to Los Angeles, was not likely to attend a reception prior to the dinner, where he was the guest speaker for the $1,000-a-plate soiree.
I was invited to both, and according to protocol, there were do’s and don’t’s. If, by chance, I encountered the 24-year-old royal, I was not to touch him and only shake his hand if he offered his. I was not to start a conversation, nor was I to call him Andrew or prince. Property protocol was “your majesty.”
My assignment was to cover his speech and sprinkle in whatever “color” I could add to the story.
The evening got off to a stressful start. As the reception was winding down, I had very few quotes. I recognized only a few people, aging film star Ernest Borgnine being one of them. He was cordial and a delight, but I desperately needed more quotes because I would be dictating the prince’s speech to the office as soon as he delivered it.
Then my prospects brightened. I saw two attractive young women enjoying a glass of champagne. I introduced myself with a handshake and asked if could if they were friends of the prince. They smiled and nodded yes, and suddenly I lost their attention. They were shaking hands with a man in a tuxedo who had walked up next to me.
I looked over and froze. It was the prince and I’m in a dither trying to recall the rules of royalty. It was a lot of remember for a young reporter not far removed from a small Montana town where formality was a foreign concept.
Fortunately, he offered his hand and said, “Good evening.”
I shook his hand and responded with “Good evening, your majesty.” It occurred to me that proper etiquette would call for me to identify myself so I added, “Norm Clarke, The Associated Press.”
His royal persona instantly turned surly.
“Press?” he said, sharply.
“Yes,” I replied, “The Associated Press office in Los Angeles.” I immediately regretted what I said, realizing that it wasn’t likely to make a damn bit of difference to someone known for his skirmishes with the press.
In fact he had just weathered one of his worst scandals, a romance with American photographer and actress Koo Stark, who had appeared in a number of soft-porn scenes before meeting the prince. Smothered by paparazzi and tabloid headlines, they split up after two years.
I got the impression Prince Andrew was enraged that I was talking to his lady friends, looking for dirt like a Fleet Street gossip hound.
He raised a thumb and forcefully gestured toward the door, “Out!”
I calmly explained I had been invited to the reception and was told he wasn’t going to be there.
“OUT! You’re not welcome here!” he said.
My options were down to two: skulk out of reception like I was a loathed party crasher, or hold my ground.
I ignored his command.
He stared at me coldly and then grabbed one of the lapels on my tuxedo.
I braced for the worst: that he was going to forcibly remove me from the reception.
But he didn’t move. He just flicked his thumb back and forth over my lapel. Confused, I looked down at the lapel and then looked at him. He broke into a contemptuous smile and said, “Did I get any paint on you?”
For an awkward few seconds, my mind went blank. Then I recalled he was referring to his spray-painting incident the day before. He had borrowed a construction worker’s spray gun and blasted about 50 media during a photo opportunity at a new low-income housing area in Watts, a Los Angeles neighborhood.
I replied, “No, I wasn’t there.”
He removed his hand from my lapel and said, snidely, “A pity,” and walked away.
The painting incident was widely reported, especially in Britain’s tabloids, with one newspaper referring to the prince as “A Royal Squirt” in a bold front-page headline.
An assignment that started out as what could have been an embarrassing eviction turned into a gold mine of colorful quotes.
After the prince’s speech to the toney crowd of British expatriates, countryman and film star Michael Caine, who served as emcee, delivered the best line of the night when he said, “It’s hard enough to follow a superstar, especially a superstar who has taken up a new profession as the Vincent Van Gogh of graffiti.”
My eventful evening wasn’t over. It included a most improbable meeting.
While looking for the press table before dinner, I accidentally sat down next to actress Dyan Cannon, famously flirtatious on the Johnny Carson show.
She was smitten with the prince. “He’s adorable, irresistible, with a capital ‘I,” she said.
Then she leaned over and whispered a request: Would I escort her to the ladies room?
Of course. And as we made our way out of the crowded ballroom, arm in arm, I remember thinking, where’s the paparazzi when you need one?