The Special Heir Service

‘RECOGNISE what is happening; Evaluate the situation; Avoid getting involved; Defuse, don’t escalate; Extract - walk away from it." The acronym is READE, and it may be sound advice for travellers in potentially risky situations, but will it help errant young royals avoid embarrassing headlines?

That military-style maxim underpins courses by the travel safety company, Objective, co-run by former SAS officer Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, who on Monday will embark upon the task of being private secretary to Princes William and Harry.

With sharp-end experience in several of the world’s trouble spots, plus a stint as equerry to the Queen Mother, the 44-year-old Lowther-Pinkerton seems well equipped to advise the two young Royals on most eventualities, although it remains to be seen how he’ll cope with Harry, in particular, given the younger prince’s penchant for delighting the tabloids and alarming despairing Royalists with his gaffes.

Lowther-Pinkerton was a professional soldier for 20 years, including ten years with the Irish Guards and a period in the SAS, with whom he served in the first Gulf War. He was posted to the Balkans, later acting as an unofficial adviser to the Government on Balkan affairs.

During the early 1990s, his special forces aptitude took him to Colombia where he was involved in an SAS team helping police bust drug cartels, courtesy of Mrs Thatcher’s offer to help the government there beat the drugs barons. His work in Colombia earned him an MBE.

Married, with three young children, this old Etonian takes on his princely private-secretarial duties - "parachuted in" as some headlines inevitably put it - on a part-time basis, spending two-and-a-half days a week at Clarence House, the Prince of Wales’s London residence, while he continues to work as a part-time consultant to a leading international security corporation, Kroll Risk Management, as well as running Objective with former Irish Guards officer Charlie McGrath.

As he has written himself about safe foreign travel: "Recognising the early indicators of trouble is the best way of avoiding it". Ah, if only he’d been hovering around the fancy dress shop before young Harry made the costume choice that would land him the tabloid label of "the Nazi prince".

Then there has been Harry’s energetic party-going, his African jaunts with his girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, as well as that unfortunate fracas with a photographer as he was emerging from a London club. To what extent damage-control will come under Lowther-Pinkerton’s remit remains to be seen, and while Clarence House has stressed that Harry’s ploys have had nothing to do with his appointment, there are those who think that even a former SAS officer may have his work cut out for him.

Prince William, now 22 and in the last year of his degree at St Andrews University, is seen as the sensible one of the pair, but doubtless could have benefited from Lowther-Pinkerton’s advice before embarking on his own gap-year venture in 2000, which took him into the jungles of Belize on survival training with his father’s regiment, the Welsh Guards, then to Chile with the Raleigh International youth development charity.

Some observers have questioned the appointment of yet another ex-military man as an adviser to the princes, but his arrival is seen elsewhere as a significant step in their development and probably an appropriate one, considering that Harry enters the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst next month as an officer cadet. William has hinted he might follow his brother into the forces once he has graduated.

Lowther-Pinkerton, who graduated from Sandhurst in 1979, is well-placed to advise his young charges on matters military, although one might wonder whether the part-time nature of his appointment will be enough to give him a handle on the princely affairs. Someone who knows only too well the pressures of organising royalty - and the sort of headlines any unseemly scrapes can produce - is Michael Shea, former press secretary to the Queen.

"Helping organise their careers and activities will demand a huge amount of time and patience," says Shea at his Edinburgh home, "particularly if you’re dealing with two people. He won’t be able to be in two places at once; he’ll need some assistance in that respect.

"Handling the private affairs of two young men in such a prominent position will largely be to do with how they project themselves to the wider world. I think they’re both very energetic and charming, and much will depend on how their press is handled."

The princes’ public image - favourable or otherwise - is currently the responsibility of the Prince of Wales’s communications secretary, Paddy Harverson (who formerly had a similar role with Manchester United), who recently complained to the Press Complaints Commission after Harry and Chelsy were pursued by paparazzi while on safari in Botswana. Harverson accused the photographers’ vehicle of dangerous driving and of putting the Prince and Davy at risk.

"I’ve been in cars with members of the Royal family in the past and I’ve been absolutely horrified at the behaviour of paparazzi motorcycles, squealing in front of the Royal car, trying to slow it down," says Shea. One might imagine Lowther-Pinkerton pursuing the offending photographers in the kind of "blitz buggy" favoured by his wartime SAS predecessors. Or, in that embarrassing scuffle between Harry and the snapper last October, on whom might the private secretary have put an arm lock first, Harry or the snapper? But we digress...

"Who wins dares" may be Lowther-Pinkerton’s old SAS regimental motto but protocol, rather than derring-do, is more likely to be the order of the day as he advises the two princes on which engagements to take on, which charities to adopt and, no doubt, which potential PR disasters to avoid. He is expected to work closely with the Prince of Wales’s own private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, and the young princes’ own personal secretary, Helen Astrey.

So, a father figure then, considering the Prince of Wales’s busy schedule and, er, newly acquired domestic entanglements? "I wouldn’t say father figure," says Shea, "but he will give political or strategic advice on which engagements to take on. For instance, if you’re doing this one in Edinburgh, you’re much better to do three others while you’re there, rather than coming up three times.

"When Princess Anne comes up to Edinburgh, she sometimes packs in eight or nine engagements into one day. I’ve stood in for the Lord Lieutenant and gone round with her and it can be an exhausting day, I can tell you." Lowther-Pinkerton sounds more than up to the task, however. Quite apart from his Objective role of advising gap-year backpackers, businessmen, aid volunteers and government officials on how to avoid trouble while abroad, he instructed actor-bikers Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman before their round-the-world motorcycle journey last year.

Writing in their subsequent book, The Long Way Round, McGregor recalled their mentor as he schooled them in surviving in hostile environments: "Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton could have stepped out of the textbook for English army officers. Tall, skinny, patrician and quietly authoritative... We were convinced that Jamie was a former member of the SAS, although he never confirmed it and usually changed the subject whenever special forces were mentioned."

Ex-SAS personnel tend not to chat readily about their former duties, but one thing Lowther-Pinkerton has been quite candid about is his time as equerry to the late Queen Mother. Writing in the Telegraph, he described how, in 1984, aged 23 and dozing in a frozen trench with fellow Irish Guards somewhere between West and East Germany, he received the call which informed him he had been chosen for the role. Within 48 hours he was having lunch with the Queen Mother at Clarence House, nervously discussing how best to judge distance when flicking peas into a crystal chandelier with a fork.

Lowther-Pinkerton is also apparently a dog lover, and asked permission for his Labrador Bertie to join the August visit to the Castle of Mey, The Queen Mother’s Caithness home. "Bertie was duly dispatched in the back of Her Majesty’s smart new shooting brake for the 12-hour drive north," he reveals. "By Carlisle, he had chewed through one seat-belt; by Stirling, another. I waited until the picnic the next day before owning up.

‘Oh, Bertie!’ said the Queen Mother, dancing over to where my dog was skulking under a Land Rover and feeding him a sausage. ‘What a clever boy you are! I do so hate those dreadful things.’"

Lowther-Pinkerton has also made it clear that he has enjoyed his fair share of youthful shenanigans.

Some time after joining the Royal household, his skin was saved by his Royal employer’s tolerance after he transferred an already well-oiled and boisterous stag party to his equerry’s room (with free bar) at Clarence House. It was the night before the Trooping the Colour and the Queen Mother was in residence. "The next morning," he recalls, "with the private secretary eyeing me darkly and my room strewn with empty bottles and glasses, I crawled into my uniform just in time to attend Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother as she mounted the carriage to take her to Horse Guards. "‘Did you have a party here last night, Jamie?’ I stared at my boots and mumbled, ‘Ma’am, I’m terribly sorry. I hope we didn’t disturb you,’ knowing full well we had. ‘I’m so glad to see the place being properly used,’ Her Majesty sparked, hopping into the carriage."

Harry take note. Or perhaps not. But it does seem that there is more on which the princes’ new private secretary can offer advice than survival techniques and princely decorum.

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