Publishers and journalists have long known that ferreting out the secrets of the Royal Family can quickly earn hard cash. But it took a 38-year-old reporter, whose nickname is Superman, to show them just how much. Andrew Morton’s biography of the Princess of Wales, Diana: Her True Story, has become an international publishing sensation with three million copies in print around the world, in 23 languages. For Morton himself, the book has provided instant wealth: published estimates of his earnings from the book range from a low of $2.6 million up to a staggering $6.5 million. Morton insists that he does not know how much he will make. But he adds with deliberate understatement: “It’s clear that I’ve made a very handsome return from my endeavors.” Morton’s endeavors have turned him into the prince of the so-called rat pack of reporters who track the public and private activities of the Royal Family for the British tabloid newspapers. Even those who do not hit the financial jackpot, as Morton has done, find it a lucrative occupation. The dean of the group,
James Whitaker of the Daily Mirror, boasts that he earns the equivalent of about $100,000 a year and $40,000 in expenses. Despite the rat pack’s habitual reliance on unnamed sources and their tendency to construct elaborate tales out of one tiny new detail, Whitaker maintains that he and his colleagues usually get their stories “80per-cent right and 20-per-cent wrong.”
But, at the same time, he acknowledges that they are dealing in what amounts to gossip, and, “with good gossip it doesn’t even matter if it’s accurate—as long as it's a good story.”
Superman: Morton’s rise began 11 years ago when he joined the tabloid Daily Starin London. A native of the Yorkshire town of Dewsbury, he is six-feet, four-inches tall and with his square-jawed good looks has a passing resemblance to Clark Kent, Superman’s fictional alter ego. At the Star, in fact, he once dressed up in a Superman costume as part of a publicity stunt which earned him his nickname. According to one Fleet Street story, he was put on the royal beat because he is tall enough to peer at his quarry over the heads of crowds. After covering the royals for two other tabloids, the News of the World and the Daily Mail, he began writing books on the family in 1987. Diana-. Her True Story is his sixth, and
by far the most successful. Aside from its sensational revelations about the Princess of Wales’s evident suicide attempts and unhappiness in her marriage, it is unique because some of Diana’s closest friends co-operated in preparing it. Typically, in discussing her attitude toward the Royal Family, Morton quotes an unnamed friend of Diana’s as saying that, “she finds the monarchy claustrophobic and completely outdated with no relevance to today’s
life and problems. She feels that it is a crumbling institution and believes that the family won’t know what has hit it in a few years’ time unless it changes too.”
Morton’s success has aroused open jealousy among some of his former colleagues, and led to criticism that he is a closet republican out to undermine the monarchy. The Evening Standard, another London tabloid, quoted him as saying during an official tour of Japan by the Prince and Princess of Wales: “It will take 20 years to bring down the Royal House of Windsor, and I am very happy to live off the collapse.” Morton flatly denies making the
remark. In an interview last week, he maintained that he just tries to report on the monarchy as he would on any other institution. “I have no great axe to grind against the monarchy,” he said. “In fact, I believe it is a useful institution for Britain, in terms of being the public face of its foreign policy and the human face of its domestic policy.” And with years of mostly gushing articles about the royals behind him, Morton said, “by and large I could be accused of being overly favorable to the Royal Family.”
Drama: Estimates of Morton’s earnings from his latest book are based on projected sales around the world. His publisher, Michael O’Mara Books of London, printed just 40,000 copies of Diana: Her True Story to begin with. Those sold out in a single day when the book appeared amid a blaze of publicity in early June, and it is now in its 12th printing. There are 350,000 hardback copies in print in Britain, 700,000 in the United States and Canada, 300,000 for book clubs, and about 1.6 million elsewhere in the world, in languages as diverse as Korean and Icelandic. In addition, Morton is raking in money from serialization rights, two television projects and the new paperback edition of the book. Its impact has transformed Morton from an observer to a minor character in the royal drama as the acknowledged voice of Diana’s camp in her power struggle with Prince Charles. UJ “No one could have foreseen it would be £ so big,” he says. “It’s gigantic.”
§ And there is no end in sight to public 2 interest—or publishers’ profits. Many £ British bookstores have special “royal” I sections to house the steady stream of tomes about the famous family: their homes, spouses, fashions, cars, travels, hobbies, fortunes and foibles. In Britain, two specialist monthly magazines, Majesty and Royalty, vie for the attention of devoted fans. And a juicy royal story, especially one featuring the Princess of Wales, can add tens of thousands of copies to the sales of a tabloid like the Mirror or The Sun. For reporters like Morton, that is a lure that has proven hard to resist. “It is a fascinating story which is unfolding and unravelling at the moment,” he says, “and I want to monitor it for the foreseeable future.” For the embattled royals, that may not be the most welcome news.
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