Fergie and her million dollar mea culpa

Intermittently, ever since that rather shudder-inducing toe-sucking scandal, the Duchess of York has been at pains to embarrass herself, the Royal Family, and just about everyone else.

What on earth was she thinking this time round?

"It's been quite some time since I've had top billing. What really stupid thing can I do to guarantee wall-to-wall coverage?

"I know. I'm a bit short of petty cash - so why don't I sell introductions to Andrew's splendid contacts in British industry - or whatever.

"What a jolly good wheeze. It'll have Ma'am tearing her hair out."

I suppose one gets so used to a life of privilege that eventually one comes around to the idea that privilege is one's to sell. At $1 million a pop.

Nice little earner.

Once upon a time we consigned the "young Royals" to the realm of soap opera.

In the '80s, they even participated in the odd television frolic, thinking to make themselves a little more accessible to their long-suffering paymasters, the British public - a historical footnote that most of us, thankfully, had almost managed to forget.

One of the siblings even flirted with a career in TV.

Now that she's grown up - a relative term, it must be said - has Fergie graduated to reality TV: The Trials and Tribulations of a Duchess; Fergie Goes Dutch; How I Plucked the Royal Goose? Perhaps she could run a public naming competition as part of an advance publicity campaign.

There is always a whiff of the distasteful about the whole sting modus operandi of the UK tabloid newspapers - carrying with it an air of "entrapment".

It is an end-justifies-the-means approach to "journalism", the end here being presumably to show that there are some members of the Royal Family - OK, one member - who is sufficiently venal to use her position for naked self-enrichment and, equally, sufficiently stupid to get caught doing it.

The shame is, it only encourages the hacks, who rather than use such methods for serious matters of national or international interest, are reaffirmed in their appetite for titillation.

Although, in this case, whatever you may feel about the means, you have to say it's a fair cop.

The disappointing thing is that there are those dim-witted and ethically-challenged individuals who invite such scrutiny, then exceed even their suitors' wildest dreams.

If Fergie was prepared to sell access to Prince Andrew, and his circle of contacts - unbeknown to him of course - was else might she put on the market? The Crown Jewels?

Back here on the home front, Bill English, aglow from a polished Budget performance, took one bow too many and then began polishing the family silver - in public.

Property is no longer a good bet, we are told, impending inflation will eat up the interest on our bank deposits, and who would dare look at a finance company? What on earth are all we good savers and investors to do?

How about shelling out for a few things that we already own - like the odd state owned enterprise? Kiwibank shares anyone? Or should we give KiwiRail a second run?

Now, what happened the last time we did that? Didn't we sell it to an offshore consortium, including a couple of extremely wealthy local businessmen, now living in exile, who, once they'd extracted their pound of flesh, sold it to another international mob who ran it further into the ground - so that eventually we had to buy it back again just to save it?

Following a bit of bleating on the subject, John Key, as is his wont, stepped in to reassure us that Mr English was just "kicking the tyres", presumably so that the party could gauge public reaction to the idea.

But that, in any case, nothing would happen before the next election.

Enough of the trivia of royalty and politics.

I couldn't help admiring the courage and compassion of the Christchurch mother, Emma Woods, who lost her beautiful little boy, Nayan (4), when an out of control car mounted the footpath in that city at the weekend.

The commonplace response, on such, or similar, occasions, has become to lash out at the perpetrator(s), to move immediately beyond grief to anger and blame.

In the midst of her own desolation, she had the humanity to consider the possibility that another life could stand to be destroyed in the aftermath of what she described as a "tragic accident": that of the 17-year-old driver of the car that, out of control, took her son's life.

-Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor of the Otago Daily Times.


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