Clifford claims tour was ‘publicity stunt’

By Nicholas Christian

PRINCE Harry’s tour of duty in Afghanistan was a “PR stunt” that has not fooled the British public, publicist Max Clifford has claimed.

The Royal’s 10-week deployment at the front was “virtual reality” because Army chiefs would have kept him away from any actual danger of being hurt, the PR guru added. He said the plan could backfire as the public would soon turn their thoughts to the thousands of ordinary British troops serving in Afghanistan who had not received special treatment.

His claims last night prompted an angry rebuttal from the Ministry of Defence which insisted that Prince Harry was there are an ordinary soldier.

Clifford claimed: “To me it’s blatantly obvious. It’s a PR stunt. The whole thing has been put together. The climate when he went out (he] was getting increasing bad publicity from hanging around in clubs and pubs, and coming out drunk. It happened immediately after that. I don’t think you’re cynical for saying: ‘Hold on a minute.'”

Clifford continued: “(The press coverage] has been favourable, but I do think that the public are maybe a bit more questioning than the media have been in this instance.

“A lot of people have been saying, if he was Private Harry Smith, would he have been looked after in the same way, and how much of this was just a public relations exercise?”

The publicist said Harry was “a brave lad” and the public perception of him was “pretty good generally”, but he went on: “It just comes across, the whole thing, as a very, very calculated public relations exercise. There are, I think, a lot more people out there than the media seem to realise that are saying: ‘Hold on a minute, this is virtual reality.’ I don’t think that they would have dared to put him in real danger.”

Clifford added: “The other aspect of it is he has been shown firing a machine gun at Muslims. What does that say? He becomes a big target. Harry likes to go to clubs and pubs — does that make them targets? It’s not black and white, it’s not a simple situation.”

But the publicist does not think there will be a backlash against the media for keeping news of Harry’s deployment secret. “That’s easily defused — it would have placed him and others in danger,” he said.

The MoD furiously denied Clifford’s claims. A spokesman said: “This was definitely not a publicity stunt. We have made it absolutely clear that what he did was very brave.”

Clifford is the UK’s best known publicist and regarded as a consummate media manipulator. His targets have included David Mellor, Neil Hamilton and Jeffrey Archer.