Media rights? Pre-nup? New wills . . . it's a royal headache

The Times, February 15, 2005

The Windsor wedding legal bill will be higher than the cost of the frock. But there are many issues to consider

HOW much legal work will have gone into the wedding of the Prince of Wales and his lover of 30 years, Camilla Parker Bowles, by the time they exchange vows? While most fiancées agonise over such relative mundanities as maids of honour and seating arrangements, the nuptials taking place at Windsor Castle on April 8 are of a very different order. As well as being the celebrity wedding par excellence, this is also almost certainly the first whose legal bills will dwarf those of any other services provided on the day.

The wedding has thrown up an array of legal issues that may, or may not, have been considered by the happy couple and their advisers. First up is the very notion of a civil ceremony. The Marriage Act 1836, which created civil marriages, was expressly stated not to apply to members of the Royal Family. This exemption has been carried through into subsequent relevant statutes, including what is now the main legislation, the Marriage Act 1949. As Dr Stephen Cretney, Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford and a leading academic lawyer, says: “Those concerned must have satisfied themselves that this is irrelevant, but it would be interesting to know on what basis that decision has been reached.”

If this provides food for thought, consider also the location of the ceremony. Until 1994, civil marriages could only take place in a register office. Gyles Brandreth, the MP, introduced a Private Member’s Bill in 1994 that then became the Marriage Act of that year, enabling weddings to take place in venues other than register offices provided that they are authorised by the local authority. As Dr Cretney asks: “Has Windsor Castle been so approved?” Such local authority approval would normally require that the public have full access to the ceremony.

The Prince’s status as a public figure leads to another fertile area of legal work. The wedding is emblematic of the clash between the modern media world and arcane royal tradition. Anthony Burton, senior partner of media firm Simons Muirhead & Burton, says: “The wedding is a bonanza for media lawyers. The blend of British royalty and the spice of Charles’s betrayal of Diana, Princess of Wales, in favour of a divorced Roman Catholic convert — whom he is now marrying — makes for an intoxicating combination. It is sure to garner acres of newsprint and the sheer level of public interest will make a lot of lawyers very busy.”

The wedding is, indeed, one of the media events of the early 21st century. What price, then, Charles and Camilla selling the exclusive print media rights to OK! or its arch rival, Hello!? No doubt there was once a time when even to consider such a deal would have been beneath the Royal Family. Today, though, legal advisers are likely to have thought this through. As Burton says: “Charles is planning a private civil ceremony and party at Windsor Castle, and a service of prayer and dedication at St George’s Chapel, at which the Archbishop of Canterbury will preside. Given his constitutional position and the practical fact that his life is very public, the idea that he could keep the prayer service private — perhaps by means of a deal with OK! — is a non-starter. The public must have access to the public part of the wedding.” For the public, read the paparazzi and cue a multiplicity of “exclusive” photographs.

But, according to Burton, there could be a trade-off. “Charles could hive off the rights to the civil ceremony and private party, and sell them to OK! Images of the event, featuring his glamorous children, would appear but on condition that the proceeds went to a charity — for example, The Prince’s Trust. This could enhance their image while exploiting it.”

Doing a deal with a magazine such as OK! might, therefore, be in Charles’s interests. It would not be the end of the story: subsidiary deals with other media would need to be concluded, including television rights. All this is before merchandising — on dolls, mugs, T-shirts and the like — has been considered. It all makes for a media lawyers’ field day.

Any such deals could also come under the microscope of the matrimonial lawyers, should Charles and Camilla choose to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement. “Pre-nups” have become increasingly popular, as Shona Alexander, a family law solicitor with Mayfair firm Forsters, says. “Many people going into their second marriages will have assets in their own name and will think it’s a good idea to regularise their finances. They won’t be expecting it all to go wrong, but may feel that experience has taught them to be wise second or third time around. We are seeing more and more people request advice on pre-nups.”

For a pre-nup to be legally binding it has to have the seal of independent legal advice, with both parties having given “full and frank disclosure” of their assets. This raises the curious image of Camilla’s lawyers asking their counterparts acting for the future King of England for full disclosure of his wealth — and an agreement as to a split in the finances if the marriage sunders. If a pre-nup is not on the agenda, the family lawyers will be sure to be have been asked to draft new wills. Any couple remarrying with children from their former relationships would be foolish not to do so.

It all seems as unregal as it is legal, but ours is not to reason why. Better to sit back and enjoy the banquet. The script says that a ghost will appear, blonde and lithe and championed by the son of an Egyptian shopkeeper. But there is not much that the lawyers can do about that.