At the funeral of the Princess of Wales, Earl Spencer promised that her 'blood family' would protect her children from the twin threats of the suffocating and dysfunctional House of Windsor and the press. He sounded Shakespearian at the time - the voice of the old English aristocracy expressing its contempt for German arrivistes - but until he signalled his concern today about the media treating Prince William like the Princess of Wales, his promise has appeared empty. His residence in South Africa meant he could play the role of protective uncle intermittently and from a distance.

For all that, Spencer's and Downing Street's concern isn't vacuous. There is no doubt that editors are giving the young Prince the Diana treatment. The coverage of Prince William's cruise and the portraits of his upper-class 'loveboat lovelies' may have been cloying but they showed him as a sexually mature man. It is easy to predict that kiss-and-tell revelations will follow.

But journalists are not the only people using the Prince. Buckingham Palace and the New Labour monarchists know that he is the 'Firm's' best hope of staying in business. Both have noticed that he has his mother's looks and that his popularity boosts the country's willingness to accept his father as its unelected sovereign.

Tony Blair may have publicly wrapped himself in the mantle of the Princess on the day of her death, but he worked furiously in private to save the monarchy by 'modernising' its public relations. Most of the pictures you see of William are not the creation of intrusive journalists but of the Palace spin machine. No one can doubt that the attention may be damaging. But the only people who can claim to care genuinely about the pressures on the teenager are republicans who think we shouldn't have any princes to alternately flatter and torture.

The GuardianTramp

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