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A ROYAL HISTORY MAKER; Charles names first black press chief.

PRINCE Charles yesterday appointed his first black press secretary.

Colleen Harris, 44, was given the top job at St James's Palace in a move seen as a landmark in the history of the Royal Household.

She was chosen after impressing the prince by the way she held the fort following the resignation of former press secretary Sandy Henney.

Henney quit after being blamed for failing to secure copyright over Prince William's 18th birthday photographs.

Last night Colleen, who was born in Britain of Guyanese parents, said: "It's a great privilege and a great job and I'm looking forward to the challenges ahead.

"I've been working in the prince's household for the last two years so I feel very much part of the furniture.

"In some ways it's a surprise to end up in this position, but I'm looking forward to doing the job."

Mother-of-two Colleen, who is married to a self-employed businessman, was given the job at the personal request of Prince Charles.

Friends say she is irritated by what she considers unnecessary emphasis on her colour.

But at the same time she is said to be privately delighted at her role as an accidental trailblazer for greater equality.

She takes over responsibility for some of the most sensitive issues confronting the monarchy, including media matters involving Princes William and Harry.

Her move is the latest step in a highly successful career.

Colleen became the first black member of the Royal Household staff two years ago when she was given the job of deputy press secretary. Before that she was the first black press officer in Downing Street. She worked as a civil servant for the then-Premier Margaret Thatcher and later in the office of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Colleen beat a long list of applicants for the press secretary job, which became vacant when Sandy Henney quit in June.

Palace sources said Prince Charles was impressed by the way she handled the aftermath of the row over Prince William's 18th birthday pictures which forced Henney's departure.

Colleen is also a popular choice among the prince's staff.

Friendly and outgoing, she has a good rapport with Charles and his sons and has been trusted with handling Prince William's plans for his gap year.

Among her first tasks, when she returns from holiday in a week, will be to organise several photo-calls of 18-year-old William over the next few months and the release of details about his choice of university.

Earlier this year, Colleen proved herself to be a safe pair of hands when, as Henney's deputy, she handled Charles's tour of the Caribbean - her first foreign assignment. But the real test came when she was unexpectedly thrust into the role of acting press secretary during a time of upheaval in the prince's private office after Henney left.

Other applicants were interviewed for the post by the prince's private secretary Stephen Lamport.

But Colleen's popularity at St James's Palace and her good relationship with the media made her the obvious candidate.

However, she was close to Henney and was known to feel disillusioned over her boss's forced departure after seven years in the job.

If there is any downside to Colleen's appointment, it is that her friendly, trusting and cheerful personality may make it tough for her to handle the rivalry and backbiting that exists behind the scenes at St James's Palace.

Two new assistant press secretaries have also been appointed.

Patrick Harrison, currently assistant director in the press office at the Department of Transport, will take up his post in September.

Kirsteen Clark, who is private secretary (presentation) to Scottish Secretary John Reid, will start work in October.

Mr Harrison, 30, trained as a journalist and has worked as a press officer in the Home Office.

He said: "I am looking forward to the exciting challenges which this unique job will bring.

Miss Clarke, 28, worked as a journalist before joining the European Commission in Brussels..

She has also worked as a press officer in the Scottish Office.

She said: "I am delighted to be joining the team at St James's Palace in what, I am sure, will be a fascinating and rewarding role."

Amanda Neville, 37, who was the office manager, now becomes a press officer.
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Author:Yates, Nathan; Kerr, Jane
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 7, 2000
Words:708
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