Charles tries to shield Camilla after her son admits using cocaine

It starts at the kind of fashionable London parties and night-clubs feted in the society columns

It starts at the kind of fashionable London parties and night-clubs feted in the society columns. One of the party-goers wants some Ecstasy to ensure the party never stops and knows just where to buy it if they're careful. In another part of the club someone else, maybe part of the media scene or in PR, is trying to keep up with his clients who are sipping on champagne. Desperate to impress and remain coherent, they opt for cocaine.

The bigger the risk, the bigger the thrill. And if you have the money to pay for the drug - a small amount isn't that expensive these days - there is little to stop you.

As a junior film publicist and "fixer" trying to make his name in the media industry, Tom Parker Bowles, son of Camilla and godson of Prince Charles, knows, better than most this week, that the higher the tabloid stakes the greater the fall when it comes to illegal drugs.

He is the latest victim of the tabloid "celebrity sting" - send a pretty woman journalist to follow the target and attempt to ensnare them into selling or buying drugs. But the most embarrassing aspect of this tale, as Parker Bowles continues to fix the party for his employers at the Cannes Film Festival, was the "roasting" he received in a telephone call from Prince Charles. From what was reported of the conversation, the prince was "fairly cross" and told young Tom that he had been a "bloody fool" for taking cocaine, after he admitted it to the reporter from the News of the World. No doubt, observers waged, the dressing down was part of Prince Charles's attempt to save his long-time companion, Parker Bowles's mother, Camilla, from further embarrassment, and he dished out a good telling-off to his godson as any like-minded parent would do.


Behind the cocaine story was a calculated attempt to discredit Tom Parker Bowles's character. By calling into question the reliability of his relationship with Prince William in particular, who has accompanied him to celebrity parties in London during his school holidays, there was an attempt in some media quarters to portray Parker Bowles as a modern Falstaff to a youthful Henry V played by Prince William.

One theory for the tabloids' thirst for the cocaine story put forward this week is that they have tired of the infidelity story or the breakdown-of-a-celebrity-marriage story. Those are the least surprising events covered by the tabloids these days - witness the mercifully few column inches (so far) given over to the alleged problems in the Scary Spice marriage. The breakdown of marriage is wearily familiar to readers in the 1990s. With half of all couples ending up in the divorce courts the ability of these stories to shock has diminished if not completely evaporated.

The celebrity cocaine story is all too familiar. In recent months we have seen the former Blue Peter presenter Richard Bacon leave the show after his drug use was exposed by a friend who talked to the media. From Radio 2 DJs involved with drugs to the Home Secretary's son, minor TV stars and comedians, Tom Parker Bowles's splash in the tabloids follows a familiar pattern. That he is Prince Charles's godson is the perfect angle for the story. Bacon was condemned for shattering the image of the perfect Blue Peter role model for children, and so Parker Bowles is cast as a dangerous rich boy who might corrupt the future king.

The revelation that Parker Bowles had taken cocaine probably surprised few people, since drugs and the media and party circuit have long been linked. His employers certainly took the admission on the chin and quickly issued a statement making clear that his job was safe, praising his "commitment and professionalism". He was extremely lucky. Many employers would not have appreciated the publicity, despite Parker Bowles's insistence that he is not an addict.

Discussing the pitfalls of drugs with young people before they experiment with them - 40 per cent of Britain's youth will do so - is a challenge for every parent, and Prince Charles has addressed the issue. But some young people aren't so lucky and carry their drug problem with them through to the workplace.