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Monday, November 14, 2005

Trash 'n' treasure

The Australian: Trash 'n' treasure [November 15, 2005]

BEN McDonald has no regrets about all the dark Friday mornings he spent rifling through Mary Donaldson's rubbish. Apart from being standard operating procedure, the torn photos and tomato sauce-stained letters he nabbed from her green wheelie bin turned out to be worth their weight in Danish kroner.

"It's not a pleasant job," the Sydney private investigator and paparazzo says matter-of-factly. "You need a strong stomach. But very good intelligence information comes from it, and if you don't follow the procedures, you'll miss out."

Mary Donaldson, now Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, is no longer so blase when it comes to disposing of personal papers and items. But despite a concerted campaign to control what the public knows about the woman who married Crown Prince Frederik on May 14 last year and last month gave birth to a son, Mary has left a trail she'd rather her fans didn't find. These include personal documents, video footage of her posing bra-less and pictures of some embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions.

It goes to show that even princesses with legions of minders and spin doctors aren't able to whitewash their past. It also reveals that princessification in the 21stcentury does not involve only antique tiaras and jewelled slippers. There may also be a private investigator outside your suburban palace ransacking your bin on rubbish night. Now, why don't they ever mention that in the fairytales?

I discovered the hidden side of HRHCPM of D while writing an unauthorised biography, Something About Mary, which is being launched in Sydney tomorrow.

Peter", one of Mary's friends from her high school days in Hobart, is among the few people from Mary's past who agreed to speak out (albeit from the safety of a pseudonym). Peter fancied his high-achieving classmate but found her perfectionism a bit of a libido killer. He remembers Mary, the daughter of a mathematics professor, as being like a Holden Commodore: "Boring, but does exactly what you want it to do. No offence if you drive a Holden Commodore..."

After graduating in law and commerce from the University of Tasmania, Mary moved to the mainland to work in advertising. In 2000, fate arrived in the form of an invitation to join a bunch of out-of-towners for drinks during the Sydney Olympics. The visitor who took Mary's fancy was Frederik, a mischievous young chap with a hairless chest who turned out to be the heir to the Danish throne.

Mary and Fred managed to keep their long-distance courtship under wraps for 14 months before being busted in spectacular fashion by an Australian gumshoe wearing rubber gloves.

McDonald got the call from Danish celebrity magazine Kig Ind in early November2001. The Danish media had discovered their playboy prince was secretly dating an Australian real estate agent (Mary had made a career change) and desperately wanted dirt. "I had her under round-the-clock surveillance," says McDonald, 32. "Kig Ind wanted as much information as I could provide."

For this, the magazine paid him $1300 a day. The former insurance fraud specialist photographed and filmed Mary while staking out her Bondi Junction house in a customised Toyota Land Cruiser. Every two hours he phoned or e-mailed a "sitrep" (situation report) to the magazine back in Denmark. The magazine was particularly interested in the contents of Mary's rubbish bin.

Garbage night was Thursday. To reduce the chances of being seen, McDonald would wait until first light on Friday mornings. He'd slip on a pair of latex gloves, drag Mary's Otto bin round the corner and transfer the contents to another plastic bag to take back to his office.

McDonald ransacked the rubbish at 20Porter Street many times, but didn't get lucky until several days before Mary moved to Europe in December. Purging in preparation for her new existence, the princess-in-waiting threw out letters, shopping lists, overdue credit card reminders and photos from her "fat" days. One of these was an autographed snap of a round-faced Donaldson posing with model Sarah O'Hare. Mary wasn't content with merely throwing this little number in the bin: she ripped it into 14 pieces, decapitating its subjects in the process.

"We'd hit pay dirt," McDonald says. "I don't have emotional responses when I'm working, but my offsider and I were pretty pleased with ourselves." Poring over the contents of a famous person's garbage is a dirty business. On the one hand it seems wrong and invasive. On the other, it's very revealing. Tell someone a detective has given you photos of the contents of Mary Donaldson's rubbish bin and they start crying "Show me" almost before they've finished the mandatory "That's disgusting and wrong".

This has a lot to do with the uneasy foxtrot between the famous and the fans. They want to control their appearances in public. We resist being spun. They want to touch up, airbrush and edit. We crave raw data. Even if it's something as trivial as a receipt Mary got from Sunrise Mountaineering in Walnut Creek, California, back in 1999. (For the record, McDonald says it was for a black Maiden Pk Pant -- whatever that is -- that cost $US89.95.)

Asked about the ethics of bin searches, McDonald says it's a SOP: standard operating procedure. The Australian Institute of Private Detectives confirms the practice is legal. "Once something's on the street outside the confines of your property, it's on common property," says institute president John Bracey. "Anyone can pick it up and it's not thieving." Bracey never throws paperwork into his rubbish: "I know what happens so I only throw out putrescence and glassware. Everything else gets shredded."

When McDonald was first hired to follow Mary, there were only two other people on the job: a Danish reporter and Sydney paparazzo Jamie Fawcett, who was paid $20,000 to spend two weeks photographing Mary in the final days of her normal life. Later Fawcett, dubbed "the black prince of the paparazzi", scored photos of Frederik (in board shorts) and his fiancee (in a string bikini) skylarking on a Sydney beach. "She dakked him," he recalls. "I got a photo of the royal arse."

In the four years since the world learned Mary was Frederik's secret girlfriend, she's only given the occasional interview.

Friends and family have been equally reticent. But evidence of her unofficial past is out there and it doesn't always require a bin search to find it.

Going Public is a fly-on-the-wall documentary about a group of small Apple retailers who attempted a float on the stock market. The documentary screened on the ABC before Mary was outed, which explains why no one recognised the frumpy young woman joining the Apple gang in a weird, arm-waving game that involved shouting, "I got it, I got it, I got it".

Mary's boss at the time, Siimon Reynolds from Love (the advertising agency hired to come up with a name and logo for the new Apple entity), says this was probably an exercise in which participants described their new business using a noise or movement.

In Going Public, the future crown princess of Denmark appears in bland office gear with a whoppin' big stick-on name tag. There's no sign of the now-famous regal posture as she slumps, looks bored and picks at her ears. This is the woman Frederik would see in a month's time and think, "Wow -- absolutely radiant".

Mary left more electronic footprints at StarMaker Studios, a Sydney new-age glamorisation and self-development business run by actor, model and "spiritual intelligence" teacher Teresa Page.

Page's video diaries of Mary, who signed up for the studio's $1200 StarQuest program in November 2000, reveal a very different creature to the restrained royal who now waves stiffly from yachts and limousines.

Back then, Mary was a curvy size 14 and can be seen wiggling her hips and clumping clumsily through catwalking classes. She pouts bra-lessly during a photo shoot and pretends to be the author of a book called Why Women Should Rule the World while being tested on her improvisation abilities.

Mary and Page got on well but have since fallen out and exchanged pseudo-legal letters over the teacher's plan to release the footage to 60 Minutes. Mary's old garbage, meanwhile, is still languishing in McDonald's storage facility. The detective has earned $13,000 selling bits and pieces to Danish magazines but has been unable to strike a lucrative deal in Australia. He lives in hope.


On the Monday morning after she met Fred at Sydney bar The Slip Inn, Mary didn't brag at work about kissing a prince. One of her former colleagues at the Love advertising agency says: "There were a few whispers round the office, but that was it."
Fred already had a girlfriend when he first met Mary. Bettina Odum (a twentysomething fashion design student) was still being photographed with Frederik in Denmark months after that night at The Slip Inn.
When Mary was under surveillance in Sydney by private detective Ben McDonald, she didn't once flirt or drink excessively. "She didn't pick her nose or have any weird habits at all," says McDonald.
Despite comparisons with princess Diana, Mary has fared better in high-speed pursuits with the paparazzi. Notorious as a lead foot, she consistently out-drove her chasers.
When studying at Harvard, Mary's cowboy boot-wearing and Eldorado convertible-driving future husband used the pseudonyms Frederik Prince and Frederik Henriksen, which means "son of Henrik" (his father's name).
Mary's only political activity was doing PR for the Australian Conservation Foundation. She received a thank-you note from Peter Garrett for her "tremendous efforts".
Mary's ascension to royalty has influenced Australia's sex industry. One Sydney bondage parlour does a roaring trade in straight, cross-dressing male clients who pay to dress up as Mary and re-enact her wedding ceremony. Previously their favourite muse was Diana.
The Danish royals are more relaxed than their Buckingham Palace cousins. In 1996, the Danish Queen and her husband were entertained by the Tokyo Shock Boys, who dragged heavy objects with their genitals.
Mary's new home has the world's highest income tax levels and the planet's biggest sperm bank. Danish sperm donors ? who contribute to about 1000 pregnancies worldwide every year ? receive a tax-free $111 for their services.
Mary's old "I'm not at my desk right now" phone message can still be heard at her former employers, the Love advertising agency, when telephone calls to the boardroom are put on hold.
Something about Mary - From Girl About Town to Crown Princess by Emma Tom is published by Pluto Press.


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