AS the man who masterminded the Queen's Press Office throughout a

turbulent decade of royal revelation, Michael Shea might seem to have

jumped from the frying pan of the palace into the white-hot fire of Lord

Hanson's amazing business organisation.

His new boss was described by the Financial Times as a man ''content

to move largely unseen in the corporate jungle, as befits a dangerous


As for Mr Shea, the career move to the rough and tumble of big

business must seem like a picnic after the realms of royal rumpus and

rumour. Indeed he relishes his post of looking after the external

relations of Hanson plc (the

people-who-are-doing-well-over-here-over-there), covering everything

from Government and public relations to advertising.

''The most exciting thing I have done in years,'' he says, ''is to be

involved in the announcement about discovering the old Globe Theatre

foundations in London, in which Shakespeare himself had a financial

interest and where some of his plays were first performed.

''They were discovered in a disused car park at the Courage brewery,

which Hanson acquired when it bought the Imperial Group. Unlike the

controversy over the Rose Theatre, we are actually funding the

investigation to the tune of #250,000 and have taken the initiative in

applying for a listing, as a building of outstanding national


''The find is all the more intriguing in that they have unearthed

shells of hazelnut, which was the pop-corn and potato crisps of that


Changed days indeed for the silver-haired Scot who has travelled the

world as diplomat and Buckingham Palace press secretary -- and raised a

few eyebrows with the subject matter of his political thrillers, which

he began to write when he followed John le Carre at the British Embassy

in Bonn.

All that lay far in the future, however, when the Shea family first

set foot in Scotland in the 1880s. Michael's grandfather, a Boston

Irishman, was sent by his Singer bosses to help establish a sewing

machine factory in Clydebank.

In Glasgow, he met and married an Orcadian, who outlived him by 60

years and was herself given a job as head of the clerical staff at

Singer's. Michael's own father worked for Walter Bergius of Dobbie's

Loan, makers of the Kelvin engine, and home was in Lenzie, where he

attended the Academy in which his mother was a teacher.

A scholarship to Gordonstoun, however, set him on a route to Edinburgh

University and the Diplomatic Service, which not only landed him in the

Bonn office formerly occupied by le Carre but brought him an

introduction to his future Norwegian wife, Mona.

''It was there that I began writing thrillers,'' he explained as he

relaxed from a hectic business life. ''I thought if people like John le

Carre and Douglas Hurd could do it, so could I. So I wrote Sonntag,

which was translated into eight languages.

''In Bonn I was dealing largely with Britain's attempts to enter the

European Economic Community -- and helping to counter President de

Gaulle's opposition to it.''

It was later that he wrote the controversial Dollar Covenant, the plot

of which had to do with political rioting in Scotland, based on the

notion of a big, multi-national company -- yes, that again -- virtually

buying up the country. (There are actual precedents, he points out, like

the Firestone rubber company with Liberia).

''Dollar Covenant was going to be televised but, with the Scottish

National Party on the up-and-up at that time, the BBC considered it

politically too sensitive.''

When he became Britain's deputy director of information in New York,

the same book came under the scrutiny of film director Paul Winston, who

has never lost his desire to turn it into a major movie.

It was during that same New York appointment, however, that Michael

Shea came to the attention of the Queen, whose American visit he helped

to arrange.

''That was followed, in 1978, by an invitation I couldn't refuse,'' he

says now. ''I loved the palace job. I went to 52 countries and saw great

ceremonials. We had the Royal weddings and so much else and, after nine

years in the job, I do miss the people, though, in all honesty, I don't

miss having to deal with the press.

''It was when I went to China with Her Majesty, and found that my

punch-up with the Chinese security guards in Tiananmen Square was the

lead item in the television coverage, that I decided enough was


Despite a tabloid label calling Shea the Queen's ''Anti-Press

Secretary'', his Peking punch-up had to do with helping the journalists

overcome security obstruction.

Back home there were sundry embarrassments, like the Irish intruder in

the Queen's bedroom and, not least, the rumpus over an alleged palace

mole who was supposed to have told the Sunday Times that the Queen was

at political odds with the Prime Minister.

Michael Shea revealed himself as that ''mole'' but claimed he had

merely answered a series of questions which were then moulded in a

different interpretation.

He explained: ''If someone asks you, for example, 'Is the Queen

worried about the wave of strikes in Britain?' the answer must be 'yes'.

I knew the story as it appeared was unfounded and was total nonsense,

but there were demands for my resignation.

''That incident probably delayed my departure from the job because,

while I had been thinking of leaving anyway, it would then have been

perceived as a response to a story which I knew to be non-existent. I

left about a year later.''

The prestige of the palace appointment would guarantee no shortage of

opportunities, and some interesting offers came along.

Among the important figures he had entertained to lunch with Prince

Charles was Lord Hanson, whose shrewd business movements are legendary

in the City. There were other connections.

His former superior in the United States, Sir Gordon Booth, with whom

he had achieved New York landing rights for Concorde, had by then joined

the Hanson board.

Shea was invited to take up a post which was created for him, looking

closely at all aspects of the company's public image and serving that

dynamic duo which has turned it into the western world's biggest maker

of bricks, typewriters and Jacuzzis, as well as taking over companies

like Imperial Tobacco, Ever Ready and Consolidated Goldfields.

The other half of the partnership is, of course, Sir Gordon White, who

runs the American end and was the Hollywood model for the British

corporate raider in Wall Street.

''I love the change,'' says Michael Shea enthusiastically. ''For more

than nine years I was in a job which was largely reactive. Now I am in

one which is pro-active, where I have to initiate, and that is

enormously stimulating.''

Michael Shea's latest non-fiction book is called Influence, an

interesting analysis of power and how it is so often exerted from an

unexpected quarter. He points out how people make judgments on the basis

of first-sight, gut reaction and reach decisions based on image rather

than substance.

''Take the case of Ronald Reagan,'' he says, ''where they created a

President out of a B-movie actor, a nice guy who could read his lines

but who was all image.''

Despite all his travels, Michael Shea has retained his main home in

North Berwick, where his mother still lives. His daughter is at Oxford

and his son at Gordonstoun, where he himself is a governor.

If his Dollar Covenant has still to reach the screen, so too has his

TV series, The Embassy, which has been sold three times without ever

being produced.

One day soon, he vows, he will return to fiction. The fact that he now

rubs shoulders with Lord Hanson and Sir Gordon White, perhaps the

outstanding industrial success story of the post-war period, should

ensure a continuing supply of grist for the mills of mega-busting