Saturday, 2 July 2011

My royal reporting career

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 11-day tour of Canada and California has got me thinking about my own brief sojourn as a royal reporter.

Apparently more than 1,300 journalists are covering Kate and Will’s visit, including hacks from as far afield as China and India. My sympathies are with them. For a start, they’re having to be more fashion writers than newshounds. Knowing their Issa from their Erdem and their Mulberry handbag from their Anya Hindmarch clutch is absolutely key. But not only that, with the media showing endless images of cheering Canadians and beams from Will and Kate (see above), it’s tricky to fulfil the demands of rolling 24 hour news and be fascinating at the same time.

I spent a couple of years following the royals for the Evening Standard back in the 80s. Princess Diana was splashed across the tabloid front pages virtually every day – for dancing onstage with Wayne Sleep as a birthday surprise for Charles (he clearly wasn’t impressed), dressing up as a policewoman for Fergie’s hen night and taking William to his Notting Hill nursery school for the first time.

But my most vivid memories are from Charles and Diana’s Middle East tour of 1986. As the royal couple progressed through Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, lunching in the desert, going to the races and attending endless banquets, it was hard to come up with new stories to file. Daily Express columnist Jean Rook (the only other woman reporter in the press pack) even resorted to dressing up in a burka to see what women’s lives in Saudi Arabia were like. Meanwhile the rest of us got worked up about whether the Saudis had been offended by Diana wearing a dress that showed her ankles when they flew into Riyadh.

For a lot of the tour they both looked utterly miserable. But at that stage even seasoned royal-watchers didn’t realise the rot had set in. Most of us simply assumed the tour was too long and gruelling, that Diana was missing William and Harry and that once you’ve seen one falconry display you’ve probably seen them all.


  1. I certainly hope that their marriage is more successful than that of his parents. I wonder at all the interest, but overall think it better for our moral fibre (oh my, I am getting old!) that this interest is in two individuals who are visiting places of international relevance, highlighting the needs of charities and generally raising the profile of GB. The alternative for the last 14 years has been the bad behaviour of 'celebrities' plastered across the tabloids and tv news. A pair of clean living, well dressed role models cannot be a bad thing - even if the hacks are going to have to work hard all over again!

  2. I totally agree with you about Will and Kate being better role models than footballers, WAGs etc! And us hacks don't mind a bit of hard work...

  3. Gosh that brings back memories. I survived nearly three years as a royal hack - and a dafter, more pointless job it would be hard to find. On the plus side, I did get to do a heck of a lot of travelling, eat very well, drink myself stupid across several continents and even file some copy.
    Dire memories, though, of being on the rota for some anodyne handshaking opportunity and trying to prise from a toothless Hungarian/Japanese/Martian crone just what Di had said, so it could be shared with the rest of the desperate pack.
    Happy, silly days!

  4. ...and the duller the trip, the worse the behaviour by Her Majesty's Royal Rat Pack. On one particularly tedious trip to Poland with Chas we managed to take a very nice, helpful chap from the British Embassy (a chap later described by the odious David Shayler as an MI6 officer and 'total wanker') on a bar cruise around Warsaw and get him absolutely and comprehensively trashed. So trashed that at a formal reception the next day his wife approached us and whispered accusingly, "Just what the f*** did you do to my bloody husband last night? I think you've broken him."

  5. Brilliant, Gervase. Your comments really made me laugh and took me right back. I think I only survived two years as a royal hack so impressed that you did three!


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