q: Now when you were a journalist in 1981... How did the newspaper you were
working on at the time react to the marriage of the Prince and Princess of
a: I was working on the Sun in 1981, but what was so interesting about that is
that Kelvin McKenzie and myself had just joined the Sun during the romance of
Charles and Diana and so the wedding was the culmination of what had been a
massive Press interest in the 1980's. This was the era of the creation of the
Royal Correspondent as distinct from the Court Correspondent. So we had the
rise of those people like James Whitaker who's probably foremost among them,
who would follow Charles around wherever he went. And, of course, they
followed Diana around as well.
And this intense interest which had grown up during the eighties reached full
flower in 1981. Endless pages of the paper were devoted to every little iota,
every detail of the lives of this couple and the wedding itself, I think the
whole paper was given over that day to the Royal Wedding and it seemed like
there was nothing else in the world that mattered. It was the true fairy tale,
if a fairy tale ever can be true, brought to reality in newspapers which were
themselves caught up in what they thought was the romance of the occasion.
q: Can you describe when you were working on the Sun with Kelvin McKenzie, how
there was the competition between Arnold on the Sun and Whitaker on the Star
for the royal stories? How did you look at them as a senior sort of editorial
figure on the paper? I mean what was that your attitude towards that area of
the paper's journalism?
a: Obviously it was very important for each paper to get scoops about the
Royal Family. It was thought that this would sell newspapers. We knew that a
simple picture of Diana sold the paper. We watched magazines just put her on
the front and their sales go up. So every little story, every little
half-scoop, every scoop of interpretation became important.
So the Sun's Royal man, Harry Arnold, and its photographer Arthur Edwards were
put into a constant daily competition with the Daily Mirror's James Whitaker
and photographer, Kent Gavin, and it became incredibly important, the rivalry
between them, to get perhaps who was wearing what? Did she utter one word? Is
it possible that we have got something over them? And within the office I
remember sometimes when I stood in as Editor for Kelvin McKenzie, my first
call would be to Harry Arnold and say I got anything for us Harry? Any possible
exclusive Sunday for Monday to kick the newspaper off? Imagining, perhaps the
imagination was actually born out of reality, that this would add to reader
interest and would be sure to put on sales of the paper.
q: What was the Editor of the Sun, Kelvin McKenzie's, attitude towards the
a: Kelvin's attitude towards the Royals was one which was foremost in his
mind always of how can I sell more copies of my newspaper? What's guaranteed to
sell? And the relationship between Charles and Diana, particularly Diana, was
always in his view a guaranteed seller. Indeed it wasn't just his view. It was
quite clear that was the case for a considerable period and it didn't really
matter in the sense what level of intrusion would go on because after all you
knew you were going to sell, you didn't expect the Royal Family ever to sue,
you weren't generally discovering anything very intimate anyway. A half-said
sentence on a ski slope would be good enough for a splash. I remember one
Royal Correspondent, I think it was James Whitaker, once said to me If you get
two sentences dear fellow you've got a book. And it was really that kind of
attitude that it didn't matter what was said. It would be a winner with
readers and winning with readers is what counted for Kelvin and all of us at
q: Now apart from regarding the Royal, the Royals as a good story which they
obviously were Kelvin McKenzie also has quite clear views on the
Establishment and he used to write great leaders about how the Sun wasn't an
Establishment newspaper and all that. I mean he was primarily a newspaper man
but was there any sense of a sort of personal crusade, a strong feeling about
whether the Royal Family in the new Britain of Margaret Thatcher was actually
providing value for money in his mind?
a: I think it's clear that the Royal Family stood at the apex of an
Establishment that not only Kelvin McKenzie but perhaps Rupert Murdoch and
perhaps all of us who work for the Sun felt was old-fashioned, out of step with
the new meritocratic Britain particularly under Margaret Thatcher. And to a
greater or lesser extent, whether it was conscious or unconscious
Part of the use of the Royal Family and the use of the Royal couple as mere
fodder to increase sales was obviously involved in that set of decision
making. It's quite clear that the Sun identified with the working class of
Britain and identifying with them also meant having a chip on the shoulder
about the privilege and inherited status of the Royal Family. And in that
sense, although people supposedly loved Diana and loved the Royal Family, they
were equally eager to see them pulled down. You raise them up and you pull them
down and I suppose the most obvious and telling slogan of the British Press
anyway throughout a long period.
q: Did you have any direct experience during your time on the Sun of what
Rupert Murdoch's attitude toward the Royal Family really was.
a: I never heard Rupert Murdoch say, certainly not in my presence, anything
rude about the Royal Family. I never heard him urge us to do more on the Royal
Family, just the reverse. The single occasion on which I can recall him
mentioning them was to say...Do you need to do what you're doing. Couldn't
you just lay off them a bit? And I think that he felt that one couldn't use
this family, in spite of his hostility to the concept of the Establishment in
Britain which he
keenly felt coming from the outside and in some cases felt because of what had
happened to him when he first entered Britain. I think that he also had a sense
of sympathy for people in such a goldfish bowl. So I can't say that Rupert
Murdoch ever urged knowingly us to intrude in the lives of the Royal Family.
q: I don't suppose you can remember what it was specifically he was talking
a: I can't recall it. I mean if you imagine the five or six amazing years in
which I worked on the Sun and the number of times I took part in these kinds
of discussions, it all goes into one amazing clutter.
q: Now do you remember when Kelvin was asked to go along with other editors
whom we've heard from to meet the Queen in 1981 at the invitation of Michael
Shea who wanted the Press to lay off the Princess of Wales?
a: I remember the occasion on which Michael Shea invited all the editors to
Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. Kelvin's immediate response was that--
this wasn't a good idea. He always felt that getting too close to the people
who were victims in his newspaper - it didn't really matter whether it was the
Royal Family or politicians - was a bad thing. I think his mind changed later
in his later years at the Sun but in those early years he felt keeping a
distance was very important and his response was ...Look I know what's going on
here. I know what they're trying to do. I'm not going to be wound into this.
They're not going to soft soap me. I wish to keep my distance and I will not be
so easily involved in a smooze.
q: Can you remember what his excuse was for not going?
a: Yes. I do recall what Kelvin said on that famous occasion, and it had
something to do with needing to see Rupert Murdoch and that being more
important than meeting the Queen. Meeting the boss is always more important
than meeting the Queen. Of course what was so very funny about that occasion
was that another Murdoch editor misbehaved so gloriously at that function,
Barry Askew, then Editor of News of the World, who made a remark which even led
the Queen to say 'How pompous'-- that became the enduring story so Kelvin not
going was kind of overlooked in the News of the World Editor's misbehavior.
q: Now in 1981 the Sun and Star were engaged in a race to get photographs of
Diana on holiday. Can you remember the reaction in the office when the
pictures arrived back, they were faxed or whatever it was back from the
Bahamas? What did you think of them and why did your paper decide to run
a: The response to the famous holiday pictures was I think Kelvin jumping in
the air. I think the News Editor opened his arms wide and said Yes. I think
one understands why. They thought they'd got the best pictures of all time and
there were no, as far as I can recall, worries about publishing those pictures.
We did have the kind of discussion, are we doing the right thing? And we all
knew we were going to publish them whether or not we said we were doing the
right thing or not. And they weren't seen at the moment of publication as being
particularly controversial. What was so interesting about that episode was that
after the publisher...let me start again.
What was so really interesting about that episode was that after the pictures
were published and the reporter and photographer returned, they told me that
they got into the office quite early and Arthur Edwards, the photographer, said
the most wonderful thing was that we expected after the controversy that we
would be in some kind of trouble. I pushed open the double doors of the office
in Bouverie Street, at the other end of the room was Kelvin McKenzie who ran
towards me, put his arms out and caught me in his
arms and Arthur--who was you know just a great luvie of a photographer--said
See, that's the kind of backing you don't get everywhere. But it was also
symbolic in the sense that Kelvin didn't care what the Establishment thought
about those pictures. He backed his photographer and his reporter in what
they'd done and he was showing--Look, I stand four square with you.
q: What was the reaction of the Palace to the Sun at an editorial level or in
senior management at News International? I mean what did they try to do about
stuff like that?
a: The Palace were in a particularly difficult position. In the old days when
they knew that they could easily get in touch with a proprietor or with an
editor and speak in the sort of old boy network they were always able to
control papers. But by the 1980's all that had broken down. Rupert Murdoch was
abroad and not responsive
anyway to the Palace even if they did try to get in touch with him. He didn't
have the kind of lieutenants in his organization who were part of the public
school network so that was no good, and the Editor was totally unresponsive to
any suggestions that he could be curtailed by the Establishment.
And in a sense the Palace perhaps suggested through various channels, perhaps
the Press Council of those days, that there might be a way of dealing with this
rogue newspaper but it was no good. I mean not only were the Sun prepared to
publish but so were the Daily Mirror, who were equally unresponsive to those
kinds of temptations from the Palace and the situation was impossible for them.
They tried to retreat. They took the view that ,okay if we can't do anything
when they go off and find pictures and stories, what we'll do is we'll not
confirm them. We'll say we're not commenting whether that's true or not. And
even that tactic of course blew up in their faces as well. It became
impossible for the Palace to exert any proper pressure on these rogue
q: Do you remember how Kelvin would respond to to the Palace, the knowledge
that the Palace --through one of their channels, through the Press Council or
some politician or whatever-- tried to indicate that they were very unhappy
with the Sun's coverage?
a: Kelvin might announce at conference in the morning that such and such a
story or picture had really upset the Palace and ....Kelvin's view was that
this was an ongoing story and nothing would stand in his way. So he would
adopt at a conference in the morning a mock and shock look and say 'I'm afraid
we've upset the Palace--how can we do it today?' And I mean in other words, it
was a two fingers to the idea of any restraint.
q: Why were Royal Reporters not believed?
a: I think many of us in the office began to feel that some of the stories that
were emanating from the royal pack couldn't possibly be true. They would stand
behind these stories and say that they definitely are. I think the defining
moments were when it was suggested that Princess Diana and Charles weren't
getting on. Stories were emanating from sources who we knew existed. A lot of
people feel oh we just made things up. That wasn't true. Reporters like Judy
Wade on the Sun and Harry Arnold on the Sun and James Whitaker were getting
stories from detectives and from aides saying all is not well.
It was difficult for us to believe and some of the incidents were so
extraordinary - the tears, the tantrums, the fact that he was turning up alone
and she'd canceled at the last minute. This couldn't possibly be true surely in
a well-adjusted couple who we'd seen cuddling and canoodling only a couple of
years before. And so we ourselves disbelieved that the fairy tale could end. I
can do more on that if you want.
q: Was it that it was too fantastic or that you didn't want to believe it and
you didn't think readers wanted to believe it?
a: I don't think that we ever worried about readers' response to this because
we were engaged - I know a lot of people don't believe this - in truth-telling.
So it was a story and of course you can only tell a fairy tale once and the
fairy tale went on for a couple of years and that was fine but the story, the
running story was much more interesting. Is there a rift? What does it mean?
How deep is it? Are they living separate lives? Why are they breaking up?
What's the problem?
And all of these things became a kind of fascinating soap opera within a soap
opera and it was quite clear that the glittering pictures of this woman were
very different from what was going on in the background, although we were
ourselves skeptical about what we were hearing, these royal reporters would
stand utterly behind them and would feel quite confident that they were
q: If there was a situation where there was some story of a terrific row, I
think Harry Arnold had the story about falling down the stairs and all that, if
it was a question of Kelvin McKenzie having to choose between his own
skepticism that such an extraordinary thing had happened and Harry Arnold
saying Look, trust me, I've got good contacts. This story's true. What would
he choose and why? Can you sort of describe what his instincts would be in an
issue like that?
a: There were lots of occasions, lots of stories in which the Editor had to
clench his teeth and ask himself -- Is Harry telling me absolutely the truth
here? Has he got the right sources? And the interesting thing was also they
relied very much also on the photographer, Arthur Edwards. But the feeling was
after a time that Harry had
got it right.
Now each story was subjected to the normal skepticism that any Editor would
employ, especially the Editor knowing as he often said that it will be me in
the tower, not Harry, if this goes in. But most of the time he grew to
appreciate that his reporter was right. There was a great deal of tension
between Kelvin and Harry over working methods and so on, but he never lost his
faith in the stories that Harry was getting.
q: What was it about the Sun at that time, Kelvin McKenzie and Thatcherism,
which sort of start to capture a mood for several years really?
a: It is hard looking back for some people to remember what that period was
like but here we have a Prime Minister who was a radical, tearing up and
tearing into the old norms that we'd come to expect from the sixties onwards.
She refashioned society. She tore into the regulation of the economy, she
up-ended organized labor and she did this in concert with the owner of the Sun,
Rupert Murdoch and particularly with the Editor of the Sun, Kelvin McKenzie.
This meant that there was a spirit abroad of all the old ways being up for
grabs, that the old certainties could be turned round. And part of the
irreverence towards the Royal Family and a complete lack of deference came from
that and the feeling perhaps that if you took to a logical conclusion the
Thatcher revolution then there was no need any longer for an unelected Head of
State. There was a kind of unconscious republicanism in what the Sun was doing.
Of course it paid lip service to the Royal Family. It said that all this
intrusion is not trying to do them down. Ma'am, we are merely following a
story. It's not our fault at what we're doing. We love you. It's your children
we don't like.
But of course at the same time it was building a consciousness within its
readers in which the readers themselves felt--do we need this family with all
their money, all their inherited privilege and so on? And so the Sun was
caught the spirit of the times. It was really a case of the zeitgeist.
q: I don't know if he'd ever describe himself with this word but is
unconsciously Kelvin McKenzie a sort of republican?
a: What's been fascinating about this whole era is trying to spot whether
Rupert Murdoch is a proper republican, was Andrew Neil at the Sunday Times a
republican? Was Kelvin McKenzie? I think they are all small republicans. What
I mean by that is it's not very clear whether they would go the whole hog and
decide to do
away with the Royal Family. However Rupert Murdoch appreciates American society
because he feels that's more equal, more meritocratic. Andrew Neil and Kelvin
McKenzie both feel that too and I think therefore that they didn't have any
particular respect for a Royal Family and saw no need for it. They felt as many
perhaps left-wingers would feel and it's the interesting thing between the
radical right and the old-fashioned left is that there's a coalition of
interests in which they probably feel that the Royal Family and all inherited
privilege holds back British society.
q: The Morton book. When you heard about that book what did you think??
a: Well the Morton book was like a punch to the solar plexus of the Royal
Family. But it was a bit of a punch to the solar plexus of the rest of the
Press and it was a rather strange situation in which a lot of the royal
reporters who had been friends of Andrew Morton were disbelieving of the book
and many of them wrote saying that this book can't be true. Many of the
incidents can't be proved. The very famous incident of Diana throwing herself
down the stairs was poo-pooed by Harry Arnold, the man who had originally
written about it. He said he knew it was a fall. It wasn't a case of her having
So people stood back and they didn't believe Andrew Morton and it was such a
tremendous shock. I think it was the turning point in the whole of Royal
reporting. But as it emerged that what Morton had written was basically
underwritten if not by Princess Diana herself, certainly by her friends. It was
obvious that she'd agreed that the pictures could be taken from her personal
album. There was a very famous incident in which Princess Diana was seen to
visit during the period of this controversy one of her close friends who had
been an acknowledged source for the book. It was quite clear that what Morton
had written was with her approval. It may not have been the truth of course as,
as Prince Charles's side in this dispute were later to make clear but it was
certainly her side of the story of a marital breakdown.
q: Many people have wanted to say it didn't matter that these marriages
collapsed. The institution can survive. What's your view of that argument?
a: It's quite clear that people take positions on the Monarchy based sometimes
on the wrong reasons. It's clear that people began to lose respect for the
Royal Family and therefore the Monarchy once the collapses of these marriages
came about and there was a growing dissension among the public, which has been
noted by the pollsters, about the concept of Monarchy because they thought that
the Royal Family had misbehaved.
Now that's something that newspapers helped to bring about and some monarchist
newspapers like the Daily Telegraph very early on spotted that that's what
would be the end result. For instance Charles Moore, who was Editor of the
Spectator and then Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and then the Daily Telegraph,
he quickly spotted what was happening here was a problem in which people were
perceiving the family as the cause of problems of Monarchy and he quickly split
the two. He said that there is a difference between the Royal Family and the
Monarchy. The institution of the Monarchy is important to the stability of
Britain and important not just to the heritage but even to our future. And the
family who happened to wear the ermine at that moment are less important.
Okay, by actually creating for them a bad public image you are doing the
Monarchy down, but let's try and separate the two.
It was a clever move on his part but of course the people, the mass of the
people don't see it like that. They see the two together and they can't hold
them as separate concepts.
q: Looking back over the history that we're covering since the war, were
people encouraged to think of the Royal Family as the same as the
a: It's interesting that the Windsors as a family in their family house,
Buckingham Palace, actually personified what the Monarchy was and the
Monarchy, was a strategy adopted by them to perhaps in their view be more like
other people. They were actually saying to people--'Look, we're just a family.
We're a very special family but we are not remote, not different.'
And so it formed a very definite strategy to build around that view that they
were more modern. Of course it blew up in their faces that idea after forty or
fifty years because, having carefully nurtured the idea that they weren't that
different, were in some ways just a special family but only a little bit
removed from people, blew up in their faces when people realized that okay,
since they aren't very different what's so special about them? Why should we
worry about them so much? They then had to fly back to the position they'd only
previously held which is that they are different, that the Monarchy is a
different organization, that they are to use the phrase no one ever uses
nowadays blue-blooded, a different kind of aspect from the person. But it was
too late. I mean that was the real problem for them. Having created this idea
of a special family.
q: Can you as a republican, could you have envisaged the extent to which the
younger members of the Royal Family would advance your cause, if you like,
through their own behavior? And I'm thinking, when I talk about their own
behavior--perhaps not just of their marriage problems, but their behavior in
talking to the Press and colluding with the Press.
a: It's absolutely fascinating how the idea of remoteness from the Press was
an original concept of the Palace and of the whole family and how, as the Press
began to intrude more and more into the Royal Family's lives, they began to
collude with the Press. You got leaks quite clearly from Princess Diana to
Andrew Morton but later she would obviously contact other newspapers, most
spectacularly of course the Daily Mail and she would use the institution of the
Press to her advantage.
Later it's quite obvious that friends of Prince Charles, as they're always
called, would be leaking on his behalf. It's clear that in the case of the
relationship between Andrew and Sarah Ferguson that similarly there was
collusion between those family and, that family and the Press. So what we've
seen is a breakdown in the remoteness. At the very moment that they're most
complaining about Press intrusion, they begin to use the Press. Now what, the
extra facet of that of course is that them coming closer to the Press has
enhanced this problem that they face, which is that in coming close they become
more like other people and as they become more like other people the readers,
the public become to say Well what's so different about them? What's so
And so it enhances the view of republicanism. I've been a republican all my
life and I didn't have any problem about that but I never saw it in terms of
bad family. I mean I don't like good kings. I'm not interested in whether
they're bad things. For me it's the institution in this country which is wrong
because of the constitutional implications, the Crown prerogative and so on.
However advancing the cause of republicans like me has been the behavior of the
family itself. And there is no doubt in my mind that for every republican
who've used the problem of Monarchy, the existence of Monarchy itself, there
are nine people who are republicans because they think the family have
misbehaved. Now that's an interesting split but it's one that's come about due
to the Press intrusion.