q: Iin the 1980's when there was this incredible appetite for any little
tit-bit of information how seriously would you check out some sort of trivial
sort of nuance of her lifestyle with Buckingham Palace? I mean how seriously
were these stories checked out by papers like the Star? Accuracy in other
a: Well people used to mock royal reporters as not being particularly accurate
in their work but, when broad sheet newspaper journalists used to come with us
on royal tours, they used to be impressed by the extent to which we would go
to verify a story because remember an industrial reporter might get a scoop
and get it wrong but it would be on page 5 and nobody will ever remember it.
You get a story about say Princess Anne being pregnant and you get that wrong
then it is all over the front page and you've got egg all over your, all over
So the competition meant that there was an awful, also a competition to get
things right. Obviously you got things wrong because journalists do because
you're working in a very difficult area but really you were trying to get
things right all the time.
q: How accessible did the Palace Household make the Princess of Wales in
those early days for the media when they wanted to film her say on holiday for
example, i.e. not on royal duties, I mean official duty?
a: Well during the 1980's they always tried their best to stop them from
being photographed on what they would call private functions and they would
use the full panoply of the police, of influence on editors and proprietors to
stop people from either photographing them or filming them and certainly you
didn't used to get anybody filming them. You used to get the occasional
photographer would go to Balmoral with a long lens and try and take pictures of
say Prince Charles on the riverbank. But again these pictures, this what is
now called intrusion, was still very laudatory. It was showing them as human
beings off duty, relaxing. It was nothing, not particularly critical of either
them or of the institution that they represented.
q: Why was that do you think?
a: Because it was in everyone's interests - the newspaper editors, Buckingham
Palace - to maintain and to continue the fairy tale. I remember when I was on
a tour of Italy and Prince William and Prince Harry were due to fly out to
join Princess Diana and Prince Charles for a short holiday. They were flying
out on a flight and I just filed the story saying how much it cost the British
tax-payer to actually fly out William and Harry to Italy. And the news editor
said I must be barmy. Why am I filing that kind of nonsense? So the whole
thrust of any kind of reportage of the Royal Family, certainly in the tabloids,
it may have been intrusive in terms of the way you define it, but it was
certainly very laudatory and it really maintained and expanded the fairy
q: What do you call the fairy tale? Is that the royal romance or the image of
the Royal Family as this lovely upper class family?
a: It is the image of the Royal Family as a dutiful, sober, honorable family
who were doing their best to sell Britain abroad, to represent Britain at
home, and also it was also this sense that with the arrival of Diana she'd
moved the royal, the House of Windsor from being a rather
dull and dowdy domestic family onto the international stage, and so the Royal
Family, the House of Windsor, was the one and only international running news
story during the 1980's and certainly during the 1990s.
q: Can you remember any other examples of a story that would not, your kind
of story that would not have got into the Daily Star in those days?
a: Well any story about money, any story which was even vaguely critical of the
Royal Family would not make muster. Stories about Diana's fashions, about
possible rows between Charles and Diana, these were meat and drink, but any
kind of serious analysis, any kind of jousting with what was really going on
inside the Royal Family or inside the House of Windsor was anathema.
q: So when James Whittaker wrote a story saying that the Princess of Wales
had an eating disorder, he was derided and traduced and criticized on the
radio and so on and so forth which he has described. What was your attitude in
your office towards Whittaker's story at that time? I mean how did you as, as
another journalist react to that story?
a: Well you had to try and find out whether the story of, of her illness was
true or false but bearing in mind that the Mirror and the Sun had gone with
the story in editorial terms you took account of the point of view that these
people were hounding her and driving her into that kind of illness, which we
now know to be accurate, although James was writing about it that she had
anorexia nervosa, which her elder sister suffered from, whereas Diana had
bulimia which is a very different kind of eating disorder.
q: But he was getting near the truth?
a: Oh yes absolutely. James got it from somebody inside the Spencer
q: Right. Now generally the coverage in your view was pretty adulatory and
positive for them. What do you think that was doing to their own perception
of themselves if you like?
a: Well let me just wind it back a little bit. At the time you all tended to
know who, what sources were accurate and what sources weren't and what
newspaper journalist had the good stories and the only person writing during
the early 1980's about what was really going on was a lady called Fiona
McDonald Hull, who was the Court Correspondent for the News of the World. And
she had an excellent contact - and I know who it was - inside Kensington
And she was writing material which was totally counter to what the general mood
was. She was writing stuff about Diana coming back from an engagement and
sobbing and falling down in tears and throwing things and the whole
atmosphere at Kensington Palace had been really desperate. I mean it used to
be a standing joke that everytime Fiona ever wrote a story she used the word
'desperate' in her copy. But subsequently, obviously Fiona's insights and
information was far more accurate than the laudatory coverage that many other
journalists were giving the Royal Family. So, all right, that's...
a: But Fiona, because she worked for the News of the World, her copy, her
material, her in, insights were derided and just seen as exaggeration.
q: What was your own first inkling that things were not as good as they
ought to be in the fairy tale?
a: I started writing books about the Royal Family in the early 1980's and, when
you start writing books, you get to know people better and you build up
contacts. And I made several very good contacts who were telling me information
which was very much counter to what the general mythology of the Royal Family
was and these kind of as it were straws in the wind started to build up over
the years and they came as individual stories about for example Prince
Charles and Princess Diana not getting on too well. That the Duke and
Duchess of York were not really seeing eye to eye, that life inside the
goldfish bowl that you call Buckingham Palace or Kensington Palace was not as
the world saw it.
But these things, because you were talking to contacts who would never go on
the record, who would never be named, who would never stand up in Court if the
Royal Family took you to Court for libel or any other civil action, then you
couldn't actually pursue those story, stories as vigorously as you would like
q: Did you hint at them in your books?
a: Yes from time to time. I remember on one occasion this contact saying to me
how Diana had been in tears very shortly before the wedding of the Duke and
Duchess of York. She'd been in tears because Prince Charles had upbraided her
about her relationship with another man. Now we didn't know who that other man
was and it all seemed a bit far-fetched to me. It was a downstairs story and
you very quickly learned that at Buckingham Palace and at Kensington Palace you
can have a cold in the morning but by five o'clock you're dying of aids. So
rumor and exaggeration walk hand-in-hand with any stories about the Royal
Family both inside and outside Buckingham Palace.
q: But when you did what happened if you tried to put some kind of slightly
negative implications about what was going on in anything that came in print? I
mean could you not get them into your newspapers or books?
a: Oh yes from time to time you would, you'd do that but obviously the laws
of libel in Britain are quite fierce so you have to be very careful and, if
you're dealing with somebody who's telling you something off the record,
they're not prepared to go to Court about it, then you've got to be very
circumspect, as simple as that.
The problem with writing royal stories is so much is told to you off the record
because either people above stairs are afraid of losing their friendship with
the Royal Family, people below stairs are afraid of losing their jobs. So, as
you build up contacts you get more and more juicy fascinating information about
what the Royal Family are really doing. But at the same time it's tantalizing
close but you can't print it because the laws of libel in Britain are very
fierce and these people would never go to Court on your behalf. They would
never stand sign an affidavit. So you're basically left to hang in the wind
if you write something and then the Palace deny it.
q: When a story expressing, getting anywhere near the truth about the Royal
marriage did get into the papers and the newspaper checked it up with the
Palace Press Office can you describe what their reaction would generally be to
stories about how they weren't getting on?
a: Well I remember when the first stories about Charles and Di not getting on
appeared in early 1980s, 1982, '83, and Michael Shea, who was then the Press
Secretary to the Queen, he gave the Star a briefing and he said that they had
quotes "a rumbustious marriage but that it was a good thing" and he never
gave any sign at all that the Royal marriage was in any way in any kind of
problem. And remember this was at a time when Diana had tried to commit
suicide by throwing herself downstairs, where she'd cut herself, where she was
suffering from bulimia, where the Royal Family were actually tearing their hair
out as to what to do about this woman who seemed to be to them out of control
and yet on the surface the Royal Family was like a swan, gliding beautifully
along the surface of British society.
q: But I mean in fairness to Michael Shea, he may not have actually known about
all these things that were going on?
a: He may not have known, but that's a question you might have to ask him --
but even if he had known, he probably he wouldn't have said it.
Because at the time the Palace's view was that they will talk about public
events but never private things unless that individual unless a member of the
Royal Family gave them the go-ahead.
The Royal Family's Press Office were known as the Abominable No Man because
they always used to say 'no comment' because their policy was very much that
the private lives of the Royal Family were private, and yet there was
throughout the 1980s, and before that really, this intermingling between what
is public and what is private, and so they were always changing the goal posts,
they were always changing the agenda always in their favor. And they defined
the agenda. They defined what was private and what was public and they would
move it whenever they wished.
q: Makes me think of that television film that they made which was actually
called "In Public In Private." I mean what did you make of that as a
journalist, always being told you mustn't poke into their private lives and
then they make a film which purports to be partly about their private life?
a: Well this was the irony really of the 1980s that the Royal Family as it were
hitched their wagon to television and everything that they did they went, they
did through television and they left the tabloids and the broadsheets alone,
apart from the occasional lunch with editors. But
so as a result of that they, they really swapped the deeper reverence of
mystique, the mystique of Monarchy, for what you might call the shallow
applause of the studio audience. So what you were seeing was what I would call
the Woganisation of the Windsors. They were becoming more and more showbiz
personalities. They were doing it for charity. They were doing it to explain
themselves, but the boundaries between what was private and what was public
were very, very gray indeed.
q: Returning now to the problems in the Royal marriage. It seems from
interviews that we've done with other people that getting perhaps late into
the eighties, that the Princess of Wales herself started to talk to editors -
and particularly perhaps David English - and other journalists who were
following her around in an oblique way about the problems within her marriage.
Did you have any direct experience of this yourself? I mean you traveled around
with her when she was on tours in groups and she would talk on airplanes and
at receptions ,and so on, to journalists and she'd given obviously off the
record conversations but they were used by the people that she spoke to?
a: There was a period when they were Charles and Diana were touring around
the world where you were meeting them at these cocktail parties on a fairly
regular basis and the conversations were usually light, bright and trite. But
also it was noticeable that Diana particularly would pick on a subject about
usually, invariably it was about Prince William and how he was progressing and
drop that into the conversation knowing full well that would be used as a nice
juicy, human interest story that was favorable to William, to her and there was
never any inkling at that time that there was anything wrong with the marriage.
Certainly when she was talking at these receptions it was all lively joshing
and very friendly.
q: When you went to watch "It's a Royal Knockout" at Alton Towers. Can you
describe what thoughts were going through your head when you watched the event
first of all?
a: I watched the event with James Whittaker from the Daily Mirror and there
was one moment on this bitterly cold June day where we saw the Duchess of York
running round this muddy field shouting her head off looking like a sixth form
schoolgirl and we just simultaneously
turned to each other and said Well this spells the end of her and the House
of Windsor because it was a joke. They were just making themselves into
figures of fun and this is where television during the 1980's did the Royal
Family no favors at all.
The Royal Knockout was just really symptomatic of what was going on in the
relationship between the House of Windsor and television was giving them carte
blanche to talk about whatever they wanted - their stamp collections, their
helicopters, their horse riding their interest in architecture, their interest
in the environment. For a time during the 1980s the Royal Family were not just
the most influential family in Britain but probably in Europe and Prince
Charles specifically was very much like a defacto Cabinet member and what he
said actually had impact on public policy. And they were using television to
expand on their private interests and also their public concerns and to that
extent people in the newspaper world felt very angry at the way that they were
changing the whole agenda - one agenda for television, another agenda for the
broadsheets and for the tabloids.
q: Why shouldn't people from an important national institution put their
point across on television?
a: There's no reason at all why they shouldn't put their point across on
television about architecture or about what, whatever they want but like
politicians. If they're going to behave like politicians, they must be looked
at like politicians and just as we like to see what a politician is really like
behind the closed doors of his constituency we also want to know, especially
when they're lecturing us on how we should live our lives we also want to know
what they're really like behind the closed doors of Buckingham Palace.
q: After It's A Royal Knockout" event -- when you went to the press
conference afterwards can you describe what happened?
a: Well it had been a long day for everybody. Everybody was tired. Everybody
was cold and I remember Prince Edward asked someone in the general throng
--'What did you think of it?; and we all kind of mumbled 'Well, nothing very
much' and then, he stormed out as one says like a ballerina with a ladder in
his tights. He was arrogant, unpleasant and he was presumably, and probably
overwrought. But for us it was a story. We had a deadline to meet but it did
represent, it did symbolize I think the apogee of the Royal Family during the
q: But he was Prince Edward. He was a member of Britain's Royal Family and you
were impolite to him?
a: No. Nobody was impolite to him. People, he just asked us a question and he
got a fairly desultory answer and at that time he, he'd had a long day and he
was overwrought but if he wants to do, if he wants to hold a press conference
you hold a press conference. He wasn't professional. He was very amateurish. He
was very high-handed and he acted in the way, in the rather teutonic way that
the Windsors tend to do when they're under pressure.
Members of the Royal Family tend to, and Prince Edward particularly, tend to
shade in and out of being ordinary people and royal people. They will put on
their airs and graces as being royal and then they want to be everyman, to be
ordinary, and Prince Edward is a classic example of this. He's a TV producer,
a theatrical impresario, and he wants to be treated as Mr. Windsor but when the
going gets rough he wants to be treated like a member of the Royal Family and
this was the problem that he faced when he was in the Royal Marines, that one
minute he wanted to be royal, the next minute he wanted to be an ordinary chap,
and I'm afraid they can't do it.
q: Was that also the problem with the Royal Knockout?
a: There were a number of factors behind the Royal Knockout. One was the fact
that one newspaper had total exclusivity of the pictures, so there's a degree
of competition to get some kind of photographic image of what was really
going on. Secondly there was this whole scene of the Royal Family behaving in
a way that was totally alien to the way that you normally saw them and in the
kind of the tension of the time when you were actually looking at Princess
Anne you can actually see - and maybe I'm extrapolating from this - in her body
language she was saying to the world I want to be somewhere else. I want to be
a million miles away from this. And when, I remember Stuart Hall trying to put
his arm round her and she shrank back in horror. And she was obviously aware
that this whole event was doom laden. The Duke and Duchess of York were having
a great old time. They were throwing sugar at each other, fruit at each other,
behaving in precisely the same way that the Royal Family do behave behind
closed door, this upper class, bread roll throwing family, but they were
doing it in public and so we were getting a real vivid glimpse of how they
really behave when the gates are open.
q: So, can you sum up sort of your view of the inflated prestige, if you
like, of the Royal Family during the eighties.
a: The high point of the Queen's reign is possibly the Silver Jubilee of 1977.
That's when they were at their height as a domestic royal family. The 1980s
turned them into an international family thanks to the arrival of Diana and
this bull's generation of young Royals - Prince Andrew, The Duchess of York and
so on. And what happened was that they were rather like a stock, rather like
IBM. Their stock went up and up and up and when the balloon burst their stock
went plummeting to the ground. And I think that it's the very fact that they
were seen in this international way that they lost the roots of where they were
and they were judged and they were given access to television. They were
treated in a very uncritical way by the mass media. They were lauded. They were
lionized and they had, in both legal terms and constitutional terms they
enjoyed the greatest privileges and the fewest responsibilities at any time
in the House of Windsor. And it's fascinating as a historian really that at the
time of many royal houses, at the time of their greatest seeming triumph is
the moment when they come crashing to the ground.
q: But how important was our own, our own professions, if you want to call them
that, of television and the press in building them up and giving them an
perhaps an unrealistic sense of their own popularity?
a: I would argue that television and particularly the BBC were instrumental in
puffing up the Royal Family to a level where they were inflated out of all,
all proportion to their relevance on the national scene. The very fact that
Prince Charles was acting almost like an unofficial member of the opposition
and at the time almost like the opposition leader, was a case in point. The
very fact that the broad sheet newspapers, which should really look at public
importance stories, never once investigated or analyzed the House of Windsor or
the implications for the future of Britain of our constitutional monarchy
was another example. The fact that the tabloids by and large wanted to maintain
and expand the fairy tale all helped to keep Buckingham Palace with a sense
that nothing could ever go wrong that they were riding on the crest of a wave
and that everything was fine and yet inside the House of Windsor the whole
thing was collapsing around their ears.
q: Now what did the Princess of Wales media appeal if you like, the fact that
she was the Number One cover girl in the world do for her status, I mean
status and a kind of hierarchy within the House of Windsor? Forget about her
personal problems for a minute.
a: Diana's status inside the House of Windsor was that of the Princess of
Wales and she technically was Number Two to Prince Charles and that's where
some of the problems lay because she was, she really should have been in the
shadows and ironically she was the super star. Prince Charles was the man who
was used to playing as it were leading the bill in the
House of Windsor. Diana should have been playing second fiddle... In terms of
the 1980s Diana's position was very ambivalent. Inside the House of Windsor she
was just she was a member of the Royal Family. She was not the super star. She
was not seen as the super star. Prince Charles was the one upon which everyone
directed their attention and yet to the mass media, to the public, Diana was
the super star and for her there was this incredible dichotomy going on all the
time. She was lauded and lionized outside Kensington Palace. She was treated
as a second-class, third-class citizen inside Buckingham Palace and that's
where the problem lay, not just for her but for the Duchess of York.
q: Well what about for other members of the Royal Family like the people
running the main Press Office and so on and so forth? I mean what did that do
for them because they were supposed to be representing all of them?
a: I felt very sorry for people in the Press Office because they knew the
hierarchy inside Buckingham Palace. They knew that Diana's position was not
that of the super star. She was just a member of the Royal Family and yet they
were having to deal with endless requests for interviews and so on and so forth
and that, and so that put them in an invidious position. But the stark reality
is that the public want to know about Royal women and not about Royal men.
Whereas inside the Royal Family, apart from the Queen, it's the Royal men who
rule the roost.