‘Ah,’ said Princess Diana the first time we met, ‘the man who thinks he knows me SO well...’ I always chuckle when I remember that encounter. Because it said it all, didn’t it? The British royal family are the most discussed, debated, adored and derided collection of relatives in the world — yet how well do we really know any of them? I’ve met them all at some stage, and am still none the wiser, although my own first-hand experiences suggest the caricatures are not a million miles off the truth.
Prince Philip was quite splendidly rude at a Buckingham Palace reception to mark his son Charles’s 50th birthday in 1998 — refusing to utter a single word when I introduced myself as the editor of the Daily Mirror, and snarling to a friend of mine as he shot off, ‘God, you can’t tell from the outside, can you?’ I loved him for his brutal honesty. Charles himself oozed ostentatious charm and politeness that day, as he always does in public. Say what you like about the man — I, personally, think that he’ll make a brilliant king — he has extraordinarily good manners.
Camilla’s warm, earthy, and funny. A minute spent in her company and you instantly understand why she was so much better suited to Charles than Diana ever was.
Andrew, Edward and Anne, by contrast, were stiff, formal and… well, how can I put this gently… a tad on the dull side.
Fergie, of course, is a riot. One of the reasons she got into so much trouble. I’ve dined with her a few times, got severely drunk with her on at least one occasion. She’s an outrageous, kind, sensitive, absurdly generous, hilarious creature who just wants to be loved.
Her two daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, are delightful girls — beautiful, composed, intelligent and a credit to their parents.
Harry, I have never met. Which is probably best for both of us given that he once asked Amanda Holden: ‘Is Piers Morgan as big a prat in real life as he seems on TV?’
William, I know better. I once had a quite extraordinary lunch with just him and Diana at Kensington Palace, when he was 13 years old, wearing braces, and heading into the perils of royal adulthood.
We discussed everything from Cindy Crawford and James Hewitt to paparazzi and kissing girls in discos. All of it, agonisingly, off the record. But I thought
‘The biggest star of them all in the royal firmament is the queen. She always has been’
then that William had a much older head on his shoulders than his age dictated.
And I still do. He’s a man who grew up to loathe the press for the way they harassed his mother, and despised them even more after she died. Yet he understands his ‘duty’ and the need to engage the media in his life to fulfil that duty properly.
William has a sharp sense of humour. I once ribbed him about the size of his feet and he smacked me in the stomach crying, ‘ What about the size of your six-pack… or should I say keg?’
My brother- in- law, a former army colonel, trained both princes at Sandhurst, and said they were both ‘terrific soldiers’. He also said that neither of them ever made any attempt to be treated any differently to other cadets. ‘ They just mucked in like the others.’
As for Diana — she was a beautiful, complicated woman who struggled endlessly with the intolerable pressure of being the biggest celebrity on Planet Earth.
She was great company — as mischievous and provocat ive as she could be serious, fiery and contrary. We all miss her, whether we loved her (as I did) or not.
But the biggest star of them in all in the royal firmament is the queen. She always has been. And what a magnificent queen she is.
I was 12 years old when she celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1977. My parents ran a country pub in a small East Sussex village, and we were therefore the epicentre of the local party. I vividly remember the main street lined with bunting, f lags f lickering everywhere, eating ice- cream and jelly until I was nearly sick, and soaking in the overwhelming atmosphere of joy that pervaded the day.
It was the first time that I really understood how important the queen was to the fabric of British life. We all crowded round a couple of small TVS and cheered when