The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - PUZZLE TIME -

‘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

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