Life and times

The Tele­graph’s for­mer royal cor­re­spon­dent on trav­el­ling the world with the Prince of Wales

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

For­mer Tele­graph royal cor­re­spon­dent Gor­don Rayner

AS IN­TRO­DUC­TIONS GO, it was on the awk­ward side. I was in a tiny sou­venir shop in Mo­rocco when I un­in­ten­tion­ally found my­self face-to-face with the Prince of Wales for the first time.

Shad­ow­ing him as The Tele­graph’s re­cently ap­pointed royal cor­re­spon­dent, I was try­ing to keep a re­spect­ful dis­tance, my job be­ing to ob­serve not to par­tic­i­pate, but the few square feet of avail­able floor space made it im­pos­si­ble to avoid each other.

He turned. He looked at me. A wary look, un­smil­ing. I pan­icked, and broke royal pro­to­col by speak­ing first. ‘Good morn­ing, Your Royal High­ness,’ I said, ner­vously. ‘Morn­ing,’ he re­turned, flatly, be­fore ask­ing me where I was from. I had a dis­tinct feel­ing of be­ing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thank­fully, the ever-de­pend­able Duchess of Corn­wall was on hand to res­cue me. She al­ready knew who I was, be­ing rather more proac­tive than the Prince in her re­la­tions with the me­dia, and told him: ‘Dar­ling, haven’t you met Gor­don? He works for The Tele­graph.’

It was 2011, and my third royal tour with the Prince (I had been with him to Eastern Eu­rope and In­dia), yet this was my first sausagey hand­shake from him. The point be­ing, get­ting to know the Prince of Wales is a slow process.

I EN­TIRELY UN­DER­STAND any wari­ness on the Prince’s part. He has, af­ter all, had a rough ride from the me­dia. Ribbed over his talk­ing to plants; vil­i­fied for cheat­ing on Di­ana, Princess of Wales; ac­cused of med­dling be­cause of his ‘black spi­der’ memos to min­is­ters.

He shuns the tra­di­tion of pri­vate drinks par­ties with the me­dia on for­eign tours (an off-the-record com­ment made to a re­porter decades ago at such an event be­came the next day’s front page, and he vowed never to be caught out again), leav­ing the Duchess of Corn­wall to gos­sip with us hacks in ho­tel bars. Yet he has never con­fused the in­di­vid­ual with the cor­po­rate, and has al­ways given re­porters the ben­e­fit of the doubt.

Although he took against the BBC’S Nick Witchell (‘that aw­ful man’ as he fa­mously called him), he takes a per­sonal in­ter­est in those he re­gards as fair, ask­ing af­ter chil­dren and spouses, and tak­ing great de­light in rib­bing us about any mis­for­tunes we suf­fer on tours.

A COU­PLE OF years back, I ca­su­ally men­tioned to one of his staff how much I, as a keen gar­dener, wanted to see the Prince’s High­grove gar­den. Months later a se­lect group of royal cor­re­spon­dents were in­vited for a pri­vate tour con­ducted by a vol­un­teer guide. At the end of the visit (which was fab­u­lous, thank you for ask­ing), the Prince emerged from a hid­den door­way like the shop­keeper in Mr Benn, bear­ing gifts of books and seeds. He has a play­ful side that the pub­lic rarely sees, and was clearly de­lighted to sur­prise us.

For a man cel­e­brat­ing his 70th birth­day, he also has tremen­dous en­ergy. Lunch is seen as a lux­ury that gets in the way of his work, so he eats a late break­fast and works through. I found this out the hard way, by go­ing hun­gry when I started cov­er­ing royal tours, and watch­ing en­vi­ously as his long-suf­fer­ing staff pro­duced snacks from pock­ets so they could eat on the go.

Fi­nally, a con­fes­sion. Caught short on a visit to an ele­phant sanc­tu­ary in Ker­ala, I hunted down the near­est loo, only to find it was the one re­served for the Prince’s use, with stick­ers ev­ery­where con­firm­ing it had been swept for bombs. With no al­ter­na­tive fa­cil­i­ties in sight, I may have com­pro­mised royal lava­to­rial se­cu­rity. I’m sorry, Your Royal High­ness, but that damp hand towel wasn’t the work of a ter­ror­ist, it was me.

The Prince emerged from a hid­den door­way like the shop­keeper in Mr Benn, de­lighted to sur­prise us

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