Friends In High Places
Duke of Edinburgh
‘We were starting
Good Evening Ulster in Northern Ireland in the middle of bombs, bullets and barricades. Young people were not top of the list at that time but, having done their Duke Of Edinburgh Award, a group was going to the palace. I said to my producer, ‘Wouldn’t it be good if we could film them?’ The Duke said yes.
‘The first time you go to Buckingham Palace, it’s daunting. I was nervous. I knew the Duke could be crusty, but it was incredible. I’ve always admired the Duke. He’s a wonderful consort. His one-liners have got him into trouble, but I quite like that naughtiness. This not only gave me a chance to interview him, but I also got a glimpse of the Queen walking the corgis down the corridor. A double whammy!’
‘So much is being said about Princess Diana on the 20th anniversary of her death. Everybody talks about how charming she was, how easy to talk to, how beautiful… and she was. At the time we met, Princess Diana was the most famous woman in the world. I never dreamt I’d be doing a campaign with her, so it was very exciting to be involved.
‘The campaign was about a straw that would go to Africa – you could drink dirty water with it and the straw would filter out bad things. I have a photo of us cutting a cake to celebrate. It has the two of us with both our hands on the knife. I remember saying to her, “I think we’re married now…” She was very friendly. So friendly that I could say that. You’d never dream of saying something like that to the Queen!’
‘Growing up, there was nothing else to do but go to the pictures.
Doris Day was the star at the time.
I wanted to be her really!
‘In 1993, I got a call from a record company friend who said that a lost record of hers had been found and she was willing to do interviews. She hadn’t done an interview since her husband died in 1968, so it was a coup.
‘She was just the same with her white polo neck sweater. I was bowled over. I thought she might be hesitant but she was very open, talked about the abuse she’d had about her husband’s fraud of millions of dollars. If only I’d known as a kid that one day I’d walk on the beach with Doris Day!’
‘When I first met Cliff, it was the height of the Troubles. He was doing a concert in Lisburn. I was on the Belfast equivalent of the Today programme and suggested an interview [to bosses]. They said, “We’ve tried, you won’t get him.” But I knew the vicar hosting Cliff and asked if he would have a word with him. I interviewed him and that meeting led to a wonderful friendship. Cliff’s loyal and kind. And his counsel has been invaluable. When you lose a child, it goes to a depth you never thought possible. The year Caron died, 2004, he asked how I would manage Christmas. I replied that I didn’t know. He asked if Caron liked Christmas and I said she adored it. He suggested that I go bigger and better than ever before for Caron and her boys.
‘I thought, “Why don’t I?” We had five Christmas trees… because he gave me the licence. I thought I’d never smile again. You almost feel guilty if you’re enjoying something, but Cliff gave me the key, gave me permission. Cliff is family to us.’
‘When I went to Canada at 17 to visit family, I’d never been out of Ireland. It was an adventure. Every new film was shown on the boat and one of them was Gigi. Leslie Caron was so beautiful. I thought, “I could be Gigi!” I saw the film nearly every day and have many times since. I called my daughter Caron after Leslie Caron.
‘Years later, when Leslie Caron was on the Royal Variety Performance, she was in the same dressing room as me. I opened the door and there she was. I was nervous. The first time with your idols, you hear yourself say the most ridiculous things!
‘There’s always an after-show party and Leslie Caron asked if she could go with me. We ended up taking her there and she sat with us – such a sweet end to a long-standing adoration.’