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