‘I thought I was getting a motorbike, I got a three-tonne truck!’ 99-year-old VJ Day veteran enjoys Zoom chat with Princess Anne – as the royal continues her 70th birthday celebrations at Gatcombe
- Princess Royal celebrated her 70th birthday yesterday. The royal family’s Twitter account released videos of her chatting to VJ Day veterans on Zoom
- One video shows the royal joking with Syd Pidgeon, 99, who fought in Burma during the Second World War
- She told him: ‘I want your memories’ after he asked ‘How can I help you?’
- Birthday plans scaled back following a recent spike of cases in Aberdeen
The royal family have released footage of Princess Anne chatting with surviving World War II veterans who served in the Far East to mark VJ Day’s 75th anniversary.
The Princess Royal, who turned 70 yesterday, spoke with veterans corporal Sydney Pidgeon, 99, and Australian Corporal Leslie Cook, via a Zoom call in order to mark the anniversary of the Victory Over Japan (VJ Day), which marks the end of the Second World War on August 15th, 1945.
Corporal Pidgeon, served in Burma with the Royal Army Service Corps from 1939 to 1946, and Corporal Cook served in the 2/14 Australian Infantry Battalion from 1940 to 1947.
Both discussed their experiences of the war with Princess Anne, who was at home in her estate of Gatcombe Park, in Gloucestershire, where she spent her birthday weekend.
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Princess Anne, who turned 70 yesterday, is seen chatting to veteran Corporal Sydney Pidgeon, who served in Burma from 1939 to 1946 with the Royal Army Service Corps
The Princess Royal’s 70th birthday has been marked with the release of three official photographs to celebrate the milestone. In one image Anne is seen with a hint of a smile on her lips, wearing a Sue Palmer emerald green dress and a gold ribbon knot brooch, set with 12 diamonds
Three new pictures were released yesterday to mark the famously no-nonsense royal’s special day, as she spent the weekend with close family.
Speaking to Syd Pidgeon in a pre-recorded clip which was released by the royal family on Twitter, Anne said ‘oddly enough I’m after your memories’ when the veteran asked how he could help her.
‘I was mainly supplying the comms, you know, by air, dropping the supplies,’ he explained to her.
‘When I joined the army, I and another fellow joined with the belief that we would get a motorbike, well, when we got in, we got a three-tonne lorry,’ he said with a laugh.
‘Well, you should have joined the Signals, then, shouldn’t you?’ Anne quipped, ‘You’d have got a motorbike, then.’
Princess Anne reminded Corpoal Pidgeon that her great uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten was in Burma at the time.
Corporal Pidgeon revealed he had met with Lord Mountbatten, who was 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma and had been the Viceroy of India, while he served with the troops.
Corporal Sydney Pidgeon spoke to the Princess Royal ahead of VJ Day (Victory over Japan Day), which marked the end of the second World War on 15 August 1945
Because he worked with the supplies, the veteran explained that he was in contact with different national troops from all around the world during his time in the Second World War.
‘Australia, New Zealand, Canadian, mainly American,’ he listed.
When Princess Anne asked him what the weather had been like during his time in Burma, the veteran revealed he had caught several illness, including malaria and dengue fever.
Mr Pidgeon added he had not seen the end of the war coming, having just come back from some leave in the UK.
‘While I was out there, I got a leave, to come back to the UK, which I did,’ he explained.
‘And then when I went back, they said: “the war’s over, your groups’ come up, you’re going home”.’ he laughed.
‘So I spent the last five months, six months, travelling.
Anne warmly thanked Corporal Pidgeon for speaking with her.
‘I’m now Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Logistic Corps, and the RASC (Royal Army Service Corps) has become a part of that, so I feel very much the importance of that history,’ she said.
The royal family shared the sweet conversation on its Twitter account.
‘Ahead of #VJDay75, The Princess Royal held video calls with veterans of the Far East campaign. HRH spoke to Syd Pidgeon, 99, via. Syd served in Burma with the Royal Army Service Corps which became the Royal Logistic Corps, of which The Princess is Colonel-in-Chief,’ it wrote.
Princess Anne also spoke with Corporal Leslie Cook, who served in the Australian Army and told her one of his missions had been to protect the Yasukani Shrine, where it is believed the sold of Japanese solder killed in battle go.
‘I’ve always believed that it was a privilege for me to enlist int he AIF,’ he told her.
He quoted the final lines of a WW2 poem written by an Australia serviceman which read: ‘In spite of our critics, this war will end. And those of us that are left, will proudly proclaim: I was in the AIF.’
The Princess royal also spoke with Australian veteran Corporal Leslie Cook, who told her one of his mission during the war was to guard a Japanese Shrine for soldiers killed in battle
The Princess Royal’s 70th birthday has been marked with the release of three official photographs to celebrate the milestone.
Princess Anne is known for her no-nonsense approach to life and tenacious attitude, but in the images she is pictured smiling and looking relaxed at her Gatcombe Park home in Gloucestershire before lockdown.
Wearing a Maureen Baker evening dress, Sue Palmer bolero jacket and pearls, the Queen’s only daughter looks stylish as she poses for celebrated photographer John Swannell and smiles broadly while sat in her golden leaf chair.
Swannell has taken photographs of everyone from Diana, Princess of Wales and her sons and the Queen’s official Diamond Jubilee portrait in 2012 to Tony Blair, Sir Michael Caine and Sir Elton John.
In another picture the princess looks directly at the camera, with a hint of a smile on her lips, wearing a Sue Palmer emerald green dress and a gold ribbon knot brooch, set with 12 diamonds.
The images were taken in late February a few weeks before the coronavirus lockdown, and in the final picture Anne is dressed more causally for the outdoor setting, where she poses under a tree and looks off into the distance.
Anne celebrates her 70th birthday on Saturday and her son-in-law Mike Tindall has already revealed Covid-19 and the recent spike of cases in Aberdeen have meant plans to mark the day have been scaled back.
Princess Anne is known for her no-nonsense approach to life and tenacious attitude, but in the images she is pictured smiling and looking relaxed at her Gatcombe Park home in Gloucestershire. Wearing a Maureen Baker evening dress and Sue Palmer bolero jacket, the Queen’s only daughter looks stylish as she poses for celebrated photographer John Swannell and smiles broadly while sat in a chair
The images were taken in late February a few weeks before the coronavirus lockdown, and in the final picture Anne is dressed more causally for the outdoor setting, where she poses under a tree and looks off into the distance
The former England rugby star, who is married to Anne’s daughter Zara, said alternative arrangements were being made.
Speaking earlier this week on BBC’s The One Show, Tindall said: ‘We did have plans – it would’ve been up in Scotland – but obviously with Covid and Aberdeen being locked down a bit, I think everything’s been scaled back a little bit.
‘It’s a shame. I’m sure we’ll do something as a family to celebrate her 70 amazing years, she’s just an incredible woman in terms of how much work she can get through in the year.
‘We will be doing something, as yet I don’t know whether she knows – so my lips are sealed.’
It is thought Anne is on a sailing trip around the west coast of Scotland with husband Sir Tim Laurence.
Despite the limitations of Covid-19, Anne’s milestone has been marked by a TV documentary and she has also guest-edited Country Life magazine.
In the ITV film, the princess suggested that social media is adding to the pressures already faced by younger members of the royal family, like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Princess Anne’s gold ribbon knot brooch
Princess Anne’s gold ribbon knot brooch is set with 12 diamonds and has been in the royal’s jewellery collection for five decades
Princess Anne’s gold ribbon knot brooch is set with 12 diamonds and has been in the royal’s jewellery collection for five decades.
The eye-catching piece features a snake-like loose ribbon design with lifted edges, with the diamonds taking centre stage.
The Princess Royal was first seen wearing the brooch at Buckingham Palace in February 1969, before wearing it at Buckingham Palace in February 1969, to greet Colonel Frank Borman, the American astronaut who served as commander of the Apollo 8 mission.
The royal was most recently seen wearing it a trip to Washington, D.C. in November 2014 to open an exhibition about the Magna Carta, on ANZAC Day Dawn Service in London in 2015,to Ascot in June 2016 AT Easter in April 2017, and on Easter Sunday in April 2018.
Anne was followed by film-makers for more than a year to make the programme, which featured unseen family footage and conversations with her children, Peter Phillips and Zara, and her husband, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence.
Speaking about the younger members of the monarchy, she said: ‘The pressure that is applied to the younger members of the family is always worse, because that’s what the media is interested in and that’s, you know, hard sometimes to deal with.’
Anne also said she hoped her legacy would be the passing-on of her knowledge and experience.
When she guest-edited Country Life, the princess paid tribute to her parents for instilling in her a lifelong love of nature.
Anne also wrote about holding an HGV licence, how she hates fly-tipping, and sees herself when she writes about rural affairs as a ‘classic Jack of all trades’.
She wrote: ‘I was equally fortunate that both my parents had a love and understanding of the natural world through their own experiences.’
In the documentary to mark her birthday, her son was asked to sum her up and replied: ‘Well, you know what, tenacious, I think, is a pretty good word to sum her up.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s only daughter is known for her no-nonsense approach and her work ethic.
The princess was born at Clarence House on August 15 1950 and is a younger sister to the Prince of Wales.
She survived a kidnap attempt in 1974 and represented Great Britain at the Olympic Games, alongside raising a family and supporting the Queen.
Anne is involved with more than 300 charities, organisations and military regiments, and regularly tops the leader board as the royal family member carrying out the most public engagements.
Anne once remarked: ‘As a young princess I was a huge disappointment to everyone concerned. It’s impractical to go around in life dressed in a long white dress and a crown.’
She was born third in line to the throne, but was leapfrogged by her younger brothers Andrew and Edward when they were born, and is now 14th in line. The rule that younger brothers could succeed before elder sisters no longer applies, following the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, but it was not backdated so did not affect Anne.
A skilled horsewoman, the princess was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1971 and in 1976 was in the British team at the Montreal Olympics.
She married fellow horseman Captain Mark Phillips in 1973 and they had two children, Peter and silver medal-winning Olympic horsewoman Zara. Anne decided they would not have royal titles.
In 1990 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by president Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia for her work as president of the charity Save The Children.
The princess married her second husband, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, in 1992 after her first marriage ended in divorce after 19 years.
Now a grandmother, she regularly tops the league table for the number of engagements carried out by the royals.
A royal life like no other: From the Firm’s first Olympian to raising her children without titles, a celebration of Princess Anne the trailblazer as she turns 70
Born on 15 August, 1950, Princess Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise is only the seventh royal lady in history to receive the accolade of Princess Royal (a title bestowed on her by the Queen in 1987).
Yet, throughout it all, she has shown an unapologetic, almost heroic disdain for those who might want to see a ‘fairytale princess’.
This is a princess who, as often as not, may turn up in trousers and at the wheel of the royal vehicle (she is, after all, the holder of a very un-fairytale HGV licence). She also prides herself on her down-to-earth nature and no-nonsense approach to royal engagements.
Her wardrobe itself is also much commented upon, with Anne thinking nothing of re-wearing an item several decades after its debut.
Now reaching an age when many might think about slowing down in life, Anne has done nothing of the sort.
At a time when the monarchy has seen the Dukes of Edinburgh and York, plus the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, all withdraw from public duties, the princess is more in demand than ever.
Here, FEMAIL has taken a look back at some of the royal’s most memorable moments, at the quirks of this royal one-off: the first royal Olympian, the first child of a monarch to reject titles for her children, and the first to face down a kidnapper.
Amongst the momentous occasions include the royal’s wedding to first husband captain Mark Phillips on 14 November 1973, and her Olympics debut in 1976.
Elsewhere, the Princess Royal is seen with her children, Peter and Zara, and their daughters, to whom she is so close…
The Duke of Edinburgh and Her Majesty, then Princess Elizabeth, in the private sitting room of Clarence House, with their children the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal on 9 January 1951
Princess Anne in the paddock before mounting ‘Against the Grain’, as she made her debut as a flat race jockey on 23 April 1985
The Princess Royal and captain Mark Phillips on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on their wedding day on 14 November 1973
Zara Phillips with her mother, the Princess Royal, in the winner’s enclosure at Royal Ascot on 17 June 2003
The Princess Royal, Vice-Patron of the equine charity, The British Horse Society, visiting the Addington Equestrian Centre near Buckingham on 16 March 2020
The Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, with the Princess Royal as a baby on 21 October 1950
The Queen Mother, the Princess Royal, Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret, at the Abergeldy sale of work, organised by the Queen Mother on 20 August 1955
Princess Anne and the Prince of Wales sitting among the daffodils in the grounds of the Royal Lodge, Windsor, Berkshire on 22nd April 1954 (left), and pushing round the Duke of York in a pram on the grounds of Balmoral on 8 September 1960 (right)
Her Majesty and the Princess Royal pushing the pram of the Duke of York during a walk in the grounds at Balmoral on 8 September 1960
Her Majesty holding the Earl of Wessex as a baby with (left to right) the Duke of York, the Princess Royal, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh on 21 April 1965
The Royal Family in the gardens at Frogmore, Windsor, including (left to right) the Duke of Edinburgh, the Princess Royal, the Earl of Wessex as a toddler, Queen Elizabeth II, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York. Pictured, on 21 April 1968
Her Majesty, the Prince of Wales, the Earl of Wessex, the Duke of York and the Princess Royal listening to the Duke of Edinburgh on a bridge in the grounds of Frogmore, Windsor on 21 April 1968 of Queen Elizabeth II
The Queen with the Princess Royal and the Prince of Wales as they passed through the crowds at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney during the Royal Tour of Australasia on 3 April 1970
The Princess Royal with the Sportswoman of the Year award, which was given to those who has done most to enhance British sporting prestige internationally. Pictured, on 6 December 1971
The 69-year-old and her fiance Captain Mark Phillips after the announcement of their engagement on 30 May 1973
The Princess Royal and Captain Mark Phillips leaving after their wedding ceremony at London’s Westminster Abbey on 14 November 1973
The Princess Royal curtseying for her mother, Queen Elizabeth II, after she married Captain Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey on 14 November 1973
The Princess Royal in her team uniform at Heathrow Airport when she flew off to the Montreal Olympic Games with the rest of the squad on 13 July 1976 (pictured left) and (right) her Majesty with the Princess Royal, and her son Peter Phillips, at Buckingham Palace, after his christening on 22 December 1977
Princess Anne completes in the three-day event individual cross-country at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal
The Princess Royal, pictured on File photo dated 22 December 1977, holding her 37 day old son, Master Peter Mark Andrew Phillips, surrounded by (left to right) (back) Captain Hamish Lochore, The Duke of Edinburgh, Anne Phillips Prince Charles, the Queen, Mr Peter Phillips, Captain Mark Phillips, the Queen Mother, Mrs Timothy Holderness-Roddam (Horse rider Jane Bullen) and Lady Cecil Cameron of Lochiel and Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone (front left)
Sally Mugabe, the first lady of Zimbabwe, inspecting the Princess Royal’s bouquet at the Savoy Hotel where they were guests at the Women of the Year Luncheon on 26 October 1981 (left), and Princess Anne and her fiance Captain Mark Phillips, in the Concorde 002 on 23 October 1973
The Princess Royal dressed for the rainy weather on 26 May 1984. Anne, who celebrates her 70th birthday on Saturday, is famed for her hardwork and no-nonsense approach to life
Princess Anne with first husband Mark Phillips (left) and husband Tim Laurence during the presentation ceremony of the Doubleprint Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park near Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire on 2 August 2003
The royal appearing pleased after her daughter Zara Phillips finished in second place on Toytown at the Burghley Horse Trials, Stamford, Lincolnshire 7 September 2003
Princess Anne out fox hunting with the Duke of Beaufort’s hounds on 31 May 2005 (pictured, left and right)
The Princess Royal attending a news conference as part of London’s 2012 bid for the Olympic Games in Singapore on 4 July 2005 (left) and watching Scotland play Wales in the RBS Six Nations Championship 2007 at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh on 10 February 2007 (right)
Princess Anne, who celebrates her 70th birthday on Saturday, arriving at Royal Ascot on 20 June 2006
The Princess Royal presenting the Duke of Sussex with his campaign medal on 5 May 2008
The Princess Royal at the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park, the Gloucestershire home of the princess on 3 August 2008
Zara Phillips scratching her face as she speaks with her mother, the Princess Royal, during The Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park, the Gloucestershire home of the Princess Royal on 3 August 2008
The Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal during the Braemar Gathering Highland Games in Scotland on 5 September 2009
The Princess Royal before she presented Iraq medals to members of the 7 Armoured Brigade at Twickenham Stadium in London before the start of the England v Scotland Six Nations match on 21 March 2009
Princess Anne arriving by boat on the third day of the annual Henley Royal Regatta in Henley-on-Thames, Oxford on 2 July 2010
The Duchess of Cornwall (left) and the Princess Royal arriving to watch the Team Eventing Jumping Final on day four of the London Olympic Games at Greenwich Park, London on 31 July 2012
The 69-year-old carrying the torch during the official handover ceremony of the Olympic Flame at the Panathenaic Stadium, home of the 1896 Athens Games on 17 May 2012
The Princess Royal smiles as she arrives at the Great Yorkshire Show, Harrogate, North Yorkshire on 9 July 2014
Princess Anne speaking with British Athletes during the Team GB Welcome ceremony during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games in Krasnaya Polyana 6 February 2014
The Princess Royal attending a Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Event at the Magna Carta memorial in Runnymede, near Egham, Surrey on 15 June 2015
Princess Anne handing the Calcutta Cup to Scotland captain John Barclay during the Natwest Six Nations match at BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh on 24 February 2018
Her Majesty and the Princess Royal during the Braemar Royal Highland Gathering at the Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park, Braemar on 1 September 2018
Princess Anne attending a Freedom of Entry parade for the Household Cavalry in Windsor, Berkshire on 18 May 2019 (left) and on the opening day of the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park, Gloucestershire on 3 August 2018 (right)
The Princess Royal takes her seat, having received an honorary degree from her sister-in-law, The Duchess of Cornwall at the University of Aberdeen on 14 January 2020
The Princess Royal and Zara Tindall during the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase during day two of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse on 11 March 2020
The Princess Royal taking a ride on the Newcastle Metro Train from Jesmond to Haymarket in Newcastle, after she officially opened the revamped Haymarket Metro Station on 29 March 2020
JOHN HUMPHRYS: I couldn’t work with Prince Harry when he guest edited BBC Radio 4’s Today programme because I wanted to ask what his minders would see as embarrassing questions
ByJohn Humphrys For The Daily Mail
Covid has affected everyone, but one group of workers has been especially hit.
They can no longer do what they have done for generations, if not centuries. And yet their plight has attracted surprisingly little attention, let alone concern. They are members of the Royal Family.
Their job is mostly to rush around the country shaking hands with people. Sometimes we go to them, but mostly they come to us. A glance at the much-abbreviated daily Court Circular tells the sad story.
They have been well and truly furloughed — though without getting 80 per cent of their salary that lesser mortals have been able to claim. The calculation might prove tricky.
But they have another duty to fulfil. It’s called being in the news.
If the Royal Family operated under the radar, avoiding the cameras, we might start forgetting it exists and then wonder what exactly is the point of it. Which is why Palace spin doctors go to such lengths to make sure reporters and photographers are always there when the handshaking and unveiling of plaques is going on.
Naturally, some pictures have more value than others. The basic rule of thumb is that one snap of Kate in a pretty dress doing anything with her lovely toddlers trumps all the others, no matter what they are doing. Unless, of course, they are Harry and Andrew.
Prince Harry was invited to be the guest editor of the Today programme nearly three years ago and used it, unsurprisingly, to deliver messages close to his heart. I’m afraid to say I declined the opportunity to present the programme that morning. I knew what would happen
Both have dominated the headlines to the exclusion of pretty much every other royal story and both, in very different ways, have raised serious questions about how we perceive the Royal Family.
Andrew has tried his best to make himself invisible since that catastrophic interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight nine months ago. Perhaps his brief appearance this week riding through the grounds of Windsor Castle was designed to demonstrate that life is going on as normal for him. But it’s not.
The Queen may have relieved him of all his royal duties and silly titles, but he is still HRH Prince Andrew and he is still a ticking bomb at the heart of the family.
Harry and Meghan are a different kettle of fish. They are the journalists’ gift that simply keeps on giving — though for very different reasons. Scarcely a week goes by without journalists throughout the land offering up their thanks for yet another story about them that will have the nation gobbling up every word with a mixture of horror and hilarity.
This past week has been a vintage one. Only yesterday, we had the news that they have bought a house in California. By ‘house’ I mean, obviously, a vast mansion that’s more akin to a luxury country club than to, say, Frogmore Cottage, which had been intended to be their home in this country. You’ll remember it. They still owe the taxpayer a couple of million for renovating it to their taste.
This past week has been a vintage one. Only yesterday, we had the news that they have bought a house in California. By ‘house’ I mean, obviously, a vast mansion that’s more akin to a luxury country club than to, say, Frogmore Cottage
The Princess Royal has been awarded Army and RAF promotions in recognition of her ‘invaluable contribution and commitment to the military’, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.
Anne, who celebrates her 70th birthday on Saturday, is now a General in the British Army and an Air Chief Marshal in the Royal Air Force.
Senior members of the royal family receive promotions to mark milestone birthdays and the Queen has approved the move.
Before the appointments Anne’s rank within the Army and RAF was linked to her existing roles as Colonel-in-Chief and Colonel of a number of regiments and Honorary Air Commodore of RAF Brize Norton.
The promotions bring her rank in the two services into line with her existing rank of Admiral in the Royal Navy.
Three official photographs of Anne have also been released to celebrate her seven decades – taken by celebrated photographer John Swannell.
The MoD said: ‘Her Royal Highness has been hugely supportive of the Armed Forces and undertaken a vast amount of work for the services over many years.
‘This promotion on her 70th birthday recognises her invaluable contribution and commitment to the military.
‘This includes long-term links with the Royal Navy, initially through the Women’s Royal Naval Service and her promotion to Admiral Chief Commandant in 2012.
‘More recently, she visited the Royal Logistic Corps in Northern Ireland and paid tribute to the Royal Corps of Signals to mark their 100th birthday in June.’
Their new home cost £11million, which is, apparently, a fraction of its true value. But it’s the background of the previous owner that has attracted the greatest interest.
With their uncanny ability to commit PR suicide, Harry and Meghan bought it from a Russian oligarch who has allegedly threatened to chop up his wife. Maybe they didn’t know about that. Maybe it’s just rotten luck.
But they did know about the other big story of this past week: the publication of that massively hyped book that promised to reveal the true story of their relationship and their self-isolation from the Royal Family.
Nobody knows exactly how much help they gave the authors, but what a spectacular own goal it turned out to be.
The brilliant Richard Kay summed it up perfectly in the columns of this newspaper: ‘Page after page drips with self-pity and indignation sandwiched between dollops of oily sycophancy.’
The title, Finding Freedom, was disconcertingly suggestive of Nelson Mandela’s great autobiography Long Walk To Freedom. In Mandela’s case, it was freedom from 27 years in jail and a life lived under an inhuman apartheid regime. In Harry and Meghan’s case, it was freedom from … what exactly?
To most eyes it was freedom from a life of the most extraordinary privilege. Not just the creature comforts that only vast wealth can buy, but freedom from the sort of pressures that even the wealthy cannot always escape.
Harry was free to make choices. If he wanted publicity for some of his praiseworthy charity work, it was his for the asking.
True, he was occasionally snapped doing stupid things as a young man, but nobody really minded and anyway nobody made him do stupid things. It was his choice. He was free to marry the woman he loved — and the nation applauded him for it.
And he had a pulpit. When he spoke, the nation listened. He was invited to be the guest editor of the Today programme nearly three years ago and used it, unsurprisingly, to deliver messages close to his heart.
I’m afraid to say I declined the opportunity to present the programme that morning. I knew what would happen.
I would want to ask what his minders would regard as impertinent or embarrassing questions and that would be the end of that.
My then editor Sarah Sands tried hard to get me an interview with his father, but Charles wanted only to talk about trees and I wanted to talk about other things as well. No deal.
Maybe the Palace remembered that I have form. I filmed a BBC TV interview with Prince Philip on his 70th birthday.
It was pretty boring except for a section when he got very cross because I’d asked him why the Queen hadn’t helped him out when he had to sell his racing yacht because of the expensive upkeep. The Palace complained and the BBC cut it out.
I did try to get an interview with the Queen herself. She’d invited me to one of her private lunches at Buckingham Palace and, when we were having a coffee in the anteroom afterwards, I popped the question. It was a one-word answer: ‘No.’
Again I tried, putting the case that I had carefully prepared. She listened politely and then another: ‘No!’ followed by: ‘What’s more, Mr Humphrys, if one were ever to do such an interview it would most certainly not be with you!’
Andrew has tried his best to make himself invisible since that catastrophic interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight nine months ago
I conclude by wishing happy birthday to Princess Anne. She’s 70 today. She’s still the most hardworking of the lot
I made one more attempt when she came to open New Broadcasting House. She brushed me aside pretty sharply. Fair enough. Why shouldn’t she? She’s the monarch. And if this nation is united behind anything, it is that the Queen has done a pretty good job in her 68 years on the throne. She has scarcely put a foot wrong. Respect and affection for her are at stratospheric levels.
Even a lifelong republican like me can accept that the monarchy is safe. But the Royal Family is different. The nation is perfectly entitled to ask what is the point of it if one of its most senior members wants to live abroad, make great piles of cash and no longer wants to do the hand-shaking duties.
Of course, there are still loyal subjects entranced by the Royal Family. For them the marriage of an otherwise obscure princess is an occasion for national rejoicing.
But it was noticeable that when another of them wed during lockdown with no more fuss than the girl next door, the nation broadly approved. And I wonder how many young people even know the names of the lesser royals, however grand the titles of their parents.
In pre-lockdown days I was asked to present some awards at a royal palace. In return for my time, I would have the honour of being ‘presented to HRH the Earl of Wessex’. I declined politely on the grounds that bowing wasn’t really my thing and, anyway, I wasn’t sure who he was. The email I got back was surprisingly sympathetic.
If that sounds a bit childish, forgive me, but can’t we at last acknowledge that the age of automatic, unearned deference has come and gone — however distantly you may be related to the Queen?
But may I conclude by wishing happy birthday to Princess Anne. She’s 70 today. She’s still the most hardworking of the lot. And the way that she’s dealt with her own children, by not making them HRHs, proves that she doesn’t believe in it, either.
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