Thursday 9 May 2019

Jennie Bond: ‘Being a royal correspondent means standing outside a palace with bugger all to say’

Nicholas Witchell, the BBC’s veteran royal correspondent, froze on air after the announcement of the birth of Baby Sussex. It happens to the best of us, says his predecessor

During my time as royal correspondent for the BBC, I did lots of live reporting of major events such as deaths, disasters and marriages. So I really felt for Nicholas Witchell as he became lost for words while reporting on the royal birth this week. It happens to everybody. Luckily, social media wasn’t quite so rampant when I was a correspondent. But royal reporters always get a lot of flack, with people saying: “Oh, what trivial news, it’s just about a lot of idiots living in a palace.”

I once had brain freeze live on air – a lot of correspondents do. I had been called one morning to Highgrove, Prince Charles’s residence, because Prince Harry had been caught smoking weed. I stood outside the gates and absolutely nothing happened – nobody came, nobody went – yet I was on air almost all day. By the news at 10pm, I was so cold I thought I was going to die. Suddenly, they came to me from the studio and said: “Tell us what happened?” I stood there and I thought: “I don’t know who I’m talking about. I’ve no idea which prince it is or what the story is.” I remember saying: “Well, what’s happened is … the thing that’s happened is …” and then my brain kicked in, thank God. With Nick last night it didn’t kick in and he had to hand back to the studio.

The difficulties in royal reporting are underestimated – facts are often very few and far between, yet there’s an appetite for a constant feed of information. Correspondents are left standing outside a palace or a castle, with bugger all to say. The BBC’s Simon McCoy was the first, as he was standing outside the hospital waiting for the birth of Prince George, to actually say on air: look, we’re going to be broadcasting non-stop for 12 hours and “none of it will be news”.

People probably don’t appreciate that there’s a lot going on that they can’t see or hear.

Former royal correspondent Jennie Bond. Photograph: Jonathan Hordle/Rex/Shutterstock

There are often people in your ear, saying “wrap it up” or even discussing the next item. People walk by and gawp, too – I remember being live outside Buckingham Palace and passersby saying: “Look, that’s, er, I think her name’s J, J, J …”

It’s fine, we are paid for it, but the correspondent is tired, cold and probably needs a pee. When I was pregnant, I once had to plead with the palace to let me in because I was going to wet myself. They did, but normally you would have to cross your legs.

When reporting live, of course there will be moments when your brain gets muddled – we’re only bloody human. I’m sure Nick was very annoyed with himself, but he’s a talented, truly experienced correspondent. He’ll get back on his bike and be fine next time. Just like the rest of us.

(Source: The Guardian)

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