Magazine article The Spectator

Royally Entertaining

Magazine article The Spectator

Royally Entertaining

Article excerpt

Seeing the royal hack pack in full cry on Monday reminded me of the week I spent with the late James Whitaker, the Daily Mirror's chief royal correspondent. This was for a profile I was writing about him in a colour supplement in 1993.

I t was a memorable experience, not least because of the message he left on my answering machine the day the piece came out.

' I know I said I didn't care what you wrote, but you could have at least got your fucking facts right, ' he said.

He then started listing the facts I 'd got wrong: 'Number one, the Princess of Wales did not call me "the big fat tomato".

I t was "the big red tomato".

Number two. . .' He was still going strong by the time the tape ran out.

The complaint was ironic, coming from a royal correspondent. After a week with Whitaker - who called himself 'the man who really knows the royals' - I 'd concluded that he and his colleagues made up most of their stories out of whole cloth.

The peg for the piece was the publication of his book Diana vs Charles:

Royal Blood Feud. His central claim - 'scoop' is too generous a word - was that M I 5 had bugged the royal couple, a story that was subsequently denied by the Home Secretary, denied by the security services and denied by Buckingham Palace.

Indeed, it turned out that Charles and Diana had been together at Highgrove on the day the bugged telephone conversation was supposed to have taken place. During one particularly gruelling crossexamination on LBC, Whitaker was forced to admit to Andrew Neil that his 'source' for the story was not an employee of GCHQ but Dave Alford, a royal hack on the People.

Another of his claims was that the reason Charles found Camilla so irresistible was because of her poor personal hygiene.

I sat opposite him in a New York television studio while he relayed this information with a straight face.

'She has an animal magnetism that really turns him on, ' he said. 'As you'll see in the book, she's not the cleanest of women, she doesn't wash all that often. . . that really turns him on.'

Now, I suppose it's possible that might be true, just improbable. When pressed, he said he had it from an 'unimpeachable source', but I doubt he'd even spoken to a disgruntled footman. …

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