Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Kensington Palace, 2017
There’s an old saying that the apple never falls far from the tree. Not true in my case. My father was a working-class Tory and I was a typical young Leftie. We argued about everything. Except the Royal Family.
One of my earliest memories of my childhood in Splott, a working-class area of Cardiff, was when the Queen paid a visit. The entire street — indeed the entire neighbourhood — turned out to catch a glimpse of her motorcade on its way to the city centre. But he stayed at home, ostentatiously slamming the front door shut and ordering us kids to stay at home, too.
Another memory was when he was thrown out of the Conservative club on a busy Friday night. He had shown ‘disrespect’ to the monarchy by refusing to sit in the only spare seat because it happened to be beneath a portrait of Her Majesty.
I cheered him on.
My own ‘disrespect’ survived my childhood and my early years as a cub reporter. Why, I demanded with all the wisdom of a stroppy teenager, was the nation in thrall to a family who had done nothing to earn their elevated status? Why should we bow our heads to someone whose only achievement had been getting born in the right family at the right time?
And then, many years later, I met her. I was reporting on the first visit of a British monarch to Mexico in 1975 and I remember two things vividly. One was that I’d cut myself shaving on the morning we hacks were introduced to her and had a great glob of toilet paper stuck to my chin. I was embarrassed and she obviously found it amusing.
The other was when her husband screamed at me for ‘stealing my f*****g car!’ I had commandeered the only remaining vehicle for me and my cameraman outside the airstrip where she’d landed to inspect an Aztec ruin so we could follow her. It was meant for Prince Philip.
In Africa, you complained ‘not many people have asked if I’m OK’. Wasn’t that a tad insensitive?
We met again when he agreed, somewhat to my surprise, to be interviewed by me for a BBC TV special programme on his 70th birthday. He got cross with me again. I’d asked him why he had recently sold the yacht that he had so enjoyed sailing. When he told me it was because he couldn’t afford to keep it, I pointed out that he was married to one of the richest women in the country. The Palace went bonkers and the BBC cut it out.
What I really wanted, of course, was an interview with the Queen herself. It’s the holy grail for every interviewer. She’s never done it and she never will but that doesn’t stop us dreaming.
I allowed myself to dream the impossible when I received an invitation to one of the Queen’s private lunches at Buckingham Palace. Would I get the chance to pop the question? Might she be even a little tempted? Why else would I have been invited to join the select few on such a relatively intimate occasion?
I confess I was feeling a bit scared as the courtier escorted me through the Palace to the private dining room. My attempt at a little casual conversation did not help.
‘I didn’t realise that people like me got invited to these private lunches,’ I said.
He looked down at me. Literally. He was very tall. ‘No Sir,’ he replied, ‘neither did I.’ I think he was joking.
But lunch with the Queen was enjoyable and when we adjourned to a side room for coffee I was feeling pretty relaxed. We stood together — just the two of us — and I popped the question.
‘I don’t suppose you’ve ever thought you might want to do an interview with us?’
She did not hesitate.
Prince Harry and his Meghan Markle as they have announced on February 14, 2021, they are expecting their second child
I waited and then fired the second barrel, my brilliantly argued justification for why it might be a good thing to do and how she would be in control etc etc.
Again no hesitation.
Then a slight pause and she continued: ‘What’s more, Mr Humphrys, if one were ever to do such a thing, it would most certainly not be with you!’
I made one more attempt a few years later when she visited New Broadcasting House to formally open the building. I was ordered to present her with a radio as a small gift. I was also ordered not to try to interview her. But her husband had been admitted to hospital the day before and I thought it would be a little churlish not to reflect the nation’s concern.
‘How is Prince Philip this morning, Ma’am?
A big mistake.
‘Why? He’s not ill you know!’
And with that she stomped off.
But old hacks never really take no for an answer and as I write I am anxiously awaiting confirmation of an interview with another royal. Not Her Majesty of course. I’m not that unrealistic. But with somebody the very mention of whose name casts a shadow over the Royal Family and all its works.
I refer, of course, to Prince Harry. Plus Meghan.
Yes, I know they have agreed to do an interview with the American superstar Oprah Winfrey and the deal, according to a reliable source, was that nothing would be off limits. Many believe it has already happened and it is scheduled to run on U.S. television early next month. But I’m available to fly out to California at the drop of a tiara and, moreover, I am prepared to break the rule all self-respecting interviewers hold as sacred: never tell your interviewees in advance what you plan to ask them.
So what follows is a rough outline of the interview I have in mind.
You, dear reader, may feel that some of my questions are just a little hostile, but I’m pretty sure that both Harry and Meghan —especially Megs, bless her — will see this as an opportunity to deal with all those critics who have been judging them so harshly ever since they announced they were planning to strike out on their own.
So here we go…
One of the reasons you gave for wanting to free yourselves of the Royal Family shackles was that you wanted your privacy to be respected. Yet you have just announced that you have agreed to do an interview with the most famous TV celebrity on the planet which will be broadcast to hundreds of millions of people around the world. Isn’t there just the teeniest contradiction here?
Not to mention the way you have a habit of popping up in the papers every other week. Isn’t it all rather orchestrated?
The pictures of you laying a wreath all by yourselves on Remembrance Sunday might have been rather moving except that you weren’t exactly by yourselves, were you?
There was a professional photographer taking the snaps at your request. You didn’t think that might have made it look more like a PR stunt than a sincere tribute to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice?
Then there was the most recent picture of you both lying on the grass looking lovingly at the ‘baby bump’, possibly taken in the gardens of your home in the billionaire’s playground of southern California. Those mansions don’t exactly come cheap, do they Harry?
We have all noted (some of my more mean-spirited colleagues with a touch of envy perhaps) that you can trouser some pretty fat cheques for doing not very much.
Maybe you’d like to clear up the question of exactly how much you were paid for that little jaunt to southern Florida as the guests of one of the richest banks in the world. Some said $1 million, but I’m not sure whether that included the cost of the private jet to get you there.
Which raises another question for you, Harry, about greenhouse gas emissions.
I know I don’t need to remind you about the deadly dangers facing our planet from global warming. Heaven knows you’ve lectured us ordinary folk often enough about it — and very grateful we are, too. But maybe you might reacquaint yourself with that wonderful admonition in St Matthew’s gospel to practise what you preach?
Another quick question on the subject of money. As you will both know, it’s been reported that you have signed contracts worth many millions of pounds with broadcasters like Netflix. I don’t suppose you’d care to confirm those reports and, perhaps, tell us exactly what you will be doing to earn all that money?
I know you, Meghan, have said: ‘One of the things my husband and I have always talked about is my passion for meeting people and hearing their stories.’
That is, of course, most commendable, but I’m sure you will both agree that a ruthlessly competitive outfit like Netlix doesn’t pay out millions to just anybody because they enjoy meeting people — even if they have a ‘passion’ for it.
I know quite a few people who like meeting people. Maybe you could pass on a tip to them? Only joking of course!
Incidentally, Megs, you may have noticed that one of your many great fans in this country, my brilliant colleague Jan Moir, often offers you both a little guidance in these pages. She helpfully pointed out that your passion for meeting people seems not to extend to your own father.
Now that you’re living only a couple of hours apart, do you have any plans to pop over to see him? It wouldn’t take long — especially by private jet — and I bet he’d love it. He’s getting on a bit and isn’t in the best of health, after all.
What a shame he was unable to go to your wedding. Then again, I suppose not everyone can be there, weddings being so expensive and all that. Remind me how much it cost… £32 million, was it? Just as well the taxpayer was footing the bill, eh?
And you did manage to squeeze your old friend Oprah onto the invitation list. I say ‘old friend’ but I believe you’d met her only once before the wedding. How fortunate you are to make friends so easily!
Speaking of weddings, we all remember so fondly those sunlit days when you and Harry announced your engagement. One of the best things that could have happened to the Royal Family, most of us thought.
True, there were one or two cretins out there who disapproved of such a senior member of the Royal Family marrying someone of mixed race, but they were squashed flat by the overwhelming majority who approved, weren’t they?
And they were very impressed when you said how keen you were to get stuck into royal life, with all the duties it entailed. What part of that word ‘duties’ did you not understand, Meghan?
Have you ever thought it was, just possibly, a mistake for someone as sensitive as you clearly are to expose yourself to what Hamlet called ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’?
I ask because of the interview you gave Tom Bradby of ITN on your tour of Africa. You complained that ‘not many people have asked if I’m OK’.
You don’t think that was just a tad insensitive given that you were literally surrounded by vast numbers of people who lead lives of utterly abject poverty? Did it not occur to you that your baby ‘shower’ in New York (private jet again!) cost more than those people can even begin to imagine?
Yes, I know they have agreed to do an interview with the American superstar Oprah Winfrey and the deal, according to a reliable source, was that nothing would be off limits
You might just have come across as a little self-centred, eh?
But I see that, as always, I’m running out of time and I have left the most important question to last. And this one is for you, Harry.
Every ageing hack loves the story of George Best, the greatest footballer of his time, who had a number of fatal flaws — above all a weakness for drink and beautiful women. A reporter went to interview him in his suite at the Ritz. With him was a stunning model wearing very little, sipping champagne on a bed littered with £20 notes.
The reporter’s immortal question to Best was: ‘Tell me, George, where did it all go wrong?’
And that’s my question for you, too, Harry.
You had it all. Yes, your childhood was marred terribly by the death of your mother, but you managed to rise above that tragedy and became a highly respected member of the Royal Family. You served with distinction in the Armed Forces and did some commendable charitable work. And then you decided you’d had enough.
You wanted to hold onto some of the royal connections — especially your honorary military titles — but it seems you will lose even them.
You have caused your grandmother anguish we can only guess at and serious damage to the institution into which you were born to serve and from which you have benefited so massively.
Now you are widely regarded as a sanctimonious, selfish young man who tells others how to lead their lives while you enjoy a life of luxury that is unimaginable except to a tiny few.
My question is this: Do you have any regrets and is there anything that might persuade you to come home?