Talking to Jennie Bond feels like talking to a relative you haven’t spoken to in a while. After all, her familiar voice was broadcast into living rooms for fourteen years as she reported on the country’s most famous family.
Bond, who started out as a general reporter and admits to having little interest in the royal family before starting her beat, acknowledges that her long-running stint as the BBC’s royal correspondent coincided with stories concerning the royals increasingly becoming serious headline news.
Many will remember Bond as a seemingly permanent fixture on TV after Princess Diana’s death in 1997. She was also there to report on the Queen’s “annus horribilis” of 1992 which involved a fire at Windsor Castle and the break up of both Prince Charles and the Duke of York‘s marriages.
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Now, the 67-year-old is returning to the royals by teaming up with Photobox, the online photo printing company, to search for the best photos of the royal family taken by members of the public. The aim is to compile a biography of 300 photos before it is presented to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as a wedding present. Photobox has also confirmed that the proceeds of all copies sold will go to charity.
Bond, who left her job as royal correspondent in 2003, fell into the role “purely by chance” but picked up a huge breadth of knowledge on the job. She spoke to Harper’s Bazaar about her most memorable moments and the insight she gained.
1. Diana was a shrewd woman who trusted me with secrets
“I got to know Diana, we had long conversations and I asked her all sorts of very probing questions about her private life, marriage and feelings. She answered them all. That was most unusual and was before Panorama [the groundbreaking interview she recorded with the BBC’s Martin Bashir in 1995]. She also told me ‘there were three of us in this marriage’, but in confidence.
“We had an hour and a half in her drawing room talking about all sorts of things. Her last words as I was leaving were: ‘Oh Jennie ,you do realise this is just between you and me and our four walls.’ Whether I made the right decision [to keep it quiet], or whether she actually wanted me to go out and tell it… part of me now wonders why she did tell me all of that. I suspect it might be true that she did want me to broadcast it ‘from a source’. I was probably too thick to realise.”
2. The Queen has a dry sense of humour
“The Queen has a dry, rye sense of humour, she’s quite funny and has a dazzling smile. Prince Charles was very troubled in the years I knew him. That’s much less so now, I’m glad he found contentment in later life with the love of his life at his side. He’s got a sense of humour which I like. I would joke with him around the world; we’d have laughs together.
“Princess Diana was far more articulate, coherent, shrewd and strong than I had anticipated. She was funny and much more intelligent than she made out. She would convulse with laughter, throw her head back and giggle and laugh. She was a cleverer women than people thought.”
“With Prince William and Harry, they were always extremely polite but you knew the last thing they wanted to do was talk to a member of the press. That holds true to all of them but particularly the boys, who – though were nothing but courteous and polite to me – because of what happened to their mother they’d rather not talk to a reporter. I think they’ve now accepted the press as a necessary evil. I’ve watched them grow up and they’ve been through a lot and turned out fantastically well.”
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3. The Spice Girls made Harry smile after Diana’s death
“Just after his mother died, Charles took Harry to South Africa. It was a very poignant tour; he was 13 and had lost his mum about nine weeks before. He was allowed to meet the Spice Girls there and, well, the joy on his face, you could just see he was cheeky Harry again after all the grief of those weeks. I remember that very clearly, I wish I had some photos of that taken from my perspective.”
4. Being a royal comes with a price
“One thing I learned on the job was that I feel sympathy for the family in some way. I feel sympathy for the destiny they are born in to, the restrictions and constrictions it places on their lives. For example, the princes lacked the choice most men their age do about what to do with their lives. It’s a very restricting birthright but it does come with a huge amount of privilege.”
5. The royal family can be their own worst enemy
“At the same time I feel sympathy, I do feel the family can be their own worst enemy. They hate the idea of ‘image’ and they always have. The palace always said to me ‘it’s not a word we deal with’ and I’d say: ‘Look, your image matters.’
The monarchy has to have a point and one of their big points is the work they carry out. To harness that influence and publicise this good work, they need the press. To have a decent relationship with the press would seem to me quite sensible. Many ladies-in-waiting thought it was ridiculous that I hadn’t had lunch with the Queen. They would try to sort it out, but couldn’t. Other reporters had met her but their seemed to be something about royal correspondents. It was weird and a misjudgement.”
6. The royals minimise meaningful press interaction
“As a specialist, it’s with you the whole time, you can’t just hand it over. The bosses want you to be available 24/7. I was 38 around the time I got pregnant with my daughter, very soon after I got the job. It was difficult to have a very much-wanted little girl and this big job which took me off around the world. You had to go when the phone went.
“It’s also a difficult area of journalism. People sometimes think it’s very shallow, frilly and frothy and there are aspects that are those things, but it’s also extremely difficult to establish the truth because you cannot simply go and meet the Queen. You can’t ring up in the same way a political correspondent would ring up a cabinet minister. You meet press secretaries and maybe private secretaries or ladies-in-waiting, but face to face interaction with any member of the family in any meaningful way is extremely rare which makes it quite difficult.”
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7. The royal family adore Meghan Markle
“Meghan and Harry’s relationship couldn’t be a better example of how much the monarchy has changed. She’s been embraced with open arms, carrying out royal duties way before she’s married. She is for all intents and purposes now a member of the royal family. She’s been to Sandringham and spent Christmas up there which is most unusual and I think unprecedented. The contrast between how the monarchy handled Wallis Simpson and Meghan is extremely stark, telling and encouraging.”
8. Meghan Markle seems ‘utterly charming’
“Meghan has immediately exuded confidence. Take the engagement interview, for example. Normally the bride sits there very quiet and prim and only speaks when spoken to, but Meghan did most of the talking, really. She’s a bit older, which comes with a great deal of experience, plus she’s been married before which I think stands her in good stead as she knows relationships have their ups and downs. I think she’s got it all going for her and seems, although I’ve not met her, utterly charming and very modern, which is excellent.”
9. The upcoming royal wedding will be intimate
“I think the couple have shown they’re not going to be sticklers for tradition by the choice of cake and venue. It’s going to be more intimate and rather less formal, it’s not a big state occasion full of pomp and ceremony. They are doing things in an informal way but at its heart, I think it will be a traditional wedding particularly as the Queen will be there. It seems to be pretty clear, from the palace announcement about the invites, that Harry will wear a military uniform to the wedding.”
Entrants for royal photos for the Crown from the Crowd project are open until midnight on 2 April, you can submit photos via Photobox.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s Bazaar UK.