Remembering a right royal childhood

I have no memory of the king having a stutter. He was just an old posh English bloke speaking very slowly

We go back a long way, me and the royal family. Can you believe I have lived through four reigns? I tell my grandchildren this and they think it’s a fib, for of course our Blessed Queen has reigned forever and anyway she is much older than you, Humper.

I was born on 7 January 1936 – just in time to see the last two weeks of the reign and life of George V. I remember it not at all well. Nor the next fella, Edward VIII, who then took over but did a runner before the year was out.

But then I did witness the whole reign of George VI, starting from a lying position somewhere in the back of my pram. I have no memory of the king having a stutter. I did hear him on the radio, and he was just an old posh English bloke speaking very slowly.

By 1953, we had moved to Carlisle, and I can remember clearly the excitement of the Queen’s coronation in June 1953. I can still hear those joyous cries ringing round our council estate: “MRS PORTER’S GORRA TELLY!”

I was a paper boy by then and delivered papers in her street. I didn’t know her personally – but everyone knew about her. The first person in the human race, our little section of it, who had a telly. All over the country, there were people who had somehow managed to get together enough money to buy their first ever television, much to jealousy of their neighbours. Had Mrs Porter won some money on the Treble Chance? Come into an inheritance?

Her chosen friends were invited into her parlour to crowd round the funny little box and watch the coronation. The next level of friends, which included my mother and my twin sisters, were allowed to stand in the front garden and peer through the front window.

I wasn’t bothered, really. It was for the women. Instead I was playing football in the street, 55-a-side, the pitch about half a mile long. With no cars in the streets, you could play uninterrupted.

The first royal I ever met, in the flesh, was Lady Di. We got invited to a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace, never knew why. It was on 16 July 1981, two weeks before her marriage to Charles.

The royals each stand in their own little circle. A select few, chosen beforehand, get personally introduced, while the rest of the guests mill around, looking at the queues, wondering which to join, then get their elbows out and push, trying of course not to show it.

I picked the queue for Lady Di. With both elbows going, I managed to obtain my own intimate, one-to-one with her. Hmm, not sure of the protocol. Am I, even now, allowed to reveal the details? OK then, but don’t pass it on.

“There’s some jolly good choccy cake over there,” said Lady Di. To me. Personally. Exclusively. With a knowing, lop-sided, ever-so-seductive smile.

The next royal I met was Prince Philip. I think it must have been 1985. I was the presenter of a BBC Radio 4 programme called Bookshelf, which I did for three years. Philip – we have met so surely I can use his first name – had a book out, a collection of essays.

It so happened both the agent for his book and his publisher were also my agent and publisher, so between them they fixed for me to do an interview with Philip for Bookshelf. (I later got a bollocking from a BBC suit. Apparently there was a special BBC royal department through which all such royal requests must go.)

I went with my producer to Buck House and was shown into Philip’s private library. I was bending down, looking along the shelves, hoping I would spot one of my own lovely books so I could do some boasting when suddenly a secret door opened – disguised as a row of book shelves – and practically knocked me over. Out strode Philip, looking not at all keen on giving a radio interview, certainly not to some nosey oik examining his books.

It went OK, we got the interview, but my main memory was of catching a glimpse into his private study in that moment when he opened the secret door.

I could see an old-fashioned electric fire, with just one bar on, in front of which he had obviously been crouching. Poor sod, I thought. The central heating at Buck House must be rubbish.

Not always a lot of fun, being a royal.


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