Jennie Bond: The BBC, The Royal Wedding and growing up in Letchworth
PUBLISHED: 17:54 12 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:40 20 February 2013
For 14 years, Hertfordshire-born Jennie Bond was the BBC's royal reporter. But she tells Pat Parker she's no confirmed royalist, and wishes the family would 'lighten up a bit'
THE end of 2010 was hectic for Jennie Bond. When I caught up with her, she had had a particularly busy 48 hours - Prince William and Kate
Middleton had just announced their engagement, and, as the BBCs former royal correspondent, Jennies views have been in demand.
My phones have been red hot, she tells me, speaking from her home in South Devon. Within ten seconds of the announcement, I had three phones ringing, and they didnt stop all day.
Its seven years since Jennie, whos now 60, quit as royal correspondent. When she was offered the job which made her a household name in 1989, she was told it was likely to be a bit of a graveyard. It proved to be anything but. Looking back at the 1990s, when the Royal Family seemed to lurch from one crisis to another as they were beset with fire at Windsor Castle, broken marriages, scandal and the tragic death of Princess Diana, Jennie believes the Royals were rather dramatically imploding.
Her view of the Windsors is hardly flattering. Theyre a rather odd family. Everything back then was going wrong. The monarchy at the time, she feels, was unable to cope with the arrival of royal brides Diana and Sarah Ferguson. It was a clash of stilted tradition and Establishment versus modern women coming into their midst who werent going to put up with a husband having an affair, or the rigours and restrictions of Court life. It was a clash that spelt disaster.
Jennie was born in Hitchin in 1950. Her mum was a housewife who devoted herself to her family, while her father worked for Pearl Assurance in London. The family moved to Letchworth when she was five, where she spent a happy childhood. Living in a Garden City, we had a wonderful sense of space. We had a big garden for me and my two sisters to play in, and we lived immediately opposite our school, so I literally got up at ten to nine and was in assembly by five to nine. We also went home for lunch every day, so I never had a school dinner! Her 89-year-old mum still lives in the family home, and Jennie visits her frequently.
She attended the private St Francis College, then an all-girls Catholic school, although Jennie is not Catholic. Most of my teachers were nuns, and it was quite strict, but also fun. I had a Latin teacher who was a fiery redhead called Sister Anita. We went to Latin one day and there was no Sister Anita. It transpired shed last been seen running down the Broadway in a pair of white stilettos with her red hair flying in the air. Shed run away! I thought, Well done, Anita!
Jennie admits she was a bit of a goody-goody at school hard-working and conscientious. That all changed when she went to Warwick University to read French and European Literature. I had a wonderful time. Warwick was a radical, crazy place then. We were protesting in the streets, and getting up to all kinds of things.
Germaine Greer was one of her lecturers. She frightened the
pants off me!
Having decided to become a journalist, she wrote to almost every paper in the country before finally landing a post on the Richmond Herald. In 1977, she moved to the BBC and spent 11 years editing and producing news before becoming first a radio and then a TV reporter. When at the age of 37, she was offered the post of royal correspondent, she had grave misgivings.
I said I didnt want it. I wasnt remotely interested in the Royal Family. Eventually, I said Id try it for a year, provided 50% of my work was still general reporting. The last thing I wanted was to go around saying what colour hat the Queen was wearing.
She stepped into the job just as the Royal Family was beset by a series of scandals and calamities. Jennie always appeared cool and collected on-screen, despite the frequent panics and technical hitches behind the camera. But off-screen, her life was pressurised and often stressful. Soon after taking the job, she became pregnant with her first child, at the age of 39. When she was three months pregnant, she had to work flat-out for 36 hours while reporting through the night from the banks of the Thames on the Marchioness disaster.
After her daughter Emma was born, Jennie struggled to combine the demands of motherhood with being constantly on-call to report on the latest royal crisis. Her husband, Jim Keltz, gave up his broadcasting career to care for Emma, but Jennie was often racked with guilt over having to rush away during birthday celebrations, or to cover a royal overseas tour. I hated letting her down, and I learnt never to use the word promise. But she was very forgiving, and there was the associated glamour. She did enjoy meeting the Spice Girls!
Emma is now reading psychology at Cardiff University.
Diana was very funny much more articulate than I expected.
We enjoyed one anothers company and had a laugh together
As Diana and Charles marriage slowly unravelled amid bitterness, rivalry and admissions of adultery, Jennie found herself drawn into Princess Dianas confidence. Twice, she was invited to talk to her privately at Kensington Palace, when Diana revealed her feelings about her failed marriage, her sense of isolation and her hopes for the future.
She feels the Princess was a victim of the stifling tradition within the Palace. Charles was rushed into marrying her. I think he thought he could and would love her, but she was far too young, far too naive. They had virtually nothing in common. And obviously, he still loved Camilla.
He simply married the wrong woman.
After the second heart-to-heart, Diana sent Jennie a Christmas present of seven pairs of tights, after she had admired the Princesss hosiery. Jennie still has two packets of her royal tights to this day. On another occasion, Jennie was cleaning the kitchen floor at home when Dianas press secretary rang to say the Princess wanted her to carry on wearing red on television, because it suited her.
We definitely liked each other, Jennie says now. Diana was very funny much more articulate than I expected. We enjoyed one anothers company and had a laugh together.
Her relationship with the other Royals was far less close. Did she come to like any of them? There is a long pause. I admire the Queen, and respect her, she replies cautiously. She has quite a dry sense of humour. I just wish theyd lighten up a bit. I was disappointed this week when Charles was asked what he thought of the royal engagement, and he just made a rather snide remark. I thought wed got over that.
Her relationship with the Princess Royal was the most strained. She doesnt like me. Thats the trouble. After Dianas death, she covered Princess Annes African tour in which she met Aids victims. The Princess apparently took exception when Jennie compared her work in that field to Dianas.
She treated me like a piece of dirt.
The Royals never appeared more aloof and out-of-touch than after Dianas death, when they remained closeted in Balmoral, refusing to acknowledge the publics grief. I think the Queen felt she belonged up there with her grandchildren, and to an extent, she did. What Ive never understood is why no one explained to her that she needed to make a public statement. I think it was complete bewilderment about showing private emotions in public. In the forthcoming days, she says, the public came as close to a revolution as youre going to get.
William is a modern man. I think he is very different, and I hope he can remain that way
Now Dianas elder son is on the threshold of marriage. Does Jennie feel the monarchy has changed sufficiently to allow Kate and Williams marriage a better chance of success? I dont know. At the Palace things change very slowly. Its a question of evolution rather than revolution. But William is a modern man. I think he is very different, and I hope he can remain that way. Theyve lived together, they know one another in a way that Diana and Charles absolutely didnt up until their engagement, she still called him Sir. So things are extremely different. Kate and William are well-grounded. They have the best possible chance of surviving.
Jennie does not care greatly about the survival of the monarchy itself. Im not a confirmed royalist by any means. I think we should have a referendum and decide whether or not we want the monarchy, and I dont mind which way it goes. I think its a rather strange institution, and these poor people are trapped within it in a very strange destiny. Im sure many of them would like to be free of that, and have a career.
If there were a referendum, however, she is pretty sure the public would support the monarchy. It does provide a sense of stability and continuity, which is more valuable than we probably recognise.
In 2003, Jennie decided to quit as royal correspondent, and leave the BBC. It was a real spur-of-the-moment decision. We had moved down to Devon so that Emma could go to school there, and I stayed in London, and we all hated it. Id done deaths and disasters and jubilees, and I just thought, You know what? Im going to give it up. I had no idea what was going to happen, but it was the best thing I ever did.
Within weeks, she was in the jungle on Im A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, eating fish eyes and being immersed in a rat-filled coffin. She came runner-up to Kerry Katona. I had a ball. It changed my life completely because people viewed me differently, and so did my TV bosses. I got all sorts of offers of work, and I was allowed to come out of my straightjacket.
Since then, shes appeared as Debbie Harry in Stars In Their Eyes, taken to the racetrack in Stars in Fast Cars and presented shows such as Rip-Off Britain and Cash in the Attic. In the next week alone, she tells me, shell be filming in Hertfordshire, Wales, Macclesfield and Norfolk, as well as attending Children in Need, an awards ceremony in London, and The X Factor live.
When Emma was 12, she told her mum that she was just like a dog, for ever at the Royals beck and call. They just whistle, and you go! Since slipping free of the Royal choke chain, Jennies never had such fun.