On Duty with the Queen, My Time as a Buckingham Palace Press Secretary by Dickie Arbiter offers a rare candid yet affectionate insight into the British Royal family. From anxieties to affairs, it reveals all. Here’s an exclusive extract…
A car approached as I walked up the private road towards Kensington Palace.
The driver-side window wound down as the vehicle slowed, and I realised it was Diana. She smiled and waved as she always did before moving on her way. She looked happy. I knew she would be heading back to the South of France imminently. She had just been on holiday there with her boys, but now that they were in Scotland with the rest of the Royal Family, she was planning to return at the invitation of her friend, Dodi Fayed. They were in the midst of a brief summer romance, a simple flirtation at best, but I was glad to know she wouldn’t be by herself for the remainder of the school holidays.
The memory of that neighbourly exchange between the Princess and me some two weeks prior played in my head as I sat, transfixed by the live news images of a car lying twisted and mangled in the depths of a tunnel in Paris.
Details were scarce, but at least she was alive. Paul Burrell, Diana’s butler, kept running into our apartment, sobbing, desperate for an update. I had checked in with the office, but as yet they didn’t know anything more than what I was seeing on television.
I turned, startled by the ringing phone. It was just after 3am. It was Penny Russell-Smith, the Buckingham Palace duty press secretary.
“She’s gone…” was all she said. I showered, dressed and left for the office. It was too surreal to take in.
Diana arrived at Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital at 2.06am. Despite lengthy resuscitation attempts, her internal injuries were simply too severe, and she was pronounced dead at 4.00am, French time – three-and-a-half-hours after I received the initial call from CNN. She was 36. I was horrified, and gripped by an overwhelming sense of loss.
Could it be possible that I would no longer see her speed up the private road to Kensington Palace? No longer get a hello and a friendly wave if I happened to bump into her? It was deeply upsetting. While I knew I had to keep abreast of what was happening, I could hardly bear to watch. I also knew that I had to push my emotions to one side. I had a job to do. Within half an hour of receiving confirmation of the Princess’s death, I was at my desk in the Buckingham Palace press office.
I arrived just before 4am BST, closely followed by deputy press secretary to the Queen, Penny Russell-Smith. The press office phones were ringing off the hook, and it wasn’t long before the switchboard was jammed with incoming calls. We did the best we could, agreeing to a holding line that, “arrangements were still under discussion and that we would have more information later that morning.”
For once, journalists and broadcasters accepted the situation. They backed off and waited along with the rest of the world.
On Duty with the Queen, My Time as a Buckingham Palace Press Secretary by Dickie Arbiter (Blink Publishing) is out now