Kate Middleton, Prince William Baby: Royals Correspondents Ready for the Spotlight


Paul Harrison, royals expert at Sky News, tells THR how he and others on the beat have geared up for their biggest story since the royal wedding and diamond jubilee.

LONDON -- Representatives from TV networks and other news organizations from around the world have been waiting with bated breath for news of Kate Middleton's and Prince William's baby.

The addition to the royal family is expected to be a big summer media story in many countries, but particularly here where journalists and bloggers have been following latest developments closely. Among them are Britain's "royal correspondents," a group of journalists who cover the royals beat for big TV networks and newspapers year-round.

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Some compare their jobs to those of White House correspondents in the U.S. Often, the focus is on events and ceremonies of different levels of importance. But stories such as the royal wedding in 2011, last year's diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and now the royal baby put the royals correspondents into the limelight thanks to 24/7 coverage.
"It's not the plum job by a long way," said Richard Sambrook, a former director of global news at the BBC and professor of journalism and director of the Center for Journalism at Cardiff University. "Royal correspondents need to have particular skills to work with the institution, but retain their independence -- a bit akin to a diplomatic correspondent. It's a senior role for an experienced hand."

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Paul Harrison, royals correspondent for BSkyB's Sky News, told The Hollywood Reporter that "it is a tough beat because you enter into a relationship, which is very much a give-and-take relationship [with a limited number of players], and you don't want to get caught missing anything as a 24-hour news service."

Also, "the story often lies in very small moments of audio in a crowd or a gesture or moments." For example, he recalled a recent event Prince William attended where he was asked to hold a baby girl. She recoiled suddenly, "so the story was 'girl doesn't want to kiss the Prince' that day," Harrison explained.

He expressed excitement about having had the chance to cover the British royals for the last three years, including the royal wedding and the diamond jubilee. "It's diverse and the hot topic of the moment," said Harrison.

The baby is the biggest royals story of the year, he said. That means little sleep, constant, small baby updates -- such as when the Queen this week told a young girl during a visit to her town that she hoped the royal baby would arrive soon, so she could go on holiday -- and previews of what to expect, in addition to coverage of other royal engagements and events. Harrison laughs when asked if he sleeps less than normal these days, saying he loves his job.

Does he expect the royals reporters to be tipped off earlier than other press when Middleton goes into labor?

No, said Harrison, highlighting that the royals have told him and his peers that they wouldn't be alerted ahead of others when Middleton goes into labor.

"Kensington Palace has been very clear that the group of royal journalists that I am part of will not get any advantage over anybody else," he told THR. "We're all in a holding pattern and all looking out for clues. Everyone will get an e-mail from Kensington Palace saying she's in labor at the same time."

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When the royals' communications team on Tuesday came down to the London hospital where Middleton is expected to give birth, the royals correspondents were ready to jump into action. "But they were just there to have a look" and reassured all the baby wasn't on its way yet, Harrison recalled.

How has he prepared for the eventual birth of the royal baby? "I have done a lot of reading and talking to experts about royal babies," he told THR. "And we have precut quite a bit already, such as a look back at the past nine months of the pregnancy."

Beyond his TV work, he has also filed online and radio reports.

Tim Ewart, royals correspondent for ITV News, has also continuously filed TV and online reports in the run-up to the baby news.

"Crazy Street: Where the wait for the royal baby goes on," the title of one of his web posts this week said. "The media pens on South Wharf Street are gradually getting fuller as the wait for the royal baby at St. Mary's Hospital goes on and on," he wrote.

He has also entertained viewers and online readers with color as all reporters look for new material while waiting for the baby news. "I called for a cab the other day, and when the dispatcher asked my address, I told her South Wharf Road, Paddington," Ewart wrote. "'Oh,' she said. 'Crazy Street.' I've heard that black-cab drivers with sightseers on board now take a swing down Crazy Street. It's like the zoo, only with humans."

The BBC and big British newspapers have also featured regular reports from their royals correspondents on the latest news and commentary on the much-anticipated royal baby over the past couple of weeks. Like others, they seem ready to step up coverage the second Middleton goes into labor.

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German royals expert Rolf Seelmann-Eggebert, who has covered major events in various European royal houses, said Germany has also given "much attention to the royal baby since the baby announcement." He expects to give a slew of interviews in Germany once the baby arrives. "Interest is sky-high, but the news will be a story limited to a few days -- the birth, official pictures, name announcement -- before I expect the baby to be kept from the public," he said.

He made a 40-minute film, "Waiting for Kate's Baby," for German TV that recently aired on German public broadcaster ARD. It looked at how the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William grew up and showed how educational paths have changed over three royal generations. He described his conclusion this way: "This baby will not get the palace school that ended with Charles."

How does the royal baby coverage compare to the royal wedding or diamond jubilee?

"In terms of the royal story of the past three years, the baby news ranks as the icing on the cake," said Harrison. "The monarchy has seen a huge transformation in terms of its popularity, and this will continue this increase in popularity. It is the next chapter in this royal fairy tale."

Sambrook also said that since the baby will be third in line for the British throne, "it has a potential influence on the future monarch of England."

Still, those implications are expected to take a backseat to the spectacle. "For most, it's a big celebrity story, and most media will opt to revel in the royal soap opera aspects," predicted Sambrook. "It's part of the things that help define Britain."

Germany's Seelmann-Eggebert also said part of the appeal of royals stories is that the subjects remain royals forever. "You can spend your whole life following the real princes and princesses," he told THR. "In sports or Hollywood, idols can go away much more quickly."

Observers said that social media and fan sites have helped in terms of generating interest. "The younger generation is driving the huge growth in interest," said Harrison. "The Queen is also right up there in terms of being hugely popular. But underlying [the heightened interest] is the new, young generation of royals who attract the attention of the country and the world."

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai