By Royal appointment: how an ITV hack won the prince's trust

Tom Bradby tells Matthew Bell why Prince William gave him the scoop of his career

There were three of them in that interview, though it wasn't exactly crowded.

Tom Bradby, political editor for ITV News, was the only journalist to be granted access to Prince William and Kate Middleton when they announcd their engagement on Tuesday, and the first to have interviewed our future Queen. It was, he says, "a terrifying responsibility", not least because the weight of the past hung heavily on their shoulders: all three were conscious not to echo that infamous interview from 30 years ago, when Prince Charles became engaged to Lady Diana. "Everybody had that "what is love?" moment in the back of their minds," Bradby says, "and that was what everyone wanted to avoid."

It was the biggest scoop of his 20-year career, but Bradby, 43, was determined to play as small a part in it as possible. "I felt it should be as if I wasn't really there, that they were just having a conversation with the hundreds of millions of people watching all over the world." That he was there, though, is no coincidence. Contrary to suggestions that the opportunity came out of the blue, he had known for some time that he would get an interview if and when an engagement was announced. He had had years to prepare, though, like everyone else, he only learned the news on the day.

Bradby is known to be on joshing terms with Prince William, a relationship that dates back to his stint as ITV's royal correspondent, from 2001 to 2005, when he built up an unusually good rapport. It was his friendship with William, and their joint realisation that the Prince's voicemail had been listened to, that uncovered the News of the World phone-hacking scandal in 2006. Despite this, he believes there is nothing to be gained from further prosecutions and is on good terms with Andy Coulson.

Fresh-faced and with boyish good looks, there is even something of the teenage Prince about Bradby. He too was married by 28, and comes from a military background, his father having been an officer in the Royal Navy. He attended Sherborne, then Edinburgh, and had ambitions for a life of adventure, not as a helicopter pilot, but as a foreign correspondent.

"I think they liked the idea that I had been shot," he says, explaining his instant popularity with the Royal Family by referring to an incident in Jakarta when he was wounded in the leg during a riot. What they like most of all, though, must be Bradby's diehard belief in the line between on and off the record, between what's public and private. "From the outset I made that very clear: I said I am a journalist, but I am a human being before I'm a journalist. So anything that is said in confidence remains private, and I would never confuse the two. When trust is such a massive issue, someone like William needs to know he can say something privately. If they have confidence in you they will treat you differently. I don't even tell my wife." He applies this principle as rigidly in his present incarnation as ITV's political editor, a job he has done for nearly six years. He often, he admits, goes to dinner at politicians' homes, but insists such seemingly cosy relationships have no bearing on how "robust" any interview he does will be. "William got that straight off. He is sophisticated like that."

Bradby reveals he spent over three and a half hours at Clarence House preparing for just 17 minutes of film; although he discussed the areas they would cover beforehand, the interview was uncensored and broadcast in its entirety.

Bradby is, however, a reluctant royal confidant. He never wanted to be a royal reporter, only taking it on after he gave up his career as a foreign correspondent. "I had young children and I realised I wanted them to have a father. So I came back and it was the only job available that didn't involve getting shot."

He was surprised to find that he enjoyed the royal beat, though he wouldn't want to return to it. He reveals, however, that he will cover the wedding next year. Tuesday's interview was the latest in a series of unexpected triumphs for ITV, which have included Downton Abbey and the new series of I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

Bradby is ITV's biggest fan, and he has no plans to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Nick Robinson, to the BBC. He is married with three children, and a four-day week allows him time to write novels; he is currently writing his seventh. The first, Shadow Dancer, based on his time in Belfast, is due to be made into a film next year, though he remains tight-lipped about who he wants to star in it.

Could his book-writing skills one day make him a candidate to write Prince William's official biography? "I don't know. That's years ahead. I suppose I will always be around, but I genuinely haven't given it a second thought." If the positive feedback he has had from the palace after Tuesday's interview is anything to go by, he may have to.

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