Posh pundits making a Royal Mint out of Wills and Kate
Global interest in next Friday's marriage has meant a bumper payday for well-connected Windsor-watchers
Andrew Roberts, the historian and socialite who often gets described as "perky" by gossip columnists, is at the other end of a phone line, very politely spitting feathers. "One hundred thousand pounds... I mean, Jesus Christ! That's probably five times the advance she got for her book! It's... un-be-lievable!"
Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine, meanwhile expresses her envy in the most gracious manner possible. "It's a crazy sum, but I say 'bully for her!' It's difficult for some people not to bitch; after all, she's young, pretty, good on television, and exactly the right age... I just wish I had her agent."
Both pundits are offering their two penn'orth on a topic much gossiped about on Fleet Street: the six-figure fee rumoured to have been paid to Katie Nicholl, the Mail on Sunday columnist, to appear on America's ABC on Friday, when the media circus comes to London for Prince William's marriage to a flight attendant's daughter from Berkshire.
Ms Nicholl, author of a book on the couple's romance, is too modest to discuss any vulgar details of her remuneration. But sources close to the deal say the figure negotiated by LA agent, John Ferriter, is short of the rumoured £100,000.
Yet the very fact this job exists, and the fact that peers are jealously discussing it, offers an insight into the fabulous world of a breed best described as The Posherati: expert commentators who feed the global obsession with the Royal Wedding.
When the couple say their vows at Westminster Abbey on Friday, they will be watched by a global television audience estimated at around two billion, or around 35 percent of humanity. Those viewers need to be told what's happening. The people best equipped to do that are hacks, historians, and ex-Palace employees.
So it goes that, on the occasion of Britain's biggest State event since the early 1980s, Roberts, Seward, and Nicholl – along with characters such as Patrick Jephson, Princess Diana's former private secretary, Robert Jobson, the News of the World's royal specialist, and the ubiquitous Piers Morgan – will represent the "face" of our nation, in coverage beamed around the world.
The Posherati are relatively few, which puts them in a lucrative niche. After all, this may be the biggest TV news event in history, so the news organisations are prepared to dig deep for advantages over rivals. While every station will have identical pooled TV footage from inside the Abbey, their big selling-point is the expertise of their pundits.
The most generous employers are the American news organisations They have been in London for weeks, with between 150 and 200 employees on the ground. For their purposes, the occasion requires a mixture of A-list American hosts and top British Posherati. ABC has Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, along with Katie Nicholl, Tina Brown, and the former Palace PR woman Colleen Harris. NBC's Matt Lauer will be joined by Andrew Roberts (earning a rumoured £10,000) and Robert Jobson. CBS has Katie Couric, supported by Seward and historian David Starkey. Fox News boasts host Shepard Smith and Diana's ex-butler, Paul Burrell. CNN's anchor Anderson Cooper, will have British sidekicks Cat Deeley and Piers Morgan,
The commercial might of the US has fueled frantic competition for what still remains of The Posherati. Fleet Street's royal correspondents say they are currently each getting two or three TV interview requests, per day, mostly from Australia, France, Germany and Canada. To some, the deluge of TV and radio invitations is welcome publicity, not to mention a nice little earner (the going rate for a few minutes to camera is upwards of £100). To others it's an opportunity to make money for good causes (The Sun's snapper Arthur Edwards funnels all his payments to a children's charity).
But not everyone has been joining the party. Hello! magazine's royal writer Judy Wade is currently giving the bum's rush to almost every request. "TV's a lot of hassle, I'm incredibly busy, I've got nothing to plug, and I don't want to be famous" – while The Daily Telegraph's erudite diarist Tim Walker says he won't get out of bed unless the price is right.
“I had the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on the other day, expecting me to get up first thing on the 29th and sit in a hot studio with their anchor woman for almost ten hours. I asked for a very modest £700. And needless to say, I never heard back. Most of the pundits you will see on the day are so pathetically grateful to be on television that they are happy to accept peanuts. So it will be an almighty chorus of howler monkeys.”
As with any competitive group of peers, low-level bitching is rife among The Posherati. Historians largely see journalists as spivs and chancers. journalists peg historians as arrogant and out of touch. And absolutely everyone treats ex-royal employees such as Jephson, Burrell, and Ken Wharf with suspicion.
Typical knockabout comes from Andrew Roberts. Asked what makes a Royal pundit valuable, the author of The Royal House of Windsor, says: "Have they written serious and significant books on the House of Windsor, and do they have an Oxbridge Doctorate?" If not, ignore them.
Richard Kay, the Daily Mail columnist and star royal reporter during the Princess Diana era speaks up for news hacks: "I've no doubt people like Starkey and Roberts can bring a broad brush of history to the table, but they know next to nothing about William and Kate. The hacks know a little about them, but not a lot. And the former palace retainers haven’t a clue."
Kay sees The Posherati's greatest challenge as giving the impression of an easy familiarity with Wills and Kate, when most have only met them on a few formal occasions, and know almost nothing about what makes them tick. Not a single member of the royal press corps had heard Ms Middleton speak until the ITV interview on the occasion of their engagement.
“Kate and William have kept on top of the dissemination of information with a ruthless fervour. A lot of the stories you read about them are frankly rackety. In fact, since Clive Goodman went to jail, the flow of secrets about William Windsor has more or less dried up.”
The subject of accuracy is always a bone of contention, since many royal “scoops” cannot be verified. In a recent conversation with the Wall Street Journal, for example, Judy Wade rubbished one of Katie Nicholl’s recent Mail on Sunday exclusive claiming that Kate Middleton’s dog had eaten an ear-ring given to her by Prince William. The story boasted a major flaw: Ms Middleton doesn’t own a dog.
Ms Nicholl's supporters accuse critics of jealousy: "As with anyone who seems to be good at their job, she seems to attract envy and spite," says Kenneth Rose, the constitutional historian. "It's very disagreeable. But I suppose, as the old saying goes, she can cry all the way to the bank."
The woman herself, who wrote The Making of a Royal Romance, says, "I've been hired by ABC because I've written a book on William and Kate and I've charted every detail of their courtship. I can speak from the position of someone who's been at polo matches with them, watched them take to the dance floor at Boujis together, and seen the sparks fly."
The big question is whether that knowledge is enough to justify America's investment in Posherati such as Nicholl. On financial terms, the timing of the morning wedding (while much of America is still in bed) is not ideal. And the costs are exorbitant.
But for most, the event is about adding value to their brand "You can't be a serious news organisation and not show up in a big way for this," says Mark Burstein, who is producing ABC's coverage. “For us, the event is all about comment and analysis. If we have the very best people doing that, then next time a big story breaks, people will switch to ABC.”
In other words, The Posherati's market value is about supply and demand. And if nothing else, during this week of celebration, the success of the royal experts attempting to leverage cash from their expertise demonstrates that Britain's first family really can contribute something to their nation's economy.
Kings and Queens of the networks
Young wunderkind of the Posherati, the Mail on Sunday scribe hopes a major ABC deal will turn her into a big name across the pond. "Americans are in awe of the Royal Family and this love story. I am there to make it more real," she says.
The former Daily Mirror editor is "the only hack who has had lunch with Prince William," notes Richard Kay. "It was by sheer happenstance, when he visited Diana. But it was a fantastic scoop for Piers and he has exploited it ever since."
"I trust what Patrick Jephson says," is royal reporter Richard Kay's take on Princess Diana's former Private Secretary. "He's erudite, intelligent and he's an expressive writer. I would say, though, that he presents things with a spin."
The TV historian's agent calls him "the UK's most outspoken academic". His television programmes and a back catalogue of weighty books on the British monarchy make him one of our most bankable constitutional experts.
"To all the mud-slinging royal correspondents, I say, there's plenty of work to go round," says the editor of 'Majesty', which expects its special to shift six times the average run of 40,000 copies. "We should enjoy it while it lasts."
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