The BBC's apology to the Queen over Frank Gardner shows us where privacy and monarchy collide

Just like Kate Middleton's breasts, Her Majesty's opinions are private business. But if she's mouthing off about policy, don't the public have a right to know about it?

Share

Well, that didn’t take long. At breakfast, the BBC was setting the news agenda with a fairly eye-popping story about the Queen’s vigorous views on the deportation of Abu Hamza; by lunchtime, it was apologising for abusing her confidence in so craven a fashion that it’s a wonder director general George Entwistle didn’t offer to decapitate himself for high treason.

The apology was warranted, we are told, because Frank Gardner, the journalist who broke the story, was passing on the content of a private conversation with her majesty. And it’s true that journalists owe their sources protection: if they agree to speak to someone off the record, that conversation has to stay off the record no matter what. Also, so far as we know, the Queen is not an avowed meddler in public policy like her son, the future king. Still, before calling Lord Leveson about Mr Gardner, a journalist of impeccable credentials, I’d like to know a bit more about the circumstances here. 

Green as I am, I learned something new here, something which I suspect would be news to a lot of people, journalists or otherwise: if a reporter has a friendly chat with the Queen, it’s a matter of established convention that her remarks remain private. Her majesty, we assume, was operating on that basis when she spoke to Gardner. But Gardner is a security correspondent, not one of those unfortunate souls who have to spend all their time at Buckingham Palace, absorbing such rules. If he was told of this convention and had it in mind when the monarch was spilling the beans about Captain Hook – if, better still, the Queen herself said, “Now, Frankie, this is strictly between you and me,” or similar – then the grovelling is just about warranted.

But I think that’s unlikely; at any rate, we haven’t been told. If it’s just a matter of ‘convention’, and Mr Gardner was expected to know that the rules are just different for the royals, the climbdown is an absurdity. And, we have to ask: if the BBC had revealed another source, under any circumstances at all, would the apology have been so rapid? Or is it, again, different for the royals?

Vulgar though it is to say, there’s a useful parallel in the matter of the Duchess of Cambridge’s breasts. They, like the queen’s opinions, are her own business, and the Duchess has retained the moral high ground in her battle with the more unsavoury parts of the media by the simple expedient of taking reasonable steps to keep them to herself. If the Queen had done the same with her views on our deportation policy, I would absolutely accord her the same degree of deference. But, dear though she is, if she’s mouthing off to cabinet ministers, and journalists, about matters of policy, I should like to know about it. An unelected figurehead is one thing. An unelected closet demagogue is another.

If the BBC is handing out apologies, I hope someone has given a private one to Mr Gardner, who’s been made to look silly for doing nothing more than his job. If it does, I don’t suppose we shall ever hear about it. It will, of course, be off the record.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

 

Naturism criminalised: Why not being able to bare all is a bummer

Simon Usborne
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on