Philip Hensher: The true life story of Miles Grubbing, royal sycophant

'Sadly he has had to watch as his core values of idle speculation have been questioned in society'
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For the past two years, PHILIP HENSHER has been investigating the man at the centre of British royal biography. For decades, millions of prurient readers have wondered about the real Miles Grubbing. We see his face in our newspapers every day. But he remains an enigma – until now. PHILIP HENSHER has been granted unprecedented access to his closest friends, has rummaged through his dustbins, has bribed his local newsagent. And now, in 17 weekly parts, 'The Independent' is proud to present a frank and intimate portrait of the private Miles Grubbing. The real Miles Grubbing. Now read on.


"IF YOU ever stopped to think about it," one of Miles Grubbing's oldest friends says, "you would find it difficult to treat him like a normal person. I mean, I'm sure he'd love to be treated just like anyone else, and that's the great thing about him – he's tremendously normal. But you just can't forget who he is. It's an awesome responsibility, sucking up to royalty in print all the time."

The enigma of Miles Grubbing is, indeed, that in many ways, he is a normal person thrust into an extraordinary position. Everyone who knows him stresses this. "To be honest," his milkman told me, "he seems perfectly ordinary. You'd never think he was the man who wrote 'The Real Princess Beatrice: Daughter, Sister, Enigma'. He's always had two pints of milk, though there was a time when they started taking three – I don't know why. Perhaps they were drinking more milk. Or making a lot of rice puddings."

"You know," Grubbing himself is supposed to have said in Crewe in 1976, "there's nothing very special about me." And yet he must have known from his earliest years that he was set apart from other people. "Even at school," one of his oldest friends says, "you couldn't treat him like everyone else. It must be lonely to know that you are going to be a royal sycophant. Even when he was eight, he had a scrapbook of photos of all the hospitals Princess Marina had opened. He was different, and there was this unspoken thing – you didn't get too close to him. It wasn't just that he smelt."

From his earliest years Grubbing has had a sense of duty, which has never faltered. "In 1977," one of his oldest friends remembers, "every other royal sycophant spent that year cutting out articles about the Silver Jubilee. Miles did that, of course. But the thing that is really impressive is that he saw that there were other members of the Royal Family who might be forgotten in all the hoo-ha. Do you know what Miles did? He spent an entire year following Princess Alice around the country. And he wrote seven thousand words about every single one of the Duke of Gloucester's children for The Leicester Herald. Duke of Kent's. Whatever. And one of them was only seven months old. I mean, some of those people could have been entirely ignored without that dedicated level of sycophancy."

All Grubbing's friends agree on his devotion to duty, and there is no doubt that he can be stern and even frightening. One of his oldest friends, it is said, was frozen out with his famous "steely glare" when he unwisely remarked that he thought the Princess Royal had "crap hair and a fat arse".

But without any doubt, he also has a tremendous sense of fun and a wicked sense of humour. "I have to say," one of his oldest friends says, "that, after a couple of hours, he does not mind if you forget to say Sir, and he can be terribly funny. He's not stuffy at all. I remember once I had to excuse myself early, because I had opera tickets. I thought I was in for a rocket, but all he said was: 'The opera? Not Oprah Winfrey, by any chance?' My wife always says he's as funny as the Duke of Edinburgh."

Just as little known are his powers of mimicry. "Oh, goodness, yes," one of his oldest friends says. "Once, over dinner – there were only four of us there, it was terribly simple – I remarked that Ken Livingstone was the Mayor of London. And Miles immediately said: 'Gor blimey, strike a light, if it ain't the old trouble and strife.' We were in stitches – if you'd closed your eyes, you'd have sworn it was Dick Van Dyke."

But there is no doubt that, for Miles Grubbing, nothing is more important than sucking-up. He has pursued the trade he was born to with devotion, and this year he will mark the fact that half a century has passed from his first newspaper serialisation – "The Real Queen Mary: Wit, Hostess, Enigma" – to his most recent – "The Real Princess Michael of Kent: Bore, Beauty, Enigma". Sadly, in the course of that half-century, Grubbing has had to watch as his core values of sycophancy, idle speculation and cosiness have been increasingly questioned in British society. But, as his loyal readers start spontaneously dusting the bunting, he can take comfort in the knowledge that those values, despite everything, remain at the very heart of British journalism.