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Our obsession with the royal family would not be the same without the people who spend their lives writing about them.
All the delicious royal family details like Kate Middleton's every fashion move, the family's recycling habits, baby George's fat rolls, and Kate and Wills' gentle ribbing wouldn't be available for public consumption were it not for the cadre of hardworking royal family reporters.
But how does one break into such a beat? Who do they talk to for scoops? What can and can't they publish? Have any of them ever even met the royal family? And what would they actually say if they could have tea with the Queen?
Victoria Arbiter, a veteran British reporter, has covered the royal family for companies like CNN, CBS, ABC, and Entertainment Tonight. She learned the craft from her father, Dickie Arbiter, who also worked as a royal reporter before taking a major-league promotion to serve as Queen Elizabeth's press spokesman in the nineties. The New York-based reporter was kind enough to let us pester her with all sorts of questions, answering everything you ever wanted to know about what it's like live, breathe and write about the royal family.
Victoria Arbiter reporting live in front of Buckingham Palace.
What's your background and how on earth did you land this job?
"I was born in Zimbabwe, but I grew up in London. My dad was a royal reporter for a radio channel, so growing up, on weekends, I would go with him to royal events, sitting on the roof of the news van, getting a front row seat. I grew up with my life revolving around the royal calendar and developed enormous respect and love for the royal family. That's how I came by my knowledge: I had an insider's view."
Is the beat hard?
"My father loved it but it was a frustrating time, with the breakup of Diana and Charles' marriage, and the debut of their interviews. I don't necessarily love every second of it, but what I enjoy most is that it's very rare for a happy news event to capture global attention. Normally, the world pays attention to tsunamis, wars, terror attacks. But with the royal wedding, the royal baby, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, we had the world's attention for a happy occasion and I loved that."
How do you discover information about the Royal family? Who do you turn to for scoops?
"I have great relationships with people that my dad worked with; they are phenomenal resources. [For this beat], it's all about keeping up relationships. The other part of it has a lot to do with the style of doing things. I fact check and report legitimate stuff. I don't perpetuate silly stories. There's an element of trust when it comes to getting scoops from people."
Queen Elizabeth during her Diamond Jubilee in 2012. Photo by Getty Images.
Are you in direct contact with the Palace?
"Yes, I can call and talk to them directly. It's frustrating because Will and Kate have an incredibly tight circle of friends, and nobody talks. That has eliminated the competition somewhat, so we rely on news coming out of the palace."
Are there certain codes of conducts you have to follow?
"You have to behave yourself, really. The days of screaming are gone. Here [in America] you see people screaming at celebrities during red carpet events, but there is an element of decorum to covering the royals. There's a certain unspoken sensibility to it. Everyone has to be respectful and I think things have changed since the old days of Diana and Charles. In the old days, there was a lot of back stabbing and elbowing people out of the way to get the story but that doesn't really exist anymore."
Why do you think that has changed?
"Part of it is that, yes, this family doesn't have the same scandals as Diana and Charles. But it's also residual responsibility the press feels over the death of Diana. Much of the current press was not covering during [the royals] the Diana days but they all are aware of what happened. Nobody wants to be responsible for something like that again. Plus, you don't want to get on the bad side of the palace because they will ban you."
The photo of Princess Diana taken by paparazzi the night of the fatal car crash in August of 1997. Photo from Getty Images.
Who do you think is more obsessed with the royal family: the British or the Americans?
"Americans are more obsessed. Brits don't get excited about anything really, which is why the Jubilee was particularly wonderful. On a day to day, I don't think British people give two hoots about the royal family. They certainly are fans but there's a more celebrity approach to it here because there's nothing to compare them to."
Have you ever met anyone from the royal family?
"I met Diana on several occasions, and have met William once. I was invited to Diana's Christmas party one year. William was to have his first public address; he was 10 years old, so I got to witness a special occasion. I've also met Harry. I've seen Kate in close proximity because of the nature of the job, but I've never met her."
Have you ever met the Queen?
"No but I would love to. I have so much respect for her. She's an extraordinary woman who has conducted herself beautifully and will be a hard act to follow. She's a wonderful role model that has such global reach."
Do you feel like you know the royal family? Like, are you buddies?
"I feel like I know the dynamics really well. I know how they operate and think. It would be presumptuous to say I know them on a personal level because that would be impossible but I feel like I have a good grasp on the way they approach things, and I know the thinking when things happen."
Kate and Will with baby George outside the hospital in July. Photo by Getty Images.
What's the craziest thing you've done for your beat?
"During the weeks leading up to the royal wedding, I went to Wales when the Queen and Prince Phillips were visiting and the weather that day was horrific. The conditions were utterly mad. The wind was blowing, the rain was coming down sideways, it was freezing. We managed to find a place for a live segment for CBS and my crew put sandbags on my feet so that I could stand. [On camera] my hair was flying in my face, it was disaster and a wonder we even got through the reporting. On this beat, that tends to be the crazy story: you end up going somewhere and waiting for hours and in the UK, it's freezing! I wish I could tell you I slide into the Buckingham Palace through a window, but in my experience, everything is bad weather-related."
What was it like covering the royal wedding?
"It was nuts! This is going to sound strange but on the actual day, it was almost a little anti-climactic. We had three months of insane build up and suddenly the day was there and you couldn't see anything. I only got to appreciate it when I went home that night and watched the whole thing. I was up for hours, was so hungry, and there was nothing to eat, and I was just trying to get all the information. I was at Buckingham Palace, and we lost our feed, and couldn't hear anything over the band playing. But I thoroughly enjoyed the build up. And it's totally different, reporting for news versus entertainment. At the tent outside [the palace], Entertainment Tonight had an amazing spread of food with all these fruit platters and spreads. But for CBS, we all had a bag of Cheez Its to share.
Victoria reporting for CBS during the Royal wedding.
What was it like covering the royal baby's birth?
"Absolutely insane. I was not outside the hospital, I was in New York but was in a constant state of awareness. It was so ridiculous—at one point, I had a bag of stuff to move into the studio at the front door. To some degree I felt like I was expecting a baby! With the wedding, we had a date and were ready to go, but with a baby, you're at the mercy of Mother Nature. My first segment was at 3:30am for a British channel that morning and I got home at midnight. It was four solid days of round-the-clock. I loved every minute of it."
What are some of your favorite outfits of Kate's?
"She rarely goes wrong. But every Catherine Walker outfit—I would sell my liver to own one of them. I also like her Alexander McQueen looks. And a [Canadian label Smythe Les Vestes] navy blazer she wore boarding a plane to Canada. She's very stylish, though I will admit she sometimes dresses a little old for her age. But that comes with the job."
If you could hang out with Kate, what would you discuss?
"Well, on a personal level, we don't really have anything in common; I'm not sporty at all. I had more in common with Diana, because she loved ballet and classical music. With Kate, I suppose we'd talk children, babies, but that would get dull. Perhaps we'd talk travel."
Photo by Getty Images
If you had tea with the Queen, what would you talk about?
"Oh gosh. Tea with the Queen! I'd just watch her in action with her animals. A lot of people don't know this but she has an extraordinary affinity with animals and she cherishes them because they don't treat her any different. I know it sounds utterly loony but her dogs and horses listens to her. She's never worn a riding hat on her horses because she has complete trust in them. Rather than tea, I would love to go on a long hike in Scotland with her and see her interact with her animals.
Is there anything off-limits when reporting on baby George?
"You have to be really careful when children are involved. I just saw a horrible clip of Katie Holmes with Suri, who yells to the paparazzi to leave her alone, and then they called her a brat. I thought that was terrible. You have to constantly remember, they are children and they were born into this life. [During the recent royal tour] in Australia and New Zealand, the royal family gave us incredible access, and was a lot more open than anyone had anticipated [with George]. That should have been enough but of course, there were [unauthorized photos] that were released after that. I thought it was wrong. You have to try and remember to appreciate what they give us. Even if there's a hungry appetite, just respect that he's a baby."
Do you ever feel bad for them that they live in such a fishbowl?
"No, I don't feel bad. I mean, yes, they are public figures and a huge part of their life is on show but the royal family has a charmed life, compared to how they were hounded in the nineties. And let's face it, some of these engagements they go to can be as short as 45 minutes. What do they get in return? They don't have to worry about money, they meet some of the world's most incredible people, like the Pope, they get to travel all over the world, and they live in nice places. So no, they have a nice gig. I do appreciate how difficult it must be when you just want to live a normal life but guarantee, none of them would trade it to live a normal life."
Will and Kate wave to fans during their recent tour in Australia. Photo by Getty Images.
What's a royal family event you can't wait to cover?
"In September of 2015, the queen will break Queen Victoria's record as the longest reigning royal monarch. I am looking forward to that. Also, I hope she'll make it to a platinum Jubilee. That's eight more years to go, but with her genes and family's longevity, I think she'll get there and it will be really special."
Any hints on who Harry's new girlfriend is going to be?
"I'm not entirely convinced it's over with Cressida. I think it's a brief moment in time and they'll end up back together. But I don't know if she's the one —she's independent and a free spirit, it's hard to conform to the royal family ways, which Kate has done beautifully. With Harry's last girlfriend, Chelsy, he broke up and got back together with her a few times. He has a hard time letting go so I don't think this is the end of it."