Dickie Arbiter handled press for both Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, and the Prince and Princess of Wales for a number of years, including the House of Windsor’s most turbulent decade.
Back in 2011, I spoke to Arbiter’s daughter, royal correspondent Victoria Arbiter, about her father’s job with the royal family. Dickie was working for Leading Britain’s Conversation when opportunity came knocking.
“He had a good reputation,” Victoria told me. “My father was never one for nonsense, hubris, or salacious stories, and so he was well-respected because he was able to get the work done.”
Dickie recently wrote his first book, On Duty With The Queen: My Time As A Buckingham Palace Press Officer (BLINK Publishing), a first-hand account of turmoil that engulfed the royal family during the end of the 20th century.
Perhaps one of Dickie’s toughest times as royal press officer came when the Princess of Wales died in the early hours of August 31st, 1997.
“How could she be dead?” Dickie wrote in his book (a portion of which was serialized in the Daily Mail). “It was so deeply upsetting that I had been hardly able to bear to look at those dreadful TV pictures. But I knew that I had to push my emotions to one side. I had a job to do.”
The media riled up the public with their accusations that the Queen was ignoring her people, publishing front page headlines like “Show Us You Care” and “Speak To Us, Ma’am.”
I maintain that Her Majesty’s response to the death of her former daughter-in-law was a personal one, a grandmother before a sovereign. The Queen’s number one priority was taking care of her grandsons, who had just lost their mother and (I’m sure, in her opinion) weren’t ready for the outpouring of grief that awaited them in London. The public, in my opinion, would have to wait.
I asked Dickie his thoughts on the Queen remaining at Balmoral before returning to London for the funeral.
“The Queen was absolutely right to remain at Balmoral for the sake of her grandsons who needed her more than those milling around Buckingham and Kensington Palaces,” Arbiter told me via email. “It was the media that fired up people’s opinion that Her Majesty should be in London, but by the time the Queen returned to the capital common sense prevailed and they realised their leader had got it right and the were wrong. She was always going to pay tribute to Diana, but in her time and not on demand. Had she said something immediately after her death, Her Majesty would have been expected (again by the media) to say something prior to the funeral.
“It was because the Queen put family before duty, the first time she’d done that in her 62 year reign, William and Harry were able, with complete composure, to face mourners during a walkabout in Kensington Gardens two days before their mother’s funeral as well as walk behind the gun carriage on the Saturday with the eyes of the world on them.”
Do you agree that the Queen was right to stay with her grandsons in Scotland?