A frisky, wet-nosed springer spaniel sniffer dog appeared under my desk and between my knees. Men with precision haircuts, razor focus and more than a scent of military training were suddenly everywhere, poking about, seeking terrorism in the newsroom chaos. Step ladders clattered and torches beamed above the polystyrene ceiling tiles that masked a mangle of wires, pipes and centimetres of dust.
Amid the chaos the editor called me into his office. I was then his deputy, the one who put the daily newspaper to bed, a shift spanning from midday to the early hours.
The Prince of Wales was making a private visit, he said.
Fine, can I go now? No. Four other editors trooped in.
You lot, we were told, are going to have a meeting with Prince Charles. It was like somebody had flicked a switch. Everyone lost the ability to be normal. It was nearly 30 years ago, but is indelible.
We tried. Sitting in a horseshoe facing the future king for an hour we achieved nothing. He was earnestly seeking understanding but was asking the wrong people. The tabloid media’s invasion of his life as his marriage to Diana fell apart was a dire portent of what was to come and he wanted to grasp the decision processes of a daily paper. Let’s just say we were independent, non-sensationalist and unable enlighten him.
The British tabloid media has long treated royals like a soap opera. A foot or word wrong, let alone divorces and Andrew, and the exposure has been and will continue to be merciless.
The late queen, to the vast majority a pillar to decorum, duty and grace, managed the media pack well. If baited she never showed it. And she eased British royalty forward just enough in an age of massive changes. But the stark truth, uncomfortably illustrated through the antiquated, astonishingly lavish processes of transition to a new monarch, is that the functioning of royalty radically needs re-evaluating. Candour on profound matters of hidden wealth, palaces, costs and hereditary privileges, so glaring in a divided society, had been mostly suppressed in deference.
The deep-rooted British cultural belief in tradition, loyalty and an eccentric sense of being different is not fractured anywhere near enough to bring immediate change. But as the shock of loss passes the cracks will become all too clear.
The next months will be telling. Britain is already at risk of breaking due to neglect of the foundations of fairness, equality, care, family and community, in contrast with obscene wealth, sound bites and short-termism.
King Charles III is a man distanced from “his people” despite public roles and earnest endeavours, on account of the cocoon of establishment and the challenge of getting sufficient, real answers and a tangible understanding of society. He has fronted up charities and led vital initiatives. Now he has vowed to uphold his new role as his mother defined, henceforth not outspoken.
We will see. Different character, increasingly impatient times. Hereditary privilege and power will be reviewed and all royal families know it will be consequential. The weighty British crown, set with 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 269 pearls, and 4 rubies, is now heavier than ever.
One imperative is that Charles has prepared William to pick-up his pioneering portfolio on ecological protections and climate change: So too his foresight on nurturing respect in a multi-faith society.
But the king must also take his sword to the eye-watering Sovereign Grant, funding the royals and plethora of hangers on weaved into the extravagant, sycophantic fringe of The Firm, as it has been dubbed.