by Colin Campbell
I LEARNED of the death of Prince Philip just a few minutes after it happened and although it was not a “Princess Diana moment” it still shook me albeit to a lesser degree.
The death of Diana – the ultimate TV announcement when no one will ever forget exactly where they were and exactly what they had been doing moments before they heard it. I was watching unfolding events and updates from the time of the first news of the crash through the early hours of Sunday morning, and when it appeared that she had suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries, I suddenly decided to go over to the Academy Street offices of the P&J, where I worked at the time, around four in the morning. In those days there was no blizzard of news on social media and from all directions. The one constant stream of national and international news was fed into newspaper systems by the Press Association, and I had a hankering to see how they’d reported on this massive news story from the moment it began.
I logged on to my computer terminal, and there was nothing there from the PA, apart from an explanatory sentence. In one of the great journalistic misfortunes of all time, they had closed down their system for 12 hours from mid-Saturday evening, for a “major upgrade”. And, as momentous events unfolded in Paris, they were left in the dark.
I went back home around 4.30am. And seconds after I walked into the living room with the TV still on Dermot Murnaghan, the ITV newsreader staring fixedly out of the screen, said: “We now have an officially confirmed report. Diana, the Princess of Wales, has died.” I believe I literally collapsed into a chair.
There was no collapsing yesterday. But as I scanned my mediapad with one hand I almost automatically picked up the phone with the other and called an old journalistic colleague and friend. He hadn’t heard the news. We talked about and around it for two solid hours.
It was something that brought on the irresistible urge to talk, to discuss, to reflect. How many other people, particularly older people for whom the Queen and Prince Philip have been a constant throughout their entire lives, felt the same?
Apart from my unstinting admiration for the Queen, I’m no ardent royal worshipper. And neither is my friend. Harry and Meghan? Spare us.
But the death of Prince Philip was different. Undoubtedly there’s an age element to this. Younger people won’t understand, but for older folk the Queen and Prince Philip bring back indelible memories that range over the years. Our late mothers both adored the Royals, and particularly the Queen. We talked about our mothers, at length, and how they’d have reacted to the death of Prince Philip, and particularly how it would affect the Queen. They’d have been stricken by the news.
Our normally jocular conversation was pretty serious and in its way, sombre. It’s no surprise when someone dies at 99, and there’s nothing to be sad about if he or she led a good and enjoyable life, and had a very good innings, as Prince Philip most certainly did.
But after so many decades Friday did feel like the end of an era, or at least it was heading in that direction. This was a momentous national event, that cannot be understated, and I’ve no doubt for very many people it was a reflective and sad and melancholy day.