For a recent Exeposé issue I interviewed Simon Vigar, Channel 5’s Royal Correspondent and The University of Exeter alumni. We chatted Princes, Politics, Royal tours… and Netflix.
I’m sitting next to Channel 5’s Royal Correspondent, Simon Vigar, and we’re watching the Queen try on her crown. ‘It’s not as easy as it looks,’ she says in clipped tones, walking forwards slowly with the crown balanced on her head. Vigar grins. Although he tells me that his dream interviewee would be the Queen, unfortunately today isn’t the day he’ll see that wish fulfilled. Instead we’re watching the trailer for the new Netflix historical drama The Crown, based on the first years of the Queen’s reign. When I’d brought it up in our interview and Vigar hadn’t heard of it, I whipped out my iPhone. And now here we are, and I’m watching a programme about the royals with a Royal Correspondent; he stares intently at the screen, occasionally muttering, ‘Well that’s incorrect’.
Vigar tries to make it clear that he isn’t a traditional Royal Correspondent. When illustrating what a ‘traditional’ correspondent is like, he puts on a slow, Dimbleby-esque voice. ‘The royal [reporter] rep[utation] had people speaking very slowly, so I didn’t want to become one,’ Vigar says. ‘The Boss made me.’ Vigar became Channel 5’s Royal Correspondent in 2007, following a “connection” going back years between Vigar’s career and the royals. Vigar had covered Princess Diana events even during his first job at Capital Radio, and in 2007 covered the Diana Inquest. Since then he’s travelled across the globe reporting on the royals; from following Prince Harry on his Jubilee tour of the Bahamas and Jamaica, to accompanying William and Kate in the South Pacific. However, Vigar is still not what you’d expect from a Royal Correspondent. ‘I don’t think the monarchy is the most important part of the country,’ he shrugs.
An Exeter alumnus, Vigar studied Politics; however, the ‘University Radio was probably more important than the degree’ when Vigar applied to Exeter. He jokes about his first-year halls, Mardon, and the terrible catering (‘Picture an age before gastropubs and Jamie Oliver, an age of stewed stew…’). Having worked at Hampshire Radio before university, Vigar became an avid member of the student radio team, who were then based in ‘literally a broom cupboard in Devonshire House’. Although he admits that the media ‘can be a shit business; you get kicked in the proverbials’, Vigar was set on a career in broadcasting. ‘Going live is the adrenaline buzz, it’s the best drug there is,’ he enthuses.
‘GOING LIVE IS THE ADRENALINE BUZZ, IT’S THE BEST DRUG THERE IS’
Despite ‘work[ing] harder at radio than the degree’, Vigar’s Politics degree still shines through during our interview. He becomes suddenly animated whenever I broach a political topic. When I discover that his first job was based in Aberdeen, I ask Vigar for his thoughts on Scottish Independence. ‘It seems inevitable,’ he states, describing the ‘absolute can of worms that was opened with devolution in 1997’. ‘I remember,’ he says, ‘the 1992 election, when the SNP went from five to three seats. Ten years ago Scotland was a one [Labour] party state. The SNP’s progress is insane’. However, Vigar puts Labour’s annihilation in Scotland last year down to ‘an issue of socialism rather than nationalism’, i.e. the SNP’s success was actually due to their socialist roots rather than their Scottish ones. In that case, could Corbynite Labour bring back Scottish voters? ‘Perhaps,’ Vigar says, before enthusing: ‘It’s fascinating.’
On the topic of the EU Referendum, Vigar is equally outspoken. ‘People are sufficiently hacked off with it all,’ he says. ‘My sense is that people have had enough.’ He identifies Scottish Independence, the election and Jeremy Corbyn as earthquakes in the UK’s political landscape last year, but also points to the on going ‘rebellion against the political elite’, typified by the rise of Donald Trump.
Vigar was also Channel 5’s reporter on the ground in the aftermath of both Paris attacks last year. Based ‘in the suburbs’ during his reporting, he describes how people on the street were ‘astonished’ to find that one of the attackers ‘had been living in plain sight’. Although the experiences were harrowing, Vigar states that ‘towards the end it was a privilege’. Describing the November attacks, he says that the terrorists ‘deliberately attacked young people enjoying themselves. That tells you all you need to know about them really’.
‘THE TERRORISTS ‘DELIBERATELY ATTACKED YOUNG PEOPLE ENJOYING THEMSELVES’
Vigar is clearly passionate about the intricacies of political landscapes. So what then made Vigar’s boss single him out as Royal Correspondent material, nearly a decade ago? My hunch is that it was both Vigar’s knack of making contacts, and of establishing a level of trust in that relationship. In a talk held on campus for aspiring student journalists, Vigar stresses the importance of looking around you and building contacts with those among your peers who you’ll think will ‘make it big’.
For example, around Vigar’s time at Exeter, there were a number of future MPs: ‘Mostly Conservative, of course. It is Exeter.’ Vigar is friendly and chatty; a week after our interview, I post on Twitter an article I’ve written about Exeter nightlife, and Vigar sends me a jokey message along the lines of ‘it was the same in my day’. He is at once personable and canny – exactly what is needed, you might argue, when dealing with the British Royalty. Vigar stresses the ‘loneliness’ of royal life, the ‘constant tussle between private and public’; in particular William and Harry’s mistrust of some sections of the press following the old rumours about the role the paparazzi played in their mother’s death. Vigar describes an incident from 2012, when the press pack accompanied Prince Harry to Jamaica. Inspecting a shooting range, Harry ‘joked about putting journalists at the end of it’. However, Vigar believes that Harry and Will do appreciate ‘the good guys’ in the media. ‘Media coverage of the royals is split,’ Vigar explains, ‘between those who play by the rules – follow a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ – and those who don’t’.
I ask Vigar about his thoughts on Prince Harry. ‘He enjoys the image of being this ‘Hooray Henry’, says Vigar, ‘but it’s a front. In the exact same way it is with Boris Johnson’. According to Vigar, Harry ‘is not academic, but he’s clearly not thick. In order to pass those tough helicopter tests, he couldn’t be’. Asked about Harry’s ‘Vegas incident’, Vigar explains that whilst, granted, Harry was ‘off his head’, his real issue was that ‘today, everyone is a photographer’. ‘The traditional media is the least of their [the royals’] worries,’ he states. Vegas hot tubs aside, ‘Harry’s a very savvy operator,’ Vigar muses. ‘Amazing with kids. But then they all are: Harry, William and Kate. And Charles.’
‘TODAY, EVERYONE IS A PHOTOGRAPHER’
I broach a question about getting into the media. As a man who’s clearly had nothing but broadcasting on his mind since his teens, I ask him to spill the beans on cracking the media industry. ‘Ultimately, you’ve either got it in you – the ability to get a story, to get an interview – or you haven’t,’ he says. However, he’s willing to impart with three nuggets of wisdom. Firstly, that ‘the early bird catches the worm’. Secondly, ‘get off your bloody mobile phone’. ‘If you’re looking down, you’re reading old stuff,’ he explains. ‘Look up, and get that interview.’ And finally, when the opportunity arises, always, always use a public toilet. ‘Seriously’, Vigar says. ‘When you’re asked to stand outside a Crown Court or something, you don’t know when you’ll see another one.’
Vigar stresses that royal trips aren’t the holidays his colleagues imagine, but real, hard slogs. And being a Royal Correspondent is a ‘tough job’, says Vigar. ‘You’re always going to offend someone.’ However, the role does seem to have its perks. When I ask any future travel plans, Vigar nonchalantly mentions that he’s off to ‘Bhutan and India in a couple of months’. Vigar then recalls a football match in Lesotho between Prince Harry and his team and the media. When I ask who won, he laughs. ‘Harry’s team, of course, he always wins. And we’re all fat journalists’.