Nicholas Witchell: what did Prince Charles call BBC royal correspondent – as his funeral coverage receives complaints

Some have compared Witchell’s overblown coverage of Prince Philip’s funeral to adult comic magazine, Viz

The Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex appeared to put any sibling acrimony to one side to unite in support of the Queen at the funeral of their grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Interactions between the brothers were the subject of much press scrutiny, with reports of a fraught relationship characterised by internal rowing swirling ahead of the ceremony.

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It was the first time the brothers had been seen in public together since Harry stood down from royal duties, and the pair could be seen chatting together after the service concluded.

But one royal correspondent’s analysis of the two prince’s behaviour has been widely criticised, with both members of the public and celebrities weighing in on Nicholas Witchell’s piece for BBC online, and his coverage of the sombre day as a whole.

Who is Nicholas Witchell?

Nicholas Witchell is a journalist and news presenter who has spent the latter half of his career as royal correspondent for BBC News.

Born in Shropshire in 1953, he was educated at Epsom College in Surrey, and then at Leeds University, where he read Law and edited the Leeds Student newspaper.

He began working for the BBC in 1976, and was one of the first newsreaders of the Six O'Clock News when it launched in 1984.

In 1988, the studio was invaded during a live broadcast by a group of women protesting against the Section 28 law which sought to prevent councils from "promoting" homosexuality. Witchell grappled with the protesters and is said to have sat on one woman.

He became a royal and diplomatic correspondent in 1998, and has repeatedly drawn the ire of the royal family.

In 2002, his obituary of Princess Margaret – pre-recorded but screened following the announcement of her death – was reportedly not well received at Buckingham Palace, as it mentioned her lovers and "copious" consumption of whisky.

Witchell pictured in 2005 watching the events of the Royal Wedding at between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles (Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

In 2005, Witchell asked Prince Charles about his forthcoming marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles during a press conference at a Swiss ski resort.

The Prince of Wales infamously muttered under his breath: "I can't bear that man. I mean, he's so awful, he really is."

What happened between Harry and William?

When in 2019 he was questioned about an alleged rift with William, Prince Harry said he loved his brother dearly but they were “on different paths” and have “good days” and “bad days”.

William and Harry walked in the procession to the chapel for their grandfather's funeral service on either side of their cousin, Peter Phillips (Photo: Mark Large-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The backdrop to the rift was later disclosed in Harry and Meghan’s explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey, which was broadcast last month, when they claimed the duchess had received no support from the monarchy in her mental health struggles.

William and Harry walked in the procession to the chapel for their grandfather’s funeral service. They walked in solemn silence on either side of their cousin Peter Phillips, who at one point fell back slightly, allowing the two to be next to each other.

Neither appeared to speak to the other at this point. They sat opposite each other in the chapel, William next to Kate, with Harry on his own.

Following the ceremony, William paused briefly to walk in step with his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, and his younger brother, as the mourners made their way out of St George’s Chapel in the spring sunshine.

Though still wearing his face mask, Harry appeared to smile briefly in the direction of Kate, his sister-in-law, as the three strolled together, away from the rest of the family.

Though the content of their conversation could not be heard, such civility is likely to be welcomed by many as a tacit thawing of the brothers’ frosty relationship.

Moments later the brothers walked together, alone, with Kate in conversation with Zara Tindall, William and Harry’s cousin.

What did Witchell say?

In his analysis piece on the funeral, Witchell said the body language between the Dukes “didn’t look encouraging”.

“William feels left down and Harry appears resentful," said the royal correspondent. “He is also very caught up in the lifestyle and attitudes of California.”

Witchell added: “The camera did catch William and Harry as they left the chapel after the duke’s funeral. Harry was talking to Catherine – William seemed a little reluctant to engage.”

The reporter called the “rift” between the two brothers “a distraction nobody would have wanted on a solemn occasion such as this… certainly not their grieving grandmother.”

The 67-year old then went on to speculate how the day’s events would have made Harry feel, even suggesting his grandfather’s funeral may tempt him back to life as a full-time royal.

"Everything today must have said ‘duty’ to him, the thing many say he's walked away from,” said Witchell. “Will it have given Harry any second thoughts about the path he's taken?”

The correspondent concluded by wondering whether Harry and William had found time for “a proper heart to heart”, saying their grandfather would “undoubtedly urge them to move on and sort this out”.

Television presenter Nick Knowles called the piece “absolute drivel”, and said Witchell’s speculative coverage of the funeral was “hugely inappropriate” on the day.

“Show a little decorum and don’t use the funeral of the Queen’s husband to wildly speculate and gossip about her family,” he added. “More like Viz than news.”

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