Written by Allan Hall
I fought back tiredness, drunkeness and nervousness to beat Goodman to the biggest royal scoop of my life……
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“Hally!” bellowed Nigel Blundell, affable, talented and thirsty deputy editor of the Daily Star. “You’re going to be the new royal man!” This was a Friday afternoon.
“Hally!” came the refrain again on Monday morning. “You’re not going to be the new royal man after all.” In between appointment and disappointment it transpired editor Lloyd Turner had managed to lure back to the Star stable Andrew Morton, he who would go on to spectacular fame and fortune through Diana, Princess of Wales.
I wasn’t too upset. The travel would have been splendid but the late night callbacks over spurious exclusives in rival organs would have become tiresome beyond belief. Plus the general mundaness of ever reporting upon hair/clothes/style and lifestyles of the vapid personalities which constituted The Firm filled me with gloom. So it was that the bone I was thrown for not getting the job was to go on a royal trip to Portugal and Switzerland. It wouldn’t matter if I screwed up – it was not my beat after all.
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This was February 1987 and the cracks in the Charles/Diana marriage were beginning to show. Walking behind them at a trade fair in Lisbon I heard the future king say to his wife that he had just viewed a computer graphic of his childrens’ book ‘The Old Man of Lochnagar.’ He was clearly thrilled, she merely snapped; “How boring.”
We had already – the royal rat-pack – written how the duo were to sleep in separate beds in the Queluz Palace in Sintra, the next stop on their tour. No amount of spin or fairydust could disguise the widening chasm between them.
The royal beat necessarily meant lavish expenses. But many among the monarchy watchers eschewed luxury dining for the fare they enjoyed at home. So it was in Sintra, at the Pic Nic resturant, that I picked up the ultimate recipe for Aloo Gobi, the Punjabi potato and cauliflower classic. It is a bit of a faff but the result is sublime.
A meal in itself, it also accompanies most Indian dishes admirably, including the excellent Boti Chicken Kebabs served at Pic Nic.
Klosters, it seemed to me anyway, was a mirror into their souls; filled with toffs honking like geese while strutting in ski suits the price of a maisonette, unperturbed at paying eight pounds for a gin and tonic or a fiver for a weak Swiss lager. Litter and graffiti seemed banned, but then so did mirth. An aura of general joylessness seemed to hang over the place.
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The first few days were spent on such riveting stories as the royals skiing down a mountain at night with flaming torches, Fergie and Andy allegedly declaring their love for one another all over again at the top of some peak, Charles and Di growing ever-colder to one another, thus matching the sub-zero nights in the Alps.
One thing you can say about Klosters is that the food, while overpriced, is generally excellent. In a little Italian taverna near the Casa Antica nightclub – more of that later – I ordered a splendid fish dish originating from Sicily which I have replicated many times since.
In Klosters this was served with a vegetable that is rarely encountered in restaurants these days but is still commonly available in winter vegetable markets – black salsify.
For royal hacks handy on their skis, royal watching in Klosters was a paid-for winter holiday. The 50 pounds a day-plus ski passes were all paid for by the respective newspaper offices. I was happy to merely view the royals disappearing down this or that slope through the bottom of an upturned lager glass.
Come Friday morning the bulk of the daily newspaper pack had pulled out. Left in town for the weekend was myself and Clive Goodman of the News of the World. I was just told to keep an eye on the royals and file a Sunday story, if there was one, while Clive was under intense pressure to come up with a belting exclusive for the UK’s biggest, most salacious, Sunday periodical.
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I had known Clive for around ten years and we always got on well together. So it was that early on Friday afternoon we met up with some of the chalet girls and kitchen staff of the Alpina Hotel, where we were staying, and arranged to have a drink with them at 7.00pm that evening in the hotel bar.
As we waited in the bar I asked Clive if he had much for Sunday. “Very thin,” he replied. We drank our beers and waited for the girls to show up. As the clock rolled around to 9.00pm there was no sign of them – and then, suddenly, they arrived, flushed, breathless, excited. But, curiously, not on account of us.
“We have just been in the Casa Antica,” one said – the aforementioned pricey disco. “And Diana was dancing there ALONE!” I looked at Clive, he looked at me. We spent half-an-hour grilling the girls on the details; what she wore, the records she danced to, the amazed looks of other guests. The absence of Charles.
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Clive stubbed out his cigarette at close to 10.00pm, slid out of his barstool, did up his coat and embarked for the Casa Antica, barely 50 yards away, to investigate for himself. I could see him pocketing an exclusive for Sunday. A belting exclusive, proof positive of the divergent lifestyles of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
I began scratching some notes and was preparing to file a quick late story to the Star in London when Clive blundered back into the bar.
“Well?” I said. “They said I was drunk, wouldn’t let me in,” he griped.
“Let me have a go,” I said and went out in a snowstorm.
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Three nights before I had become over-served in the Casa Antica and was ejected by a bouncer after grabbing a microphone and launching into ‘I’ve Been Everywhere Man’ by Johnny Cash.
This humiliation was about to work in my favour.
I managed to appear somewhat more sober than my compadre from the Screws, although I doubt I was. Having gained entry, I sidled up to the DJ, Martin Melsome, 25, from Gloucester, and tapped him on the shoulder. He removed his headphones and shook my hand.
“Sorry about the other night, Martin, too much Devil’s buttermilk,” I said sheepishly.
He laughed heartily. “No worries, Allan, we all thought it was a bloody good laugh!” Then, fences mended, I said one word; “Diana?”
It was all true. He handed me the playlist of the records she had demanded. He told me of the tight leather trousers she wore, the moves she made, the cautious, worried glances thrown in her direction by the royal detectives. He told me everything. While it was not the fall of the Berlin wall or war in Iraq, in the world of bottom-feeding tabloids, this was an earthquake of a story.
Now I had to throw myself upon his mercy in order to keep this story away from Clive Goodman – and safely in my clutches until Sunday. Martin repaired every morning at around 3.00am to the bar in our hotel, the last one open in town. I knew if I went back and told Clive it was all untrue he would not believe me.
“Look Martin,” I lied glibly. “My drunkeness in here the other night has got back to the boss in London. I may be fired. But if I can pull off this scoop on Monday, I may just save my bacon. Will you help me?” He could not fail to be moved – even I was moved. So he agreed to lie to Clive that it had all been a hoax and that a lookalike had been hired by the nightclub to generate a bit of publicity.
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I moved back to the hotel bar at close to 11.00pm and saw Clive sitting expectantly there.
“Well?” he slurred. Most of the chambermaids had left by now, but a couple were still there.
“Nahh,” I lied. “Hoax. Lookalike. Hired by the managment.” The employees assured me I was wrong. Clive looked at me and was certain I was lying.
So it was that, tired and drunk, I strove to stay awake until 3.00am when I knew Martin would arrive and be ambushed by Clive. And so it was.
As he walked through the door Clive was like a greyhound out of the trap, running along the tartan-wallpapered hallway to the entrance where he collared the DJ before he had got his coat off. I could not hear what he said to Clive but I saw him shaking his head vigorously, indicating that everything had been a hoax. They stayed there for about ten minutes before Clive returned and sat glumly down. “Bugger it,” he said. “It’s not true.”
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This was the pre-computer, pre-mobile phone age. Martin said no-one had taken photos of Diana dancing alone. I decided to risk it and keep it under my hat for Monday morning.
Saturday was a free lunching day. I wandered into one of the main five-star hotels determined to beat the expense account to within an inch of its life. But I ended up with a somewhat disappointing concoction of sausages and onions in a salad. But as a big sausage fan, I can think of few finer dishes than our native one.
I certainly had.
The exclusive was on page one and there were two pages inside. I was king for a day, hero for an hour or two. The other newspapers piled back into Klosters, but the story was history by then.
I never met Clive again. I sent him a card when he got sent to jail as the fall guy for News International over the phone hacking scandal but he didn’t respond.
Still and all, he would have done the same to me – that was the nature of the beast called Fleet Street we worked for.