SOCIALITE LIFE had the good fortune of chatting with CBS news royal correspondent Victoria Arbiter about William and Catherine‘s year in the spotlight, as well as her fond memories of Diana, Princess of Wales. Arbiter’s factual and accurate reporting on the royal family is based on her close proximity to the monarchy (her father, Dickie Arbiter worked for both Her Majesty and Charles and Diana), as well as first-hand knowledge of royal happenings. It was such a treat to hear what Arbiter had to say.
Your father, Dickie Arbiter was the former press secretary to the Queen, which must have influenced to you to become a royal reporter. What else drew you to this profession?
VA: My father was the court correspondent for LBC (London’s Biggest Conversation) Radio, which is still around today. My parents were divorced and I lived with my dad, so whenever there was any kind of event I would just trot along with him.
We went to Remembrance Sunday every year and sat in the building across from the foreign office. There was also the Trooping the Color and a lot of tournaments. Anytime there was a royal function that was an outside broadcast he had to cover, I would go with him. And so from a very young age, I’ve been quite a geek for British pageantry and history and I just loved being around all of that.
Then when I was about 11, or I suppose a little bit younger, he actually started working for Charles and Diana. First of all, he was asked to join their press office; They asked him directly from LBC. You see, he had a good reputation. My father was never one for nonsense, hubris, or salacious stories, and so he was well-respected because he was able to, sort of, get the work done. And so when he was working for Charles and Diana, it was just a wonderful insight into the royal family and gave me an opportunity, really, to learn everything from the inside out, but from a factual level, so what was really happening, and I would see when people would call and if it was his turn to be on press duty for a weekend.
Some of the outrageous questions he would be asked and the constant battle to try and really get rid of the myths that were out there, where you find out that you’re fighting a losing battle, I think that’s what really influenced me, I suppose, to get it right. Not throw anything out there unless it’s been confirmed, unless we can be absolutely sure that there’s more to the story and that there’s substance to the story. Then when I was about 17, we moved to Kensington Palace and we were living on the grounds of Kensington Palace and so we got to see William and Harry every now and then and I had the opportunity to meet Diana on several occasions and I was just so head over heels in love with her. As I took on this job, it was sort to honor to her, as well, to keep things as factual as possible. So, that’s really how it’s come about. I never imagined I would be following in my father’s footsteps, so-to-speak, but it was really fun at the royal wedding. He was doing the same thing I was doing only, he was doing it for Good Morning America. He’s got more viewers on any given day, so that’s a fun family rivalry.
That’s why your reporting appeals to us, because SOCIALITE LIFE is careful to report with respect and reverence for both William and Catherine. We want to get it right for the readers and that’s why it’s important that we follow the people we trust that are covering all things royal.
VA: It’s awesome to here you say that because, unfortunately, you know, when people are quite cavalier with the information that they put out, it’s so fascinating to me how quickly people believe what they read. Just, for example, I was at my son’s soccer game at the weekend and one of the mothers knows what I do and she came over and said, “Oh I was so sad to hear about Catherine having to do fertility treatments.” And I said, “I’m sorry, but what on earth are you talking about?” She read it in one of the tabloid magazines, and to her, if it’s in print, it was true.
It was shocking to me and so that’s why this many years on – Diana’s been gone since 1997 – and yet still there are so many myths that are just reported as fact now because it’s a losing battle to try and correct all of it. So, it’s lovely to hear you say that because, unfortunately you’re in the minority in terms of people who just want to get eyeballed and sell newspapers, it’s much more if a financial gain these days.
When you were growing up, what sort of royal protocols did you notice that not a lot of people would pick up regarding the Queen and senior members of the Royal Family? For instance, with Prince Philip-does he really have to walk two steps behind Her Majesty?
VA: It’s not so much that it’s dictated that he must walk two steps behind as it is a sign of respect. She is the sovereign; she is the monarch of our country and so it’s not done in the same way as, perhaps, customs in the Middle East where it’s frowned upon for a woman to walk ahead of their husband. It’s more that Philip is respecting her position. He’s showing his allegiance to her and it’s done in a really subtle way. There’s just… the protocol is flabbergasting, really when you get into the nitty gritty of it. Which is why it’s lovely to see that Kate is being broken into it so slowly and like she’s not been thrown to the wolves ,because it’s a lot to learn and for someone like William, (who’s grown up learning it all, he’s been immersed in it), it’s second nature to him.
Anyone marrying into the family would be quite overwhelmed by all the simple things that are done. One thing that stands out in my mind-when my father turned 50, Diana threw him a private birthday party at Kensington Palace and there were about 20 people. It was very subtle ways that you sort of recognized what the order of things were. When Diana finished her meal, we all stopped eating regardless of whether or not you finished. When she stood up, the party was over and it was time to go. So it’s simple things that show you that you were not to outstay your welcome or when it’s time to move on, so that everything is very appropriate but in a comfortable way. It’s really just done for the comfort, I suppose, of the Royal Family because so many people are just so starstruck and they quite don’t know how to behave. Protocol is very helpful as a guideline, really.
At the BAFTA dinner back in July, someone had briefed guests in the room before William and Catherine came in and explained, “You don’t have to curtsy, you don’t have to bow, you can just shake their hand. Do William and Kate not want anyone follow protocol?
VA: I think William and Kate are hoping to make everybody as comfortable as possible. They also recognize that, especially to the younger generations, it can be seen as something of an archaic institution and people think it’s a bit silly these days to have to curtsy to someone.. I think it’s the mark of respect to their position and to who they are that it’s appropriate to curtsy or bow. But I think it’s part of their transformation of this new generation of the monarchy, I suppose, where they’re wanting to be seen as more accessible, to be more available to regular people.
They got a wonderful map with the everyday person just as Diana did and I think it’s really more about seeming to be on the level with everybody and having an understanding of regular people. Prince Charles is so criticized with being aloof or standoffish, but he’s different generation and that’s how he was brought up to behave, but it can make him quite difficult to sort of feel a personal connection with. And William knows it’s a terrible burden to bear that the future of the Monarchy does really rest on his and Kate’s shoulders. And so in order to make it successful, they’ve got to make themselves as open and available to people as possible, and that is, of course the younger generations. But I think it’s lovely to see young generations idolize this couple. It’s refreshing. Kate, of course is such a lady, she is the epitome of class and decorum rather than seeing Paris Hilton falling out of a night club, flashing her underwear.
That’s another thing that we absolutely adore about Kate. She is a classic beauty; she’s not flashy, she doesn’t wear provocative outfits. It’s so wonderful for young girls to have someone the Duchess of Cambridge to look up to, be it fashion-wise or behavioral-wise, and it’s exciting that she’s going to be the Queen of England someday. This is the woman that everyone can look up to.
VA: Absolutely. And I think we can really, really feel confident about her future role, you know. There were all the haters in the beginning saying, “Oh, they’ll never make it” or “They’ll get divorced, I give them 10 years,” but I think just the way that
they are introducing her to her royal life speaks volumes of what they’ve learned in the past and how much support she has. It’s these, I guess, sorts of elements that put in place that are really going to help her continue.
When Diana was told, “You’re the Princess , and go!” it was incredibly hard. Plus, she was 10 years younger than Kate without a university degree, she was so young. And I get cross when people criticize that Kate’s not doing enough. If you just threw Kate out there, it’s like saying to someone who ‘s just graduated medical school, “Okay, now do a triple bypass surgery on your own.” You know you wouldn’t do that to anybody. It’s a job just the same as any other job. She needs to gain experience and learn to do it to the best of her abilities. So, I think she’s got a very bright future ahead and I’m excited to see what she’s got in store for us.
I was putting together a post to celebrate the one year anniversary of their engagement announcement at Clarence House and Kate was so cute when she was talking about their engagement and how excited she was. Where you there that day?
VA: I wasn’t, no. I was in New York. So I was watching it on television here. That’s the only thing, it’s so hard being here because I’m based in New York so when I see all the royal crew out there. When they were in Denmark I knew I’d be working on it in New York, and there was this terrible sense like, “Oh, I’m missing it! I’m missing it! I want to be there!” I would have loved to be in the room. I’m sure the atmosphere was electric.
Stay tuned for Part II of our interview with Arbiter, and make sure to follow her on Twitter.