Note from London: Love ’em or loathe ’em – you can’t write off the royals

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Welcome, officially, to the new Carolean era.

A few days before I flew to the UK last year to take up my posting as Europe correspondent, I had lunch with veteran broadcaster and one-time senator Derryn Hinch in Melbourne.

The full pomp and ceremony of the King’s coronation was something to behold.

Hinch isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but he’s become a great friend and mentor to me and he is still a journalist to his bootstraps. Long before he was the Human Headline on radio and TV he was a newspaper man and an editor. In fact he used to write for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age as New York correspondent.

He’s so loyal to a story that when I wrote several front page yarns about his drinking habits some years ago (he is a liver transplant recipient) he went on radio and backed them in!

Hinch was a correspondent in the golden days of newspapers – when journalists had late print deadlines, no website to worry about and seemingly bottomless expenses accounts. Things have changed dramatically since, some for the better. Journalists don’t drink anywhere near as much as they used to, and their readers, colleagues and families should be thankful.

He was based in New York in the late 1960s and covered some of the most remarkable stories of our times. The assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the moon landing, and the “Chappaquiddick incident”, when some time around midnight between July 18 and 19, 1969, Ted Kennedy negligently drove his car off a narrow bridge, causing the drowning death of his 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne.

“You’re about to have the greatest time of your career,” Hinch said to me after we settled our lunch bill and said our goodbyes.

I went away thinking if I get to cover anything like he did during his 10-year stint in the US, I shall be blessed. Numerous times over the past 12 months here in Europe I have had to remind myself how fortunate I am, and being in London for the coronation last week was one of those occasions.

The full pomp and ceremony of a royal event is something to behold and the music during the service was exquisite. I’m told by people who were inside at the service that there were people in tears just from hearing the wonderful hymn arrangements. Westminster Abbey is the type of place that can do that to you.

Of course the royals aren’t for everyone. I know this not only because of divided views among my own family and friends but from the comments and emails I get from you, our valued readers, most days. I’m not sure what it is about the royals that elicits such a strong reaction. In a decade covering politics I was used to copping an earful from readers, and even non-readers, about stories I’d written. It comes with the territory.

The royals, however, are on another level. It has been a particularly busy past 12 months in news about the Windsors. From the Platinum Jubilee last year to the Queen’s declining health, death and funeral, Charles III’s ascension, Harry and Meghan’s documentary series, Harry’s book and now a coronation.

Perhaps there is royal fatigue setting in, but our online numbers tell us you love reading about it all – even if you do like writing comments like “how is this news?” or “boring” under the stories.

In the days after the coronation I wrote a story asking if it was all worth it, and to help flesh that out I included some financial estimates about what the event and the royals in general are worth to the British economy.

This upset reader John, who wrote in an email: “What is the point of trying to downplay the coronation by referring to cost? Who cares? Long live the monarchy, and may we always be part of it.”

Royal news will slow down a bit in the weeks and months to come but I am sure I haven’t written my last story on the subject. We will cover Prince Harry’s legal proceedings against several UK newspapers and of course the continued rise of republican sentiments across the former British Empire and in many parts of the realm.

The royals have been written off so many times it would be foolish to do so again. And what being King has in store for Charles will be a closely watched subject.

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