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How the BBC persuaded the Queen to do an interview


queen touching crown
The
Queen touching her coronation crown in the BBC documentary “The
Coronation.”

BBC

  • The BBC is airing a documentary about the Queen’s
    coronation 65 years ago.
  • It features an on-camera, sit-down conversation with
    the Queen, which has never happened before.
  • It took the film’s producers 22 years to get her to do
    it.
  • They won over palace gatekeepers with a track-record of
    thorough, well-reported documentaries, they told Business
    Insider.

This weekend the BBC is broadcasting a journalistic first: a
full, sit-down interview with Queen Elizabeth II.

The project, a retrospective on her coronation ceremony in 1953,
was 22 years in the making, and a media coup given the Queen’s
historic reluctance to engage directly with the press in any way.

Her Majesty has granted behind-the-scenes access to royal life
before. She also gives occasional televised speeches. But “The
Coronation,” which airs on BBC1 at 8 p.m. on Sunday, will be her
first televised exchange with a journalist.

It also shows her interacting with various crowns involved in the
ceremony, and giving a vivid description of the experience of
being installed as ruler of huge swathes of the world (when she
took the throne large parts of Africa, the Middle East, and
the Caribbean were still British colonies).


Queen examines the Crown
The
Queen examines her coronation crown.

BBC

For decades an interview has been a boundary she and Buckingham
Palace officials were unwilling to cross — until they were won
over by a respected team of experts commissioned by the BBC.

In an interview with Business Insider, producer Anthony Geffen
said securing access to the Queen for himself and presenter
Alastair Bruce was a 22-year enterprise.

It eventually came off because they impressed the palace with the
impressive track record of Geffen’s company, Atlantic
Productions, and the personal expertise of presenter and royal
expert Alastair Bruce.

The occasion is the 65th anniversary of her coronation. The
discussion sees the Queen’s reflecting on what it was like
to wear her coronation crown,
which weighs almost 5 pounds
, and her uncomfortable journey
to Westminster Abbey 65 years ago.

Teaser footage released ahead of the broadcast shows the Queen
discussing the artifact, which she recalled being heavy enough to
break her neck.

Geffen told Business Insider: “Alastair Bruce and I started
trying to get permission to do this project 22 years ago, and
it’s taken a long period of time for it to happen.

In that time, things have changed. There’s my track record
as a filmmaker and Atlantic’s track record.”

Geffen’s past works include documentaries with big names like

David Attenborough
,
Judi Dench
, and a major series on the British Parliament,
“Inside the Commons,” which he said particularly impressed the
palace.

He continued: “We’ve been inside the House of Commons,
which the palace had seen, and they were impressed by how the
series managed to balance out the political systems in place
there.”

“Alastair Bruce also became a recognised royal
correspondent and expert on the Coronation and the royal
family.”


The Coronation
The Queen at her coronation in 1953.
BBC/ITV Archive

This meant that Buckingham Palace felt comfortable enough
to agree to the filming, although it came with certain
expectations and etiquette.

Discussing the exchange on BBC Radio 4 Friday morning,
Bruce termed the exchange a “conversation,” and emphasised its
difference from normal media interviews, often characterised by
direct questioning.

He said: “
You pose a point and then the Queen
sometimes responds, and often conversation follows from there.
But posing direct questions was not on the cards. This was a
conversation with the Queen.”

Speaking to BI, Geffen contrasted their heavyweight work
with other media coverage of the royals, which “on the whole has
been about what they’ve been wearing. This is very
different. This is about the meaning of monarchy.”

Of the film itself, Geffen said: “You can really see the Queen in
a different light. You finally hear from the one person who can
tell us about that [the coronation].”

Bruce, who interviews the Queen in the documentary, added that
the making of the documentary was the first time the Queen had
touched her coronation crown in 65 years.

He said: “She may have seen it, but she hasn’t touched it since.
It was very moving to see her lean forward to check the weight of
it.”

Recalling what it was like to wear the crown at her coronation in
the film, the Queen says: “You can’t look down to read the
speech… Because if you did, your neck would break.”

And on her journey on the golden carriage that took her from
Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey? “Horrible.”

The documentary also features eyewitness accounts of people who
were part of the coronation, such as a maid of honour who almost
fainted in the abbey, and a choirboy who had to sing solo when
his fellow choristers lost their voices,
the BBC said
.


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