Press Centre

Cameraman To The Queen

  • Episode: 

    1 of 1

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Fri 25 Dec 2015
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    3.10pm - 4.10pm
  • Week: 

    Week 52 2015 : Sat 19 Dec - Fri 25 Dec
  • Channel: 

  • Status: 

The information contained herein is embargoed from press use, commercial and non-commercial reproduction and sharing into the public domain until Saturday 5 December.
“Peter’s a very dignified guy. He knows when not to speak. He knows when not to put his foot through the door. He seems to know to exactly what a courtier should know. I suppose he is the world’s only courtier cameraman.” - Michael Nicholson, former ITN colleague of Peter Wilkinson
This new one-off documentary for Christmas Day follows Royal cameraman Peter Wilkinson, who has been ever-present at the Queen’s public engagements for 18 years, to provide a close insight into his unique relationship with the monarch.
With special access to key Royal engagements, this programme paints a fresh portrait of the Queen as Peter films her during a state visit by the Chinese president, at a Royal garden party at Buckingham Palace, on a visit to Essex and in Scotland on the momentous day she became the longest serving monarch in British history.
Peter has a unique role, funded by UK broadcasters but requiring him to work closely with Buckingham Palace. The programme features footage of the Queen from Peter’s 1,800 assignments, and shows how his pictures from events like these are then beamed into millions of homes around the world.
Contributors include current and former Royal correspondents Tom Bradby, Nicholas Witchell and Jennie Bond, as well as Peter's former colleagues from his earlier days as an ITN news cameraman, Sir Trevor McDonald and Michael Nicholson.
Peter talks about some of the most memorable and poignant Royal moments he has filmed, including the days after the death of the Queen Mother and the aftermath of 7/7. He also explains how he came to take on the job after 32 years working all over the world for ITN.
Among the historic events he recounts having filmed are Bloody Sunday, and the evacuation from Saigon, as well as the time he and his ITN colleagues were kidnapped in Africa and held hostage for nine weeks.
Peter arrives to prepare for one of the most popular events of the Royal calendar – a garden party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Former ITV Royal correspondent Tom Bradby explains why the parties are so important. He says: “I tell you what the serious purpose of a Royal Garden Party is that it means a huge amount to the people who are invited and people absolutely love it and it means a lot to them - it’s a touch of stardust.”
This time, the Queen has a few special words for her cameraman. Peter says: “She said, ‘Have they stopped filming that film about you yet?’ I said, “I know what it feels like now, ma’am.’”
Next, Peter visits Dagenham with Her Majesty for a series of events marking the borough’s 50th anniversary. He says: “The Queen works every day. Christmas Day is the only day that she doesn't open the red boxes and when she is on holiday, wherever she is, she is working.”
Peter is with Her Majesty on the day she overtakes her great, great grandmother Queen Victoria as Britain’s longest-serving monarch. To mark the occasion, she is opening a new railway line from Edinburgh to the Borders aboard a steam train. Peter gives an insight into how he works with the Queen. He says: “Quite often I am walking backwards in front of her filming her, and she will put a little spurt on and it’s as much as I can do to keep sort of keep my couple of metres’ distance between her. I think she is just amazing, her stamina. I get home at the end of the day I am absolutely exhausted trying to keep up with her.”
He also reveals that the Queen sometimes likes to chat about more down-to-earth matters. He says: “Quite often she will have a chat about everyday things. I spoke to the Queen once up in Balmoral. We were waiting to do an audience and I said, ‘Your kitchen garden looks spectacular.’ She said, ‘I can’t understand, I planted some sweet peas and my gardener planted some sweet peas, and his are taller than mine and I can’t understand why.’ And I said, ‘That can’t be right ma’am, can it?’ and she just laughed at me.”
Twice a year the Queen welcomes a foreign Head of State to stay in Buckingham Palace with all the pomp and ceremony that entails. Peter is there to film the visit of the President of China. It’s his job to get exclusive pictures of the Queen and her guests arriving at the doorstep of Buckingham Palace. The variety of the job, filming events like this, is something Peter says he enjoys. He says: “I never get bored. It’s something different every day. It’s not like you are filming the same people. I am filming the Queen meeting different people every day. The Queen knows me now, We get on very well and I get on very well with her team.”
The smiling faces and fresh paintwork associated with Royal visits are a world away from Peter’s previous career as a news cameraman. As a young man, one of the major events he filmed was Bloody Sunday, where 13 unarmed civilians were killed by paratroopers in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1972. Having filmed the events unfolding, Peter recounts seeing the troops picking up bodies from the ground. He says: “I did start to film them picking up the bodies and putting them in the back of these armoured personnel carriers. But I was asked not to, because it wasn't in very good taste, and I stopped filming, which I shouldn’t have done. But I was quite a young cameraman.”
In 1975 he was in Saigon with reporter Michael Nicholson as the Vietnam War drew to a dramatic close. In order to escape the country, the pair had to fight their way through a massive crowd and scramble over the wall of the US embassy. He says: “I was the first one over but I stood on the wall and the GIs behind me were saying, ‘Put the camera down, otherwise we are going to shoot you.’ And I thought, ‘Well, I am going to take a chance.’ It wasn't a good day. I felt we all felt ashamed we fought our way through these people to get out ourselves.”
As Peter risked his life in war zones, his wife and children were back home waiting for news. Peter’s wife Linda says: “It was terrible, the things that he witnessed. He didn’t always talk about it when he came back. But you know that was the job that he chose to do. If I were to fret and worry every time he went away my life wouldn’t have been worth living really.”
In 1983 Peter was sent to Africa to cover the Ethiopian famine with reporter David Smith, where were taken hostage for several weeks by rebel soldiers. David says: “Peter would remind us every day of what really mattered, which was the famine. That was why we had gone there in the first place. But at the same time Peter would be reminding all of us, ‘It’s okay. we are going to get out of here.’ And fortunately he was right.”
One incident which particularly affected Peter was in Belfast in 1988, when two off-duty British soldiers, corporals Derek Wood and David Howes, were dragged from their car and murdered by a mob after accidentally stumbling upon a Republican funeral. Peter’s shocking footage and testimony would later be used by the police in subsequent prosecutions. He says: “I was in a really bad state. I just couldn’t get it out of my mind, this one.”
In 1997, after the death of Princess Diana, it was decided to have a single cameraman filming the Queen to prevent the media scrums Royal engagements had become. Peter’s former boss at ITN Andy Tilley says: “Why Peter for that job? Partly because he was one of the best cameramen in the country. His calmness, obviously his maturity. Thirty years of work, he had nothing to prove to anyone.”
Since then, Peter has filmed thousands of events, including those showing the Queen at testing moments, including during her Golden Jubilee year of 2002. He says: “One of the saddest occasions obviously the loss of her mother and in the same year the loss of her sister, Princess Margaret. When she met people laying flowers for her mother she said, ‘Yes it is very sad, but my mama had a wonderful long, long happy life.’”
Peter was alongside The Queen when she shared the nation’s grief after the London 7/7 bombings in 2005. He says: “The next morning I went off with the Queen and we met some of the survivors and that was pretty moving stuff. There is no point in The Queen getting distressed with people because that wouldn’t help anyone. But she has great compassion for people.”
Peter celebrates his 50 years in television with a gala evening in his honour at the Ritz. To mark the occasion, the Queen sends him a special message, which ITV newsreader Mary Nightingale reads aloud. She says: “It says, ‘Prince Philip and I send our warmest wishes to you. Now I, too, would like to pass on my gratitude for the professionalism, skill, and dedication you have consistently shown as the Royal cameraman.’”
Newsreader and friend Sir Trevor McDonald says: “Peter’s reputation at ITN was always an overlarge one. He was always regarded as somebody who was calm under pressure. Who studied very carefully what he was going to do. And then executed it with great brilliance. He always had a reputation of being one of the best. And that remains today.”
Peter, meanwhile, reflects on his career in understated terms. He says: “I have had the most incredible career and I have seen things most people couldn’t imagine. The camera was my shield. My black and white viewfinder. In fact I wish I was holding it right now.”