Monday 12 April 2021
The Duke of Edinburgh once interrogated me at St James’s Palace. He wanted to know something that I had been ordered not to disclose.
I tried to resist but it was no use. He piled on the pressure. In the end, I cracked and gave him the information.
The interrogation took place in the State Apartments of the Palace. The occasion was a royal reception for charitable organisations.
I had been invited as the recently appointed director of Reuters Foundation, a registered charity set up by the world news organisation to fund journalistic training, educational projects and humanitarian causes.
The Duke was working the room. I was introduced to him and he asked me some searching questions about the Foundation’s work. He was good humoured, approved of training journalists (surprise?) and very positive about our idea for an information service for disaster relief workers, AlertNet.
Before moving on, he asked: “What’s your budget?”
This was a dilemma for me. I had a budget, of course, but I was under orders not to reveal it. Reuters did not want financial analysts trying to work out a connection between the company’s charitable spending plans and its business forecast.
I tried to avoid the question, muttered something about having to balance our resources between different activities.
“How much?” Firm, direct, still smiling.
“Well, Sir, the Board sets the overall budget… “
“How much?” Louder. Not smiling. Nearby guests stopped talking.
“Difficult to give a total…”
“HOW MUCH?” Authoritative. No nonsense. I remember his piercing gaze. Guests and courtiers waited for my answer.
I gave in.
“A million pounds, Sir, this year.”
“Good,” he said, smiling again. “But tell your directors it’s not enough.”
The Duke moved on, winner of another minor skirmish.
Back in the office, I sent a brief note to Peter Job, Reuters chief executive, to whom I reported, telling him of the Duke’s comment about the Foundation’s budget.
Peter (later Sir Peter Job) scribbled back: “Reuters runs Reuters.” ■
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