Excited? I’m terrified! Before he anchors the BBC’s coverage of today’s ceremony, Huw Edwards reveals why he’ll be sustained by revision, nerves… and gallons of tea!
- Huw will be the face of the BBC’s coverage of the Coronation across the UK
- READ MORE: Huw Edwards says BBC staff are mourning ‘end of an era’
Huw Edwards is one of the world’s most accomplished broadcasters, the man who broke the news of the Queen’s death and talked us through her state funeral.
But now comes the Coronation and he has a confession to make. ‘I am excited, but I’m terrified as well, to be honest. I think it’s to do with the scale of the event. We haven’t had a coronation for 70 years, and I think there’ll be a lot of interest in it worldwide.’
The global TV audience will be in the billions and this 61-year-old Welshman will be our guide through the service at Westminster Abbey on the BBC, including that key moment when the crown is placed on the head of King Charles III.
‘I’ve been preparing, trying to do my homework, for probably a month now, using up most of my spare time. I’ve watched all of the very long coverage of the last coronation in 1953, probably half a dozen times.’
The King may have asked for a scaled-down event but there’s still a lot for the commentator to get his head around. ‘The scale of it is daunting, I’m not going to fib about that.
Huw Edwards will present the BBC’s coverage of King Charles’ Coronation in Westminster on Saturday
‘There is so much to learn about the people taking part, the processions before and after and the various components of the service. I’m trying to get all of that locked into my brain while there’s still time, because there’s been no rehearsal yet.’
We’re speaking just over a week before the event, but Huw still doesn’t have a lot to go on. ‘I don’t have a guest list. I don’t have a seating plan. I don’t have the order of service. So the clock’s ticking. The preparation work you’d normally spend weeks on has got to be condensed into a couple of days, so when I say I’m terrified, you’ll understand why!’
He’s an award-winning journalist who presents the BBC’s flagship News At Ten, hosts the Beeb’s election coverage and has been the voice of state occasions for more than a decade, so what is there left to be scared of? ‘I think you’re a very odd person if you approach an event of this scale not being worried that you’ll make a mistake.
‘I work best when I’m under pressure and determined not to get something wrong,’ he says in his rich, warm Welsh voice.
Who’ll be in his mind when he’s broadcasting live on the day? ‘You want to get it right for everyone, from the Royal Family to the viewers, including your own family as well, of course.’
Huw was born in Bridgend in 1961 and brought up in a village near Llanelli by his father Hywel, a professor of Welsh literature, and his mother Aerona, a teacher.
She still lives there at the age of 86 and Huw rings her after reading the news every night, on the train back to Dulwich in south London where he has a home with his TV producer wife Vicky and some of their five grown-up children.
His mum usually gives a loving but frank appraisal of that night’s performance, so how did she feel about him getting this job?
‘After the Queen’s death and the funeral and the way the public responded to the BBC’s coverage, which was gratifying, my mum said something that was exceptional for her. She said, ‘I hope after that you’re going to get a role to play in the Coronation.’
‘Normally she’s the first to say, ‘Don’t get above your station, remember your place.’ So I felt she was giving me a bit of a vote of confidence on that one.’
Her endorsement meant a lot to him, but he’s right that the death of Her Majesty placed him at the centre of national life.
Huw has watched coverage of the Queen’s coronation many times to prepare for the historical moment
‘I’m already taken aback by the number of times the clip of me announcing the Queen’s death has been used on social media and in other programmes. It was just 40 seconds of time on air.’
He got the tone just right, though, and is aware of the pressure to do the same again, even if the mood of a coronation is much more upbeat. ‘What we say becomes part of the historical narrative. You want your words to stand the test of time, so that if people look back in 30 years they sound respectful and hopefully eloquent and meaningful.’
Thankfully for him, he’s not on air on his own. Kirsty Young will be in a studio at Buckingham Palace, former Marine JJ Chalmers will be with members of the military preparing for one of the biggest parades in living memory, Clare Balding will cover the procession, Sophie Raworth will be outside the abbey speaking to guests and Anita Rani with the crowds lining the route.
Huw will lead us through the ceremony itself, so will he be in a box high up in the abbey as Richard Dimbleby was when he commentated on the ceremony in 1953?
‘I’d love to be inside, but I’ve got to be well-behaved and wait for others to make that decision. There’s a thought that maybe it’s going to be better technically to have me in a truck outside.’ He sounds unimpressed. ‘You can imagine that my wish is to be inside, obviously.’
He’ll write a script for some parts of the day but most of the time Huw will improvise, picking out moments and people according to a loose plan agreed with his producers.
‘There are certain points you have to be there for, otherwise viewers will wonder what’s going on,’ he says. ‘We have to make sure we see Prince Harry arriving because people will be interested in that, as they will in William and Kate and their children.’
William and Harry are known to have fallen out, of course. If there is a visible chill between them, can he say so?
‘I think viewers are intelligent enough to work that out for themselves. You don’t need to labour the point, or be getting into a conversation that’s not strictly relevant to the events of the day.’
An even more awkward example comes to mind. ‘Some people might think that if we see the Duke of York arriving, some comments might need to be offered there. My view, again, is that people know what’s been going on. All I need to do is note the fact that he’s at his brother’s coronation.’
Richard Dimbleby stayed the night before the 1953 coronation on his Dutch sailing barge Vabel, moored on the Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament.
His son David, the future broadcasting legend, was 14 at the time and remembers a police launch taking the family to shore at 4am with Dad in a morning suit. Huw did not know this and finds it hilarious, joking drily, ‘Was that 1953 or 1853?’
So no morning dress for him then? ‘No, hopefully my smart navy suit and a shirt and tie will be fine.’ No barge either? ‘I absolutely hate boats with a vengeance, so the idea of spending a night on a barge is, for me, the pits. I couldn’t do it.’
He’ll sleep in his own bed in Dulwich instead. ‘I’ll get up very early on the day itself, I think we’re meant to be there by 4.30am,’ he says.
‘I’ll have a terrible night’s sleep, I always do before programmes like this and I’m afraid of missing the alarm. That will go off around 4am. If I get three or four hours’ sleep, that will be good.’
Will he have a big breakfast to get him going? ‘No, I hate a big breakfast. I’ll have tea and a slice of toast. I love drinking my tea, so I’ll keep going with that. If I want energy, I’ll have a banana.’ All the way through until the finish in late afternoon? ‘I never feel like eating on a day like this. After you come off you’re ravenous, but not while you’re on air.’
We can’t talk about the Dimblebys without noting that for decades it was assumed David would take over his father’s role as commentator when the time came. However, he’s reported to have turned down a role in the coverage because he ‘didn’t want to play second fiddle’ to Huw and the others. Huw sounds a little weary at having to talk about it.
‘David is, as I’ve said a million times, a Rolls-Royce broadcaster. He and his father are part of a great tradition of broadcasting. And if the BBC had decided that David was going to do something, well of course I’d have accepted that. But the issue here is what the BBC thinks it wants in 2023, and that happens to be me. And I’m praying I do a good job.’
As a news man he may mention Welsh politics in passing, along with the fall in support for the monarchy among the young and the fall-outs within the House of Windsor, but knowing him it will all be dealt with discreetly.
‘The dignity of the occasion is important, because the event is the Coronation of King and Queen. It’s not a debate about the Royal Family or any controversies that have arisen,’ he says. ‘People are watching to celebrate the Coronation and that’s how I’m approaching it myself.’
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