Queen Elizabeth II became Patron of the Journalists’ Charity (then the Newspaper Press Fund) following her coronation in 1953. In many ways it was the passing of the baton of close royal links over many decades.
Queen Victoria became our first Patron when the charity was granted its Royal Charter in 1890. But she was certainly a true supporter before that, donating £50 in 1885 – an act of generosity she repeated twice more with donations recorded in 1891 and 1896.
Further donations came from members of the Royal family into the next century as successive monarchs took on the role of Patron. It was as Duke of York that the Queen’s father became chairman of the charity annual appeal dinner. In a speech on 7th May 1930 he said:
“I know what difficulties the reporter has to meet. He is frequently working when the rest of mankind is playing or sleeping; he is out in all weathers trying to obtain stories which everyone seems to be conspiring to keep from him.
“He (the reporter) has, of course, compensations. He is present at the shaping of great events. Still, the wear and tear of it all piles up a high casualty list, and it is at this point that the NPF steps in.”
Today the work of the journalist has changed beyond recognition. But the challenges and the toll taken are still very real. The work of the charity is more important than ever.
But that speech and that date were of more recent significance to the charity.
We were delighted to learn after many months of waiting that the Queen had accepted an invitation to celebrate the Charity’s 150th anniversary, an invitation sent much more out of hope than expectation because of the considerable demands on her time.
The Queen agreed to attend a special reception to be held at Stationers’ Hall in London on May 7th 2014, 84 years to the day since her father spoke at the fund-raising dinner. As the charity’s chairman that year it was my job to meet the Queen on arrival and introduce her to more than 300 journalists waiting eagerly inside the historic hall.
During my career I had attended several royal events and always wondered how to talk to the Queen if you met face to face – and how does she carry out that role with a smile on her face, shaking hands and being polite to hundreds of people day after day, year after year.
I found out. She was an absolute professional. It was her life, her duty, her vocation, too.
I spent about an hour with her, introducing her to journalists from newspapers, television, radio and on-line and of all ages from those at the peak of their careers to those just taking their first steps. Throughout she was charming with a keen sense of humour.
The Queen wasn’t just a figurehead Patron, keen to learn the problems facing the charity in modern times. She wanted to know how journalists worked in a frenetic world of instant news, feeding many masters and outlets in this fragmented multimedia age.
She wanted to know about training and, in particular, she was surprised to learn from the NCTJ’s Joanne Butcher that shorthand was still being taught as an essential skill for journalists. She engaged with the young journalists we had invited. Many there will remember the day for the rest of their lives.
I was sent this article later, written by Katie Davies from the Newcastle Chronicle who was one of the promising young journalists attending the reception.
“I always aspired to become a journalist but if someone had told me that one day my line of work would have put me within a foot of the Queen of England, I wouldn’t have believed them. Other young journalists and I were about a dozen or so people down the line – which gave me enough time to take a few sly pictures on my phone before she got to us.
When she approached me she smiled and asked me my name and where I was from. I quivered a little bit, smiled and replied – and that was it – my two minutes of fame were over.
Despite it being a short and sweet acquaintance with the Queen it will be something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Throughout her visit, the Queen was also conscious of the historic links between the charity and the monarchy. She seemed absolutely delighted when we presented her with a copy of that speech her father had made on 7th May, 84 years earlier.
I have been involved with the charity for many years now and have always thought that raising money for journalists was very much like passing the hat round for bankers, estate agents, MPs or lawyers. The difference, of course, was that the Queen was OUR patron – and what a difference that made.
On behalf of all the charity’s trustees, staff and supporters, I’d like to express our heartfelt condolences to Her Late Majesty’s family, and to His Majesty King Charles III.
Trustee and former Chair