It’s the Queen’s big week as the Platinum Jubilee celebrations mark her 70 years of service to the nation. And during Her Majesty’s record-breaking reign, former BBC royal reporter Jennie Bond has become a bit of a Great British institution herself.
Here, the royal expert, 71, invites us inside her stunning Devonshire home to share stories about the Queen exclusively with OK! VIPs and showcase her precious memorabilia.
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When we arrive at Jennie Bond’s house, a short drive from the Devonshire coast, she greets us in a suitably patriotic outfit of a blue tea dress, a pearl necklace and red lipstick. It’s 8am and Jennie asks Alexa to play some music, then pops the kettle on. If she’s not working, she’s usually doing a Zoom Pilates class or looking after her three Shetland ponies. “They poo 19 times a day!” she laughs. Still, the chore keeps her fit.
Originally a First World War Army barracks with acres of land, Jennie’s house – which she bought in 1992 with husband Jim, 83 – is vast and colourful, with the furniture and walls all hand-painted by her. Yet you won’t see any photos of her with the royals she followed for so many years. “Selfies weren’t a thing then,” she says. “It’s not very cool to ask the Queen for a quick pic, is it?”
Jennie quit her role at the BBC in 2003 to make a permanent move to Devon. During the height of her royal reporting, she would travel 10 hours to London and back again, suffering waves of mum-guilt for leaving her then-young daughter Emma, 32, behind.
“They also stopped asking me to read the news,” she says. “When I approached 50, they shifted gears and went for a whole generation of younger people. There was a bit of a clear-out. I feel back then 50 was a watershed. Men were fine but women were not. I never regret working at the BBC for 26 years – but I never regret leaving when I left.”
Today, Jennie – who is a grandmother to Beau, two, and Willow, one – is thriving. She is a regular royal commentator on daytime TV and looks like she hasn’t aged in two decades. “I’ve tried Botox and went one step further and had some fillers around my cheeks and mouth, but I won’t do that again,” she says.
“My cheekbones looked better but I hated the idea of having this false material stuck in my face, and disliked myself for being hypocritical and saying, ‘We older women must learn to grow old gracefully and set an example.’ I don’t like my acne but this face has lived.”
And Jennie has most certainly lived, from reporting from the front line following Princess Diana’s death to lecturing on the royals from around the world aboard cruise ships. Here, she gives us the lowdown on the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee…
Hi, Jennie. How has the Queen been preparing for her Jubilee celebrations?
She has been conserving her strength at Craigowan Lodge in Balmoral for the two biggest events – being on the balcony for Trooping the Color and the thanksgiving service at St Paul’s. She knows the nation will be sad if we don’t see her on the balcony. That’s the moment we cheer and can really show our appreciation for her.
She’s had some mobility issues, so how will she get to the balcony? And what else is she doing to help with them?
They will have installed everything to get her up there. They put in a lift at Craigowan Lodge, so I believe that will have been done at the Palace, too. The Queen has embraced her cane and I think she’ll come to embrace the idea of a wheelchair. She might take a leaf out of her mother’s book. The Queen Mother was reluctant to be seen to be frail until they got her mobility cart and painted it in her racing colours.
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Do you think we’ll see a noticeable step back by the Queen after the Jubilee?
We already have. It’s clear we’re in the transition now. I don’t think that means for a moment that the Queen will abdicate, but the norm will be that she won’t be at all the events we’re used to seeing her. She can stay in touch with her charities and ambassadors via Zoom, and we’re getting a much more intimate view of her. She’s very visible and will continue to be so. Fundamentally, she carries on because the Queen enjoys being Queen.
She looks to be in great health. What’s her diet like?
She eats frugally and will be eating fresh, simple foods that don’t upset her tummy, such as seafood and garlic. She likes lamb, salmon and turbot.
What are her creature comforts?
She’s very partial to having a rug over her knees. In the carriages, there’s often a rug and a hot water bottle hidden. She likes to stay warm.
What’s left on her bucket list?
Having welcomed James Bond into her parlor [in her film skit for the opening of the London 2012 Olympics], I think winning the Derby. Sadly, it won’t happen this year, as all three [of Her Majesty’s] horses have been pulled out.
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You have met the Queen many times during your career. What was that like?
She’s so charming – but even seasoned old women like me get embarrassed when she comes over. Some get tongue-tied. Generally, I try to tell a little story. Once, I told her I’d been to see her wedding dress at an exhibition and said, ‘What an incredibly tiny waist you had, what a wonderful figure!’ She looked surprised but gave me a smile. I think she liked it.
What was the Queen’s favorite decade of her reign?
The 60s. By then she was very experienced and had the great joy of having two more children, Andrew and Edward, 10 years apart from her first brood [Charles and Anne]. She was a much more relaxed mother then and could manage being a busy working woman with being a good mum. It must have been so hard for her to be 25 and thrust into this limelight [when she became Queen] with two little kids and a husband who wanted to continue being a naval officer.
How do you think the monarchy will modernise under Prince Charles?
Change in the monarchy will be accelerated with Charles, as he wants to put his own mark on it during what will inevitably be a relatively short reign. He wants the monarchy to be more focused and slimmed-down. But with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, there will be a total change in style. They are already inviting people to call them William and Catherine and to drop their titles, and they don’t expect bowing or curtseying. Seeing them sat cross-legged on the floor recently at a children’s event – they’re more relatable.
The relationship between the Queen and Camilla has clearly improved over the years. What is your take on this?
The Queen has always had a great deal more in common with Camilla than she had with Diana, but it was a very difficult decision to endorse an adulterous relationship and she had to keep her distance. I think the Queen has a great deal of respect and affection for Camilla. They get on just fine.
What is the greatest threat to the Queen’s happiness?
It was the loss of her husband, Philip, and now it’s the threat to the popularity of the institution. She cares deeply about the monarchy and to see it being criticized because of domestic turmoil, because of the claims against Prince Andrew and the court case, I feel for her. It’s not just the monarchy but her family being torn apart. She’s done a very good job at keeping Harry and Meghan, as she stated, as much-loved members of the family!
You were covering Prince Charles’ 1994 visit to Australia when a “gunman” targeted him. That must have been scary.
It was on Australia Day and he ended up at this tedious concert. Most of the mice had gone to get a transcript of the speech he was going to make but I was hanging around with my cameraman. I heard this “bang, bang, bang”. I thought I’d just seen an assassination on the future king. It wasn’t that – it was a starter pistol and a protest – but it was very frightening to see his bodyguard leap across and almost knock Charles to the floor, putting his body between him and the gunman. It was extremely dramatic. I spent 40 hours awake reporting on that.
Have you ever felt worried for your own safety?
The only time I felt nervous was after [TV presenter] Jill Dando’s death [in a shooting outside her home in 1999], which I announced on air. I was on duty that day. She was a friend and a colleague. When I got home late at night for the few weeks after that I worried there could be someone around.
Have you ever been stalked?
Not really. I’ve had letters from child murderers and prisoners. One was a child killer in Broadmoor and he used to write to me all the time. He couldn’t really spell and he’d say things like, “Dear Jenny, I like you on the news, I like the jewels you wear.” It was a bit daunting when I looked him up but I knew he was safely behind bars for 40 years. He’s dead now. I used to have a lady called Rhona who would write to me, too. She was a little bit in love with me and would say she’d wait for me outside work. We had our own cars at the BBC, so luckily I wasn’t exposed too much.
And finally, we’d love to know – is the Queen a fan of Boris Johnson?
I think her favorite Prime Minister was John Major and he’s still very much part of the advisory circle. She adored Winston Churchill and had a soft spot for Harold Wilson. There are certain characters she gets on with and I wouldn’t have thought Boris Johnson was one.
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