Jennie Bond: “I remember”

BY Joy Persaud

1st Jan 2015 Celebrities

Jennie Bond: “I remember”
Jennie Bond, 67, is a journalist and television presenter. She’s best-known for working as the BBC’s royal correspondent for 14 years, and also appeared on I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!

…walking down the garden in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.

I was very tiny, and was going to feed the chickens. We had a few chickens in a small enclosure in our garden, and I remember the excitement of looking for eggs.

…we moved when I was four.

We went to Letchworth Garden City, the first garden city. This was a very exciting event because we were moving to a bigger house—a four-bedroom detached house with a very big garden. My mother, Pamela, lived there until two-and-a-half years ago and the garden was just stunning.

…playing croquet in our back garden every summer.

My father was very good at it. By the time she was 91, dementia was taking hold of my mother and she couldn’t walk very well, but she could still play croquet. She’s 95 now.

…my father was in insurance all his life, working in London.

My mother would have been brilliant if she’d had a career, probably in the arts. In my view, she completely sacrificed herself by looking after us children and being a housewife. It was wonderful of her to do that, but by God, she had a brain on her that should have been used in a better way. We lived opposite the school, so us children would be back for lunch at 11.45am and then home at 3.45pm. Her life really was devoted to us.

Jennie's mother Pamela devoted her life to raising Jennie and her sisters

…we didn't have a lot of money.

My parents really stretched their budget way beyond their means to buy this house. We were never poor, by any means, but mother made all our clothes and father grew many vegetables. On Christmas and birthdays, we’d have one present—not a whole load. And if there was a joint of meat, we’d get a decent helping but we certainly didn’t ask for more, as we knew the joint had to last for while. It was a reasonably frugal existence.

…a great and fun adventure with my father and sisters was to go horse racing.

 This happened about four times a year. They were very special days; Huntingdon was about an hour and a half away and it was just so exciting to go there. Mother would make beef pasties—she’d make them on the morning of the races and they’d be wrapped in foil— and they’d still be hot when we got there. We were allowed to have a little bet—half a crown or two and six—and sometimes we won.

…I only went to one school my whole life.

It was Saint Francis’ College. It was run by nuns and was quite quirky. I had a Latin teacher called Sister Agnes, who was Irish. One day,when I was in lower sixth, I went to my Latin class and she wasn’t there. They simply said, “Sister Agnes will never be here again.” Apparently she’d been seen running out of the convent, taking her habit off as she went, her red Irish hair streaming out behind her.

…there was another nun called Sister Elizabeth.

She was my English teacher at A-level. When I was at the University of Warwick, there was a knock on the door of my room on campus and it was Sister Elizabeth. I said, “I didn’t know you were here.” She said, “Yes, I’m doing a postgraduate degree and I want you to meet someone,” and then introduced me to this bloke who was an ex-priest. She said, “We’re going to get married. Can you tell me where I get tights and underwear and what do I do with my hair?” So we went up to her room, I took her habit off, did her hair and told her where to buy things like knickers. It was all rather lovely.

Aged 22 and just starting out on her reporting career

…the local newspaper was a baptism of fire.

I was on the Richmond Herald, and the editor was a very eccentric man called Max Cuff, who had a big black moustache and dark hair. I’d just come out of university, having done French and European literature, and was writing in quite a pretentious way, as I suppose you do in that academic way. I wrote my first piece of copy and gave it to Max. He tore it up in front of me and said, “Can’t you write in f*****g Anglo-Saxon?” And then he just kicked the waste-paper bin, and threw it in there.

…my friend's impression.

They imagined news presenters just sit in a dressing room, in a dressing gown, waiting for the make-up artist before swanning into the studio. I said, “No, you’re a working journalist, with the team. It’s just that you get to read the news.” You start on summaries, which are only a couple of minutes long—or they were then—and you have to get it right, to the second. There’s sometimes great chaos in the newsroom; things aren’t ready and people are talking in your ear the whole time. You’ve got to divide your mind in two, as your mouth has to keep working while your brain’s listening to what’s going on.

…Jill Dando.

We were work collagues more than friends, but we liked each other and we did hang out at the odd fashion show. She was a beautiful woman, very friendly, very generous and not a diva in any way whatsoever. She was enormously skilled and her star was rising—she was the go-to woman for everything on the Beeb, but none of that went to her head. She was an absolute delight. I was reading the news when she died, so I actually had to break that news.

…never wanting to be a royal correspondent.

I wasn’t interested in the royal family. I insisted that I’d only do it for a year, but I ended up doing it for 14. It became a very important story, and that was largely because of Princess Diana. In fact, the Diana years were so tumultuous and catastrophic that those 14 years often brought me to the top of the bulletin. People sometimes say it’s the frothy end of journalism, but it certainly wasn’t then—it was frontline reporting. It’s a difficult end of journalism, I think, because you so rarely get to talk to the people about whom you’re reporting in any sensible way.

Jennie with her daughter Emma in 2004

…Diana was an exception to the rule.

I did get to know her. We’d meet and have long conversations one-to-one and I was able to ask her everything. I don’t know if what she told me was the truth, though. It was her version—or at least what she wanted me to hear—about the state of her marriage, her own affairs, her boyfriends and of course her feelings about Camilla. She would answer all my questions, but it was her account of the facts.

…scrubbing the floor when the phone went.

I had Marigold gloves on so I took one off, dripping wet, picked up the phone and there was this posh lady on the other end. “Oh hello, Jennie, it’s Kensington Palace here. Just a message from the Princess—she wants you to know that you look very good in red and she thinks you should continue wearing red on television. Bye.”

…the day Diana died.

I was in Devon, in our holiday home— which is now our permanent home— 250 miles from London. I was with our little girl, who was seven, and to whom I’d made a faithful promise that, “You’ve got your mum now for the next two weeks”, because I was always disappearing out of her life. And what did I do? I disappeared out of her life in the middle of the night. I went up to London and it was a dramatic, traumatic seven days of reporting. My main memory of the day of the funeral is when it was over and the late news was off-air. I realised I’d completely lost control of my body temperature. One minute I was shivering and then I was boiling. It was a symptom of total exhaustion.

…saying goodbye to the BBC.

I decided to leave, almost on the spur of the moment. It was a combination of reasons, but really it was that I thought I’d done it all. I’d covered deaths, disasters, great fires, divorces and, after 14 years, I was done. Another main reason was that, as a family, we’d moved to our holiday home in Devon, and it was completely untenable to try and live in Devon and work in London. It was out of the question for me to be away from my husband and daughter.

She appeared in I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! alongside Katie Price

…I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! came along immediately after I left the BBC.

I leapt at the opportunity and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. I thought, It’s going to be a mid-life adventure. My daughter, Emma, who was 13 at the time, said to me, “Whatever you do, Mum, don’t throw up on TV.” So I just got it all down— stick insects, witchetty grubs, crickets and fish eyes. It was a personal achievement that I—granny of the group, and with a public image of a stuffy old broad standing outside Buckingham Palace spouting posh stuff—was allowed to be myself, to be human, to wear shorts and no make-up and just have a laugh. I came second, so stayed there till the end. It was lovely—and liberating.

…Dad died when he was 90.

He was a lovely man. Shortly before his death, he said, “If I can leave this life having spread a little kindness, and I’ve done no harm, then I should’ve done well.” And I think that’s a good philosophy, because kindness, at times, is underestimated. It’s something that Diana really understood, you know—a little touch, a little look, a little hug, a little word, a little letter, a little note—it doesn’t take any time really. So I try to be kind. I mean, I can be a b***h, but I do try to be kind.
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