Unless you’ve been living in a sealed bubble for the past few days, you can’t fail to have noticed that the Pope is visiting the UK at the moment. There’s been wall to wall coverage in the newspapers, on television and on radio.
So working on the programme covering his arrival in Edinburgh was the hottest TV ticket in town yesterday.
We had the lovely and very funny Huw Edwards in the studio on the lawn of Holyrood Palace, Jim Naughtie commentating from a small box next door, plus two reporters, one on Princes Street, and one in the grounds of Holyrood Palace.
Planning for the programme had begun weeks before, and I’d flown up on Wednesday, heading straight off to Glasgow to interview a lovely lady who’d received mass from Pope John Paul II on his visit to the UK in 1982, and was due to receive it from this Pope in Glasgow yesterday.
The camera operator and I edited this and some other pre-recorded films at the BBCs Scottish HQ in Glasgow, and I finally got to Edinburgh about 11.30pm for a quick briefing about the next day. I would be producing the operation on the South Lawn in the grounds of the Palace.
This was where the Pope was going to make his first speech on British soil, and meet the great and good of Scotland at the Queen’s reception in his honour. Buckingham Palace had given us exclusive permission to interview some of these. This meant the reporter Emily Buchanon and I would be the only TV production team broadcasting that day from anywhere near the Pope, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.
After dropping off my tapes in the satellite truck, which was our centre of operations and from where the programme would be broadcast , the first job was to get through security, make contact with the Palace press officer who would be our liaison and get Emily into make-up. Then it was round to the South Lawn to sort out our position, and meet the camera crew and floor manager.
We soon encountered our first problem. The police wouldn’t let our first guest through security at the time we need him to hit our live slot. A few rapid phone calls and we’re sorted. He’s going to come early and we can pre-record him. Next problem – he’s on the official guest list and the police won’t let him into the Palace early.
A bit of charm and that’s sorted, so we head back to the South Lawn, past the assembled press pack on the Palace forecourt, and get the interview in the bag.
After that, it’s all pretty plain sailing, so we can start to enjoy ourselves. While everyone’s waiting for the Pope to arrive, we go through our interview list, working out what questions to ask, and spy the Queen peeping at us out of a Palace window.
The programme went on air at 10am, but our South Lawn team don’t swing into action until the Pope and Queen emerge from their private audience to make speeches, when Emily and I frantically make notes in readiness for the interviews.
Everyone assembled in receiving lines – and since our interview position was between the main marquee and the Very Very Important Guests (Nick Clegg, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Alex Salmon), the Pope and Queen headed straight to us once the speeches were over. I was just wondering whether to shake hands before they veered off to meet the official guests.
This was when the fun started for us. A constant stream were ferried over to us to be interviewed about why they’d been invited, what the Pope had said to them and what they thought about his visit. We interviewed the Scotland Secretary of the Salvation Army, the Chief Executive of Wildlife Trusts, the deputy chief executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee, the Principal of the University of Edinburgh and most splendidly, members of the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
And we had the added bonus.
Since we were right next to the reception tent, the waiters kept offering us food. And it would have been rude to resist a Papal canapé wouldn’t it?