An Interview with Victoria Arbiter

Last week, I had the honor of conducting a special interview with royal expert Victoria Arbiter. After chatting on Twitter for some time, I was curious to learn more about this CBS News royal contributor; Victoria quickly agreed to let me pick her brain on all things royal. Victoria is a true veteran; growing up a stone’s throw from our favorite family (her father Dickie Arbiter is a broadcaster, journalist and former press secretary to Queen Elizabeth II), Victoria has done everything from go-carting with Princess Diana to sitting alongside Katie Couric for last year’s royal wedding.

Aside from touching stories about Her Majesty and the family, Victoria opened up about how she got to where she is today and what her dream royal assignment would be. In accordance with recent news, Victoria provides her thoughts on Prince Harry’s tour, America’s fascination with the royals and who she owes a huge thank you to (hint: they have a big anniversary coming up). She even offers up advice for the newest generation of royal watchers, so pay attention! If you are not following Victoria on Twitter, please do so @VictoriaArbiter.

You have worked with everyone from Perez Hilton to Oprah – what has it been like to truly run the gamut of reporting?

In a word it’s been a tremendous privilege. Thanks to my job I have been fortunate enough to have the chance to see and do so many different things. I never thought I would be standing on stage next to Oprah or kayaking across a bio-luminescent bay in Puerto Rico. Work has made me push the envelope and often times I have had to step out of my comfort zone and do things that have been utterly terrifying, but I’m always glad I had a go. It really does prove that anything’s possible and I’m excited to see what the future holds in store.

To date, what do you see as the greatest highlight of your career?

While it may seem like an obvious choice in terms of career highlights, it would be pretty hard to beat covering last year’s Royal Wedding for CBS News. It was an enormous privilege to have a front row seat to such a historic event but also to work alongside people like Katie Couric and Erica Hill. They are among the best in their field and I had many a pinch me moment throughout the three months I reported on the wedding. It was a thrilling time to be in London and on a personal note it was wonderful to be able to share the experience with my father.Aside from the wedding another huge career high was finding myself on the set of CBS This Morning for the premiere show. As we were chatting I suddenly had a moment when I thought I’m the one doing all the talking and here we have Charlie Rose, Erica Hill and Gayle King listening to what I have to say. It had been a long road to that point and my gratitude at being there was overwhelming. I so admire Charlie Rose. He really makes you raise your game and I absolutely love the challenge of having an answer for even his trickiest questions.

Although you grew up around journalism, accompanying your father to important state occasions, you turned to acting and dance. What has brought you back full circle to where you are today? 

To be honest where I am today has all happened completely by accident. As a child I dreamed of being a ballet dancer and I went to a full time ballet school from the age of 12. A back injury at 18 resulted in me having to stop dancing so drama school seemed like the obvious next choice. In a quest for a change of scenery I decided to move to New York to attend The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. When I finished school I got a “survival” job working for a web TV company and within 6 weeks I had moved from answering the phones on reception to working as the Senior Entertainment Correspondent. From there I continued in the broadcast world but really I had to wait for a job to open up that would best suit my area of expertise. I honestly don’t remember a time when the royal family didn’t serve as a backdrop to my life. I grew up in Windsor, opposite the castle. We lived at Kensington Palace for a time where I met Diana on several occasions and sadly I attended her funeral. When William and Kate got engaged it was finally a big enough event for networks to start seeking experts and that’s when the call from CBS came in. It was a tremendous honor and I feel like I owe William and Kate a huge thank you letter. In hindsight I can see that all roads were leading to this one opportunity. My childhood gave me a look at life both in front and behind palace walls and no doubt much of my knowledge was picked up by osmosis simply from tagging along with my Dad, but finally I feel at home in my career and I hope to have this job for many years to come. 

As Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee year, what is your favorite memory of Her Majesty?

Oh, I just adore the Queen and my husband teases me relentlessly…..apparently whenever I see her I say, “Doesn’t the Queen look lovely today.” It makes him laugh every time but I am immensely proud of her and I believe our country is better for having her. There are so many moments in time when I have admired her, but I suppose the time she broke my heart really stands out the most. The Queen has only been seen to cry in public once and it was when HMY Britannia was decommissioned in 1997. It was a devastating blow to her due to all the personal moments and family history that had been shared while on board. It was a floating sanctuary of privacy for her and had meant a great deal to her. She’s so admired for her stoicism but that day we saw her vulnerability which was a stark reminder that she too is only human and yet she has dedicated her life to her country. She’s there no matter what and we could all stand to learn from her strength, dedication and determination.

Prince Harry just wrapped up is first overseas tour on behalf of his grandmother; there has been praise on how he handled himself and questions raised as to how the family will leverage him in the future – what is your take on this? Many are beginning to compare him more to Princess Diana..

There’s no question Harry has done a spectacular job and I have always said that he embodies the very best qualities of both his parents. He’s kind, compassionate, funny and game for anything which makes him instantly likable and accessible. The Queen knew what she was doing in choosing to send Harry in particular to Belize, the Bahamas and Jamaica. He has won over the old and young alike and he has clearly risen to the ranks of rock star status which in turn has done wonders in terms of sentiment towards Britain. While Harry will continue to take part in public engagements once he’s home his first responsibility will be to his military career. He will be redeployed to Afghanistan later this year as well as serve as an official ambassador for the Olympics so the remainder of his year promises to be very busy. We will see great things from Harry as his royal career continues and he has made no secret of his desire to continue the work of his mother. I think she would be very proud of the man he has become.    

What is your favorite story since covering the royal family? A moment or memory that stands out more than the rest?

Bizarrely my most memorable moment since covering the royal family doesn’t directly involve one of the royals. A couple of weeks before the wedding the press had been given access to the Household Cavalry Barracks in Knightsbridge to see a demonstration of what they would be doing come wedding day. I have always been a bit of a geek when it comes to pomp and pageantry and so as far as I was concerned this was going to be a plum assignment. Little did I know however, that they were planning on pulling out all the stops. It was 7:30am on a grey and rainy morning and we were all tired. We had been gallivanting up and down the country trying to cover every little detail in the final days leading up to the wedding and this was just another early start. As we were all standing around having a moan I suddenly heard the thud, thud, thud of what sounded like an approaching drum. Just then through the trees in Hype Park came 200 Cavalry Officers on horseback playing the most beautiful piece of music. It was so breathtaking to see and it was a private display just for the assembled press. I was completely out of my mind with excitement and equally heartbroken that my little boy wasn’t there to see it. Following the display we were given a tour of the barracks, shown the exact uniform Harry would be wearing on wedding day and then treated to a fanfare by the State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry who would be inside Westminster Abbey on the big day. Simply amazing and a memory that I will cherish forever.

The royal family seems to be gaining more support and interest on a daily basis – a great deal of which has come from the United States. What is your take on the sudden boom from “across the pond?” Do you see if continuing to grow as the younger royals take the stage, or fall off as the wedding becomes a more distant memory?

Americans have always loved the British Royal Family but it has been a long time since the glory days of Charles and Diana so I think last year’s royal wedding really reignited the public’s fascination. I think they look to William and Kate as the happy ending Diana never had and they’re thrilled to see the couple so clearly in love. Interest has continued to grow since the I do’s from endless talk of fashion to when there will be baby so I don’t expect the fervor to die down anytime soon. Add to that the fact that Harry has risen to the ranks of the world’s most eligible bachelor, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations are coming up and London will be hosting the Olympics and you have plenty to keep people chatting for the foreseeable future. 

What advice do you have for new “royal watchers?” It appears most new followers are of the younger generation. Any words of wisdom?

The best piece of advice I could give to anyone starting out is KNOW YOUR STUFF. I can’t even begin to tell you how many inaccuracies are reported and to me it just shows sloppy work. I saw one journalist refer to Harry as the Prince of Wales this morning which I find unforgivable. Some might say that’s silly and it’s just a title but it’s flat out wrong and we look to reporters to bring us factually correct information. So many stories seem to be pulled out the sky these days in an effort to sell newspapers and I find it incredibly irritating. Before reporting anything it is your responsibility to fact check and then cross fact check. Of course errors will be made but take responsibility for them and get back to the business of reporting correct information. Otherwise you just end up with egg on your face. Do your research and learn who the reliable sources are. If in doubt don’t put the story out as once it’s in the public domain you lose all control over it. I suppose the rules would be…

 1. Know your stuff

2. Show up on time/meet your deadline on time

3. Be nice to everybody as you never know who is connected to who

4. Keep out of other people’s business – show up, do your job and do it to the best of your ability while letting others handle their own jobs.

Is there something you have observed about the royal family that would surprise people?

The one trait people never seem to give members of the Royal Family is a sense of humor. They are all blessed with a very quick wit and you’d better be on your toes when the cracks start flying. You see a little more of it shine through with William and Harry but it really is across the board.

Traveling all over the globe, what has been your favorite destination? If royal correspondence could take you anywhere, what would your dream location be?

Ah, this is a tricky one as I truly do love an adventure! If I could travel to any location of my choosing with a royal of my choosing then I would relish the opportunity to take in Kenya with either William or Harry. I was born in Zimbabwe and I have a deep love for Africa so I think it would be fascinating to see the entire continent through their eyes. Knowing Harry he’d probably want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but how fun would that be?!

Outside of the royal family, who has been your most interesting interview? Most exciting assignment?

Another tricky one…..I suppose the interviewees from the celebrity world who have surprised me the most would be Nicole Kidman and Uma Thurman. It was still quite early in my career when I had the chance to chat to them and I have to say both were extraordinarily kind and gracious. In terms of exciting it would have to be the Bee Gees. They were in New York to promote their one night only by request concert and were giving interviews at The Russian Tea Room. I’m a bit of a granny when it comes to music so it’s pretty safe to say that I have always loved the Bee Gees. All three of them had a wicked sense of humor and they were utterly charming, but what makes that memory especially poignant for me is that it was the last time that they were altogether for an interview in NY as Maurice died a couple of years later.

Many, many thanks to the lovely Victoria for taking time out of her busy schedule to give me such heartfelt, thought out answers to my questions. It was an absolute pleasure getting to know her a little bit better and I hope we cross paths on the streets of New York one day!