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Fairytales still make headlines

Megan Doyle | Sunday, April 15, 2012

 

Last week, I stood toe-to-toe with Kate Middleton.

Her hair was perfectly in place – not a single strand out of place. Her blue dress was exquisite, and I envied her sleek black heels. The gem on her left ring finger sparkled. The Duchess of Cambridge was, in a word, lovely.

She was also entirely made out of wax.

When I stood three feet from the newest member of Britain’s royal family, I stood in the main display room of Madame Tussauds wax museum in London on the evening before the wax figures of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would be unveiled to the world. A press ID from NBC News hung around my neck, and camera equipment flanked me as I stared at the royal couple poised perfectly on their display stands.

This semester, I am a part-time intern at the London bureau of NBC News while I study abroad in the United Kingdom. During my 20-odd hours in the bureau each week, I work in the hub of foreign news coverage for NBC’s Today Show and Nightly News programs. My work here shows me the ins and outs of broadcast journalism, the fast pace of international reporting and the broad scope of a foreign bureau with NBC’s clout even in these economically challenging times. I have learned which stories sell and which do not.

Wax or human, Kate always sells.

Perhaps I did not quite expect an American news network to be so obsessed with the royal family. Then again, perhaps I forgot how obsessed America (myself included) was with the royal wedding last spring. As Will and Kate tied the knot, the nation stared across the pond and sighed when the picture-perfect couple shared a first kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Kate seemed the average girl turned princess, and Will seemed the shining prince with the glass slipper. We loved it.

Almost a year after the royal wedding, we still love it. As the couple prepares for its first anniversary, our entire bureau is poised for an announcement of a pregnancy. We interview royal experts on how Kate is handling the pressure of her new role, what her relationship with the Queen might be like and how the royal family has changed since Princess Diana’s time. We judged her first public speech (handled gracefully, of course), and we critique her wardrobe with an envious eye.

I did have the chance to see Kate – the human Kate – in person with an NBC crew covering one of her first public appearances on her own. The Duchess traveled to Oxford and visited a primary school supported by a charity she patrons, and our crew arrived bright and early (after a 5:30 a.m. wake up call) to stalk her arrival with the rest of the British press.

Out of my 12 hours that day with the crew, I saw Kate for a total of roughly nine minutes. We drove to Oxford early in the morning and arrived at the school about two hours before Kate would even be in the town. We introduced ourselves to Kate’s press representatives, set up our equipment in the designated corral for the media, adjusted the camera and speculated about what dress she might wear. And we waited. For hours.

In the moment she stepped out of her car (stunning as usual), the cameras snapped into action. Even as half my mind focused on not dropping the sound equipment in my hand while the British press corps jostled each other around me, I craned my next to catch a good glimpse of Kate as she accepted flowers, talked with the children and smiled in genuine joy when they laughed at her jokes. I forgot my meagre hours of sleep and freezing fingers, and the children’s obvious excitement infected me as well when the Duchess passed five feet from my spot.

My experience with NBC News has taught me huge lessons about international reporting, journalism and the stories that matter. Our correspondents report from Kabul, Toulouse, Syria and other locations around the world. They tell stories about life and death, peace and war. At first, even as a fan of all things royal, I thought the attraction to Kate in a bureau that follows so many hard-hitting stories was almost trivial. Yet in a day and age when these images of explosion, fighting, hatred and anger can populate the reports we produce, I understand why the public buzzed with excitement for Kate’s nine minutes on camera that day in Oxford. I can see why her wax figure (though eerie in its similarity to her real person) was in high demand. I know why this average woman, a newlywed bride from a small town, might be the focus of an international eye as well.

We loved Kate’s story because her story was a fairytale. We still love Kate’s story because her story takes place in a world that is not perfect, but she navigates it with grace and poise and confidence. Kate’s story sells because we want to be reminded of that her story can exist, even here, even now.

Fairytales still make headlines.