Breach of confidence: Don’t quote the queen

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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• Who is Frank Gardner and why was he chatting with the queen?

Mr. Gardner is the BBC’s security correspondent, a senior position that involves reporting on terrorism-related issues including al Qaeda, the prison at Guantanamo Bay and the war in Afghanistan. In 2004 he was shot by al Qaeda extremists during a reporting trip in Saudi Arabia, an attack that killed his cameraman and left Mr. Gardner partially paralyzed. He now uses a wheelchair or a walker for television appearances. In 2005 he was awarded the honorary title Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his service to journalism.

• Why did he break the queen’s confidence?

It’s not clear. It sounded to some listeners as if Mr. Gardner was engaged in high-level name-dropping with the BBC hosts interviewing him and momentarily forgot that he was on a live radio show.

• Did he violate royal protocol? Does the queen expect people to respect her privacy?

The queen’s representatives were, as ever, discreet. Her press office declined to criticize Mr. Gardner or even comment on the flap. There is, however, an unwritten but widely respected convention that comments made by the queen during a formal audience or at an informal get-together are regarded as private and not to be repeated.

She frequently has brief, light discussions with admirers at royal events, however, and those casual comments are often repeated to the press.

Yet in Britain’s complex system, which relies on precedents rather than a written constitution, it is very rare to hear the queen’s thoughts on the great issues of the day. It was this break with convention that drew so much attention to the BBC radio show — and such a quick apology.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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