Chiswick Journalist Was 'Born By Royal Command'

Paul Harrison on how The Queen intervened to ensure his father at his birth

Penny Harrison with son Paul and the letter they received from the Queen
Penny Harrison with son Paul and the letter they received from the Queen

It's a family joke that former Sky News correspondent and Chiswick resident Paul Harrison was 'born by Royal command'.

And as the nation celebrated the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, Paul and his mother Penny recalled how Her Majesty personally intervened to ensure that Paul's father John was able to be present at his birth.

In June 1973, journalist John was covering the Queen's visit to Canada for The Daily Express, at a time when his wife Penny was nine months pregnant.

When Penny phoned John to tell him that she was going to be induced, he desperately tried to book a flight back from Calgary to be on time for the birth, but to no avail.

Bemoaning his predicament in the pub, he was overheard by Ron Allison, then the Queen’s press secretary, who mentioned it to Her Majesty’s then private secretary Sir Martin Charteris. He in turn told the Queen, who immediately took pity on the journalist and is reported to have said ‘Let the young man travel back with me’.”

John was told to pack his bags and be ready for the Queen's flight the following morning. As he walked onto the tarmac at the airport and past the press corps corralled away from the Royal party, he could see the curiosity as the journalists wondered how he had managed to get what looked like a scoop.

While the Queen did not directly speak to John, who was sitting on the flight with the palace staff, she did pop her head around to wish them 'Good Morning'.

John arrived back on the 6th of July and Penny went into the Royal Berkshire Hospital on the 7th, where Paul was born. She was relieved to have her husband back by her side- although she recalls he was so much a focus of attention with his story, that the nursing staff almost forgot to attend to her in labour.

The couple already had another son, James, who was aged two at the time.

The day after Paul’s birth, John wrote to the Queen to express his gratitude and soon received a letter back saying that Her Majesty was “delighted” to hear he had made it in time to be present at the birth of his son.

royal letter

The letter , from the Queen's Private Secretary stated: "I have given your message of thanks to The Queen, who commands me to thank you for it."

“The family gag for years has been that I was born by royal command,” quips Paul.

John and Penny were both relocated from London to New York by the Daily Express a short time after Paul was born. John later joined the BBC and worked in the Political Unit at Westminster, before becoming Southern Africa Correspondent in 1993.

john harrison

Tragically John, (pictured above) then aged 48, was killed in a car crash while working in Bophuthatswana in 1994, just prior to the country's first democratic elections.

In an extraordinary coincidence Paul Harrison, who followed in his father's footsteps to become a journalist, was sent almost 37 years to the day to cover the Queen's visit to Canada by his employer Sky News.

And when the Queen's press team found out who he was, he was summoned and told that he was going to 'a very important meeting'.

It turned out to be an invitation to a garden party, and Paul realised that he was now being given the opportunity to meet with the Queen face-to-face and thank Her Majesty for her kindness, on behalf of himself and his mother.

Paul, who is married to former Al-Jazeera news presenter Felicity Barr, said, "I'm told that people are often lost for words when they meet the Queen. But in this case I did have something important to say to her when we met face to face. I don't know if she remembered what happened 37 years ago, but I'm glad I got the chance to thank her."

Paul and Felicity have lived in Chiswick for several years, and Paul has since moved on from Sky News to an international company working in corporate communications.

Penny, who lives in south-west London, where her other son James lives with his wife Karen and their two sons, Owen and Ben, said the Jubilee celebrations had brought the memories flooding back

She treasures a framed copy of the letter from Buckingham Palace congratulating her on Paul's birth.

"I think the gesture really shows what a kind and caring person the Queen is. As a mother herself she would have immediately understood how important it was for John to be with me for the birth," she told

It had been agreed that John Harrison would not write about the flight home and the story stayed within the family for decades.

Penny and Paul have now shared told their story on BBC Radio Four's 'Saturday Live' (June 4th, 2002). The programme had a special focus on personal stories connected with the Queen, as she celebrates her Platinum Jubilee.

Penny has also learned that her late husband's name appears on a memorial to BBC journalists and other staff who have been killed while on duty.

The Queen visited Canada 27 times, more than any other British monarch. She is Sovereign of the constitutional monarchy of Canada, as head of the Commonwealth.

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June 8, 2022