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September 16, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:16am

Anna Botting on covering death of the Queen: ‘My aim is to be there for the people who can’t be there’

By Charlotte Tobitt

Sky News presenter Anna Botting’s empathy skills, as displayed while covering the conflict in Ukraine, helped persuade her bosses she was the right person to anchor coverage of the Queen’s funeral.

Botting will be in Westminster to lead coverage on Sky channels of the funeral on Monday, starting with the procession at 9am and the service at 11am before handing over to Dermot Murnaghan in Windsor at 2pm. She will then return to present News at Ten later that day.

[Read more: Sky, ITV, BBC and GB News clear schedules to cover the Queen’s funeral]

Speaking on Thursday as she began to prepare for the big event, Botting told Press Gazette that Sky News bosses had asked her to have a prominent part in coverage throughout the ten-day mourning period because of her work reporting from Ukraine in March.

“I think I showed empathy for the experience of people and I think that you have to understand when you have this collective grief that, actually, you have to have real recognition of how people are feeling at home watching it,” Botting said.

Anna Botting: ‘I have a reputation for crying’

Botting, who joined Sky News in 1995, has become emotional on-air on occasion: “I have a bit of a reputation for it,” she said. “I cried when 100,000 people died with Covid. I cried in Ukraine when we showed pictures of a 23-day-old baby who was wrapped and dead in Mariupol when the war was 22 days old, so that baby had been born in peace and died in war.”

But she is determined not to cry during the funeral on Monday, telling Press Gazette the fear of doing so is her “biggest stress” about the day despite the reams of preparation required.

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Anna Botting and Sky News team after Queen death

Anna Botting, right, part of the Sky News team outside Buckingham Palace following the death of the Queen. Picture: Sky News

Botting recalled a moment on Tuesday as the plane was departing Edinburgh with the late monarch’s coffin when Sky royal events commentator Alastair Bruce said what the Queen wanted above all else was to make her father proud, and it made her think of her own father who had died.

Botting said: “I’m like, I can’t watch this, I can’t listen to this, why don’t I take my earpiece out?” adding that she had moved things on to safer ground with an unrelated question.

Botting also interviewed Louise Tait, the former Scottish communications secretary to the Queen, and asked how she felt as the plane left Scotland. She replied: “I just thought please don’t go. I don’t want you to leave us, please don’t leave us,” which again almost triggered tears from the presenter.

Anna Botting on following the Queen’s journey

Botting has had a hectic fortnight. On Monday 5 September she was at Downing Street for the change in prime minister in torrential rain, and back the next day for the cabinet reshuffle. On Wednesday she was in the office and then on Thursday, the day the Queen died, she had a day off but got a call from the newsroom at lunchtime (soon after the announcement that doctors were concerned for the monarch’s health) asking her to fly to Balmoral – a trip that, due to fully booked flights and delays, took about ten hours. The Queen’s death was announced while she was flying to Aberdeen.

Botting stayed up preparing notes for the next day’s coverage, going to bed at 2.10am for just 20 minutes.

On Friday 9 September, she presented from outside Balmoral in the pouring rain “with three umbrellas trying to keep my stuff dry – I couldn’t get any notes out it was too wet, couldn’t even get my iPad out, couldn’t get anything out so I just had to sit there hoping desperately I remembered the stuff I’d been learning about her”. She found the “quiet sadness” of the day and the people paying their respects “really extraordinary” nonetheless.

Botting then moved on to Edinburgh where she broadcast from Holyrood Palace for ten hours as the Queen’s coffin made its journey from Balmoral.

“[I was] basically talking about a slowly moving car for six hours,” she said. “That was probably my most challenging day if I’m honest with you.” Botting had memorised facts about locations the Queen would be passing, and recalled many of them without notes during our conversation four days later.

She covered the Queen’s coffin vigil at St Giles’ Cathedral and the plane’s departure from Edinburgh to London. She then dashed back to London herself to cover the procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall on Wednesday.

“I feel like I’m doing the Queen’s journey – Balmoral, Edinburgh, Buckingham Palace and then on Monday I’ll be at Westminster Abbey,” Botting said. “So I feel like I’m following her really.”

Her aim is to “to be there for people who can’t be there” and she revealed she has messaged her boss to say “thank you for having faith in me”.

Anna Botting of Sky News with the Queen

Anna Botting (centre) meeting the Queen at a reception for the 150th anniversary of the Journalists’ Charity at Stationers’ Hall in 2014. Picture: Sky News

In 1997, Botting was the first journalist to arrive at Kensington Palace at around 5am after the death of Princess Diana was announced. Soon afterwards she went on holiday but says now: “I wish I hadn’t gone on holiday. I should have cancelled my holiday.” When she returned, she told bosses she volunteered to do “anything you want” for the final parts of the coverage.

Comparing the two royal deaths, Botting said she would look back at the past week and see it as a “two-century story”. “To be experiencing it in that way is really privileged,” she said.

‘Less is more’ in Sky News coverage

Botting, who has anchored coverage of wars including those in Afghanistan and Iraq, added: “I suppose the other things that have stuck in my mind are watching war, when we destroy each other and people are dying. And the contrast with this is that this is bringing people together and it’s unifying people… The most recognised human being on the planet is drawing the world together and we are there to watch it.”

At the time of our conversation, Botting had just begun preparation for Monday’s funeral coverage. With every major broadcaster pulling out all the stops and pausing other programming and advertising, Press Gazette asked why people should tune into Sky News rather than the BBC or ITV.

Botting said: “At Sky News, we’ve really tried to not talk too much and we’ve let everything breathe… there is a sense of less is more in the way we’ve covered this hopefully,” adding that, for example, they left space over footage of royal walkabouts, which had meant the comments King Charles made to people in the crowd could be heard.

In addition, she said: “It’s kind of what we do and so it’s probably easier for us to step up a gear. The deployment of this is enormous. In Scotland alone, you know, people were missing flights left right and centre and we had crews driving eight and a half hours to Aberdeen – but that’s what we do. So I think for somebody watching at home, we are a window for them to what is happening. They can just sit and feel it themselves, effectively.”

Botting added that Sky’s experience in rolling news meant they were used to finding out details at late notice and adapting: “You pick out the bits that are newsworthy, but are interesting, but you have to do it very quickly and that’s the bit we are used to doing.”

And how is she feeling? “It would be easy to say [I’m] overwhelmed by Monday, but to be honest with you I’ve been so busy it’s quite hard to think about Monday,” she said.

“This has been talked about for years, and everyone would have practised it, but for the Palace it’s gone really well for them. It’s been extraordinary to watch it. It’s been amazing to be part of it, I think, and to see each part of what we’ve seen in the last week and Monday.

“I’m just hoping I don’t cry and if not that it all goes well. I’ve just got so much work to do.”

Picture: Sky News

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