In 2019, TV presenter Nick Knowles was involved in a war of words with news broadcaster Kay Burley.
The DIY SOS star was standing up his former TV colleague Kate Thornton, after Burley claimed credit for choosing Elton John’s song Candle In The Wind for a tribute montage to the late princess on Sky News.
The song became synonymous with Diana after her death, with Elton John re-recording his 1973 hit with new lyrics for an updated version that went to number one 1997, and became the second highest-selling physical single of all time.
Knowles remembers things differently though, and says it was Thornton who first linked the death with the song while editing a tribute for their ITV current affairs show Straight Up which they co-presented on the day of Diana’s passing.
Speaking on the 100th episode of White Wine Question Time, Knowles said that he and Straight Up producer Alison Black just wanted to set Burley straight.
“It’s interesting because I think we've told this story a couple of times earlier... I think that's been picked up by somebody else who now believes it's their story,” he said referencing Burley’s claim.
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“It's funny how the world goes, but I think people start convincing themselves of things. I've always credited you [Thornton] with that. It was exactly right for the time – and it did get picked up by lots and lots of other people.”
The pair were fronting ITV’s youth current affair show, Straight Up, at the time of Diana’s death on 31 August, 1997. As a relative newbie to TV, Thornton was nervous about the prospect of working on such a huge breaking story.
She reminded Knowles: “I was thinking, ‘Nick, you say something, you say, 'Don't be ridiculous. We can't do this. She's only done seven hours or eight hours of telly up until now'‘. And I was terrified that they were going to put us on air - I was a complete novice!”
Luckily for Thornton, while tasked with editing a montage about the late princess, after finding the music library shut, she discovered an Elton John Greatest Hits CD in her car with the 1973 song Candle In The Wind, and felt it set the right tone – but it could have been very different.
“I legged it out to my car – I'd been to Bosnia for the show and Ibiza – and the music that I had in the car was either indie or pretty much hardcore rave,” she said.
Knowles also had his own issues, as he raced from Southampton, where the show was based, to Buckingham Palace, where he was to report live.
“I’ve had to stop off at Southampton at nine o'clock on a Sunday morning to find a shop, to buy a black suit because I only had cowboy boots and a pair of jeans,” he recalled, saying he ending up going to an undertakers as no other shops were open.
“I managed to get into a suit and then we drove up like a lunatics all the way up to London. I was absolutely determined that we were going to go on, because I thought that we could actually present it in a way the mainstream news wouldn't.”
For Knowles, who had been working in current affairs for quite a while at the time, he said he believes they were also the first show to bring to light the abuse the press received for being part of Diana’s death.
He said: “What was really interesting was that already at that stage that morning, young people were turning up and shouting abuse at the press cordon because they felt somehow that they were responsible for what happened. We were the first people to talk about that and sense that she was sort of hounded in.”
The pair both agreed that they felt a great sense of responsibility to report the news in a suitable way.
“I remember the sheer fear and dread running through me, like ice through my veins, thinking I've got to go on TV and do this woman and her memory justice,” recalled Thornton.
Nick agreed, saying he felt it even more keenly as he’s since gone on to work several times with both Prince William and Harry.
“I've been very lucky to go on and spend some time around the two princes and see them sort of grow into the fine young men that they became and work with them on occasions as well,” he said.
“I've always felt that responsibility from that early time from that evening and then seeing the boys afterwards.”