The tip-off that a “nutter” had gatecrashed Prince Williams’ 21st birthday party came to the News of the World at 1am on Sunday morning -giving the paper just 40 minutes to turn the story around.
The paper’s print run was already well advanced but staff managed to get the scoop into the last million copies.
The story pushed off the front page an interview with David Beckham’s father, in which he revealed how fame had driven the family apart.
The newspaper’s royal editor Clive Goodman was still at his desk when the Windsor Castle gatecrasher story broke. “I was in the office and I was going to go through until 3am just in case something like this happened because it was a big story anyway,” he told Press Gazette.
“The information came from a very trustworthy source and it was so good that we didn’t have to waste time waiting for it to be confirmed.
“We had about 40 minutes so I spoke with the editor and briefed the subs and we got it in the paper very quickly.
“That quickness of turnaround ensured we got it in so many editions. With the sovereign and the next three in line in the same room this was obviously a huge royal security story.
“This really was a good old-fashioned scoop, having the right person in the right place at the right time. These things are huge team efforts and everyone did their job.”
The latest point at which the paper can normally change its pages on Sunday morning is 3am – although on the night the Princess of Wales died changes continued to be made until 8am.
Goodman added: “It’s important to break these stories and get them out to as many people as you can.
“I can’t tell you how gutted we would have been if we had read about it on Monday and realised it had happened on our shift and we had missed it.”
On Tuesday both the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror published “world exclusive” interviews with Aaron Barschak – the 36-year-old comedian behind Saturday night’s stunt.
The Mail paid Barschak for his exclusive story and Mirror editor Piers Morgan said he put together a spoiler front after reporters spoke to Barschak’s father.
Morgan said: “We heard the Mail had bought him up for £40,000 so we rang his dad and debriefed him for nothing. He was able to tell us virtually everything his son was telling the Mail. This gave us a brilliant first edition splash Ã‰ for precisely nought pence.
“We topped up our scoop later with a few lines from the Mail’s very expensive version.”
A Daily Mail spokesman responded saying: “We hope Press Gazette won’t be suckered by Piers Morgan’s publicity machine. We had the real story – he had a cobbled-together tale with a few lifted quotes – that’s the sort of con which explains why the Mirror’s circulation is descending is so fast.”
According to other sources the Mirror and The Sun offered Barschak £70,000 for his story but he went to the Mail because a journalist there had a personal connection with the family.
By Dominic Ponsford