Daily Mail royal correspondent Richard Kay had a practice run this week for a possible new job at the newspaper.
He stepped in to take over Nigel Dempster’s diary while Dempster, who retires on 8 October, and diary veteran Helen Minsky are away.
Kay is writing the diary alongside his regular royal beat. Monday’s column certainly combined the roles with a lead story Camilla Parker Bowles being asked to help choose Prince Charles’s next press secretary.
The next few weeks, while Minsky is on holiday, should be the decider.
Diary writing is not unfamiliar territory to Kay. He often stands in for one of the Mail’s other diarists, Ephraim Hardcastle, alias Peter McKay.
Asked about the possibility of taking over Dempster’s column permanently, Kay said: “I couldn’t possibly say. I’m in here while Helen’s away. You must speak to [editor-in-chief] Paul Dacre.”
While covering the Royal Family has been a quieter brief over the summer months, doing both jobs – as Kay is doing at the moment – would be a tall order. The permanent role of diarist is not something that Kay has previously considered.
A Mail spokesman said the question of who would succeed Dempster was “still under intense debate”.
The paper already has McKay’s and John McEntee’s Wicked Whispers columns and both could be front runners to replace Dempster. Adam Helliker, Dempster’s former deputy, returned from The Sunday Telegraph to run an alternative diary in The Mail on Sunday and must be a contender.
Perhaps Dacre is also considering creating a little mischief by tempting back Dempster’s previous deputy, Tim Walker, who took over The Sunday Telegraph’s Mandrake diary from Helliker.
Replacing Dempster, who has turned the column into a highly successful brand in the 30 years he has been at its helm, will be a challenge. His scoops have been big – he predicted Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s resignation for one – and his name still brings in some of the best tips.
Dempster, who will be 62 in November, confirmed that he has Parkinson’s disease and is to retire. “I feel I have had my time,” he said.
He plans to rest after writing the diary four or five days a week for the daily paper and also for The Mail on Sunday. Suggestions that the column would retain his name seem unlikely since Dempster owns the copyright and the Mail would have to get his permission