'We began to prepare for theinevitable'

By Jeremy Thompson, Sky News presenter in Rome

It was one of those long and restless news days that weighed heavy with waiting and anticipation.

We’d been presenting live from Rome since dawn on Saturday. Julie Etchingham took the sunrise shift. Martin Stanford and I shared the rest of the day.

There
was a sense of history in the warm spring air as we strained for news
from the Vatican. All the rest were merely whispers in the wind: “The
Pope was in a coma”, “the Pope’s electrocardiogram is flatlining”, “the
Italian media reports he’s already dead”. We sifted through the chaff
and waited on.

Finally, late that morning, Joaquin Navarro Valls,
the Vatican spokesman, gave us something new. “The Pope is gravely ill,
but still conscious, still opening his eyes.” He promised more at 6pm,
Rome time.

But 6pm came and went in silence and we began to
prepare for the inevitable. There was a noticeable lull in the clamour
of the crowds in St Peter’s Square and then a tension began to grip us
all. Maybe this was the moment.

But then at 7.25pm a brief
written statement emerged from the Vatican confirming that the
Pontiff’s condition remained grave. He’d developed a fever, but he was
responding to his staff.

The entire world was looking for a sign and most of us took this one as a sign that he was going to make it through to Sunday.

I even took the chance to grab a bite to eat. I should have known better.

With the first tasty morsel of tagliata poised on the fork, the phone went.

The Pope had died.

Luckily,
our correspondents, Colin Brazier, Barbara Serra and StuartRamsay, were
on air as the momentous news broke. Within minutes I was back on camera
as Brazier joined me to describe how the crowds had broken into
traditional Italian applause as the announcement was relayed on
loudspeakers round the Vatican. No live cameras are allowed in St
Peter’s Square. Instead, Stanford phoned in to give a flavour of the
extraordinary atmosphere. Then he headed up to Sky News’ long-planned
rooftop position looking across to the Basilica.

The deal with the owners was that we could only activate this presentation position once the Pope was dead.

Meanwhile,
I continued to anchor from street level amongst the crowds of people
now gathering in vast numbers, drawn towards the Vatican, shockedand
almost mesmerised by the news that John Paul’s 26-year reign was over.

As
the pilgrims and tributes poured in from around the globe, we presented
live deep into the night, picking up again just a few hours later for
Sky’s Sunrise show.

A plan put in place some years ago had kicked into action with remarkable efficiency.

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