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Interview With Justin Webb

Aired June 23, 2003 - 19:51   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Saturday night's 21st birthday party for Prince William, an intruder got past security at Windsor Castle, dressed, believe it or not, like Osama bin Laden in drag. Now, there's the guy right there. Turned out to be self-described comedy terrorist Aaron Barschak. Seen here, his gate crashing. Barschak, who was unarmed, not only got onto the grounds, but made it to the stage where William was addressing his guests apparently. The whole thing appeared to be some kind of publicity stunt. Barschak's father told AP that his son is, quote, "not a nutter." We can only imagine how bad this could have been if, in fact, he had been a nutter.
Of course now, the recriminations have begun, and we have with us the BBC Washington correspondent Justin Webb. Justin, thanks for being with us. How did this happen? I mean, this guy apparently not only got in, but was apprehended by some workmen who took him to police and was able to talk his way out to get back to the party.

JUSTIN WEBB, BBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the police obviously took one look at the sight we saw in that picture and decided it was not suspicious, which tells you an awful lot, doesn't it, about the way the modern British policeman regards the world. I think it's probably the old British class system you know. This guy went to public school, which in Britain means a private school. He can talk posh along with the 300 or so guests. He probably had the airs and graces necessary to convince the policemen that he was actually a very important person. A lot of people have come to the party dressed in a lot of strange ways, and he, I presume, simply said to them, don't be silly, I'm a very important person, now let me in. And the police made the crucial and fatal decision, certainly in their career prospect terms, and decided he should be allowed in.

COOPER: Do you think heads will roll because of this in the police force?

WEBB: Yes, I think they will, actually, because I think the government's view is that the police should have spotted this person as being just slightly suspicious. And they will want to know why they didn't. And the home secretary on previous occasions when royal security has been breached, it has had very serious political consequences. The home secretary himself has had to go. So I don't think that is going to happen this time, but I think there are going to be some serious questions. And tomorrow night, Tony Blair has his weekly audience with the queen. And wouldn't it be nice to be there and hear what he says.

COOPER: She's not amused, I can only imagine.

WEBB: No. She was there, of course. This is the other thing. Apparently she and the duke of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) were there when this guy grabbed the microphone off William, started ranting into it, and apparently the queen and the duke were both very amused, thought he was rather funny. One guest said he went on for a minute before William frantically signaled to his security guard, the guy who follows him everywhere, that this was, in fact, not a joke that he had planned, it was actually something going awry. And only at that stage did they come forward and bundle him away. Apparently the queen and the duke of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) thought it was all a bit of a jolly laugh, the kind of thing young people get up to, and they were perfectly willing to take it in that form.

COOPER: I heard with great aplomb sort of William made a joke about it as the guy left the stage with security, saying something like, oh, I didn't know my brother could do those kind of accents, something like that.

WEBB: Yes, that's right. Yes, which is very good. And it is very important for members of the royal family to show cool under fire of all sorts, including metaphorical fire. Of course, Prince Charles once famously shot at by someone with a starting pistol, I think it was, down in Australia or New Zealand, and he was very cool, all the television pictures showed him just sort of looking at him in a slightly snooty way, and obviously William also was -- he knew that something had gone wrong and this man shouldn't be there. And he obviously behaved as we expect the royal family to behave in those circumstances.

COOPER: And the theme of this party was out of Africa. And why is that? That's because William spent a lot of time in Africa, in the year off, didn't he?

WEBB: That's right, yes. And fell in love with the place and had some genuine friends there. It was an out of Africa theme for the English aristocracy, which of course they love. It means an awful lot of hunting stuff and animal skins and the rest of it. But there was also a genuine band there, an African band all the way from Botswana. William apparently likes Africa, likes the scene, and that's why he chose it, and all the guests took part with great gusto, including the queen herself.

COOPER: Yes, I heard even the queen was dressed, I think, as the queen of Swaziland. I am not going to put you on the spot and ask you how she looked. I won't...

WEBB: Radiant.

COOPER: We're going to leave it there. Justin Webb, thank you very much.


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