‘Those in the Royal household who knew James were extremely sad to learn of his death,’ said a palace spokesperson today.
The former royal editor of the Daily Mirror became renowned for his reporting on the royals during the Princess Diana era, famously breaking the story that the late wife of Prince Charles was suffering from an eating disorder.
Mirror editor Richard Wallace paid a warm tribute to Whitaker, calling him a ‘true Fleet Street legend’.
‘Despite the severity of his illness, he never complained or went in for self-pity, but insisted he had a life well lived,’ Wallace said. Our thoughts are with his loving family who – like us all – will miss him terribly.’‘His colleagues often joked that at times he appeared grander than the royals themselves – which, of course, he loved.’
James Whitaker was born 4 October 1940 was an English journalist, specialising in the British royal family. Born in Cheltenham, he was educated at Cheltenham College. Initially working as an articled clerk in an accountancy firm, in 1963 he became a reporter at the Hounslow, Brentford and Chiswick Post.
In 1966, Whitaker scored his first scoop when he went undercover working as a cloakroom attendant in the newly opened Playboy Club in London. In 1967 he moved to the Daily Mail and, in 1971, joined the William Hickey column team at the Daily Express.
In 1975 he joined The Sun, where he struck up a lifelong friendship with Royal photographer Arthur Edwards. As a result, in 1979 he joined the team on the launch of the Daily Star as its Royal reporter. He then moved to the Daily Mirror.
In November 1982, the Daily Mirror assistant editor, Anne Robinson, attended a formal dinner attended by Queen Elizabeth II, at which she noted that Diana, Princess of Wales arrived late. Robinson asked Whitaker to investigate and, after conversations with various sources, including Diana’s sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale, confirmed that Diana was suffering from an eating disorder, then identified as anorexia, in a scoop article on 19 November. As a result, the Buckingham Palace Press Secretary, Michael Shea, rang then Mirror’s editor Mike Molloy to demand the removal of those involved in the story. Robinson left the paper to start her television career and it was later confirmed that Diana suffered from bulimia.
Whitaker wrote the book Diana v. Charles which chronicled the deterioration of the relationship between Diana and Prince Charles.
Whitaker was Royal Correspondent for the ITV television programme This Morning. In 2004, he took part in the reality television programme Celebrity Fit Club and was made team captain for the final three weeks and “Mr Fit Club 2004”. He was one of three judges on Australia’s Australian Princess television programme.
After 12 months’ of treatment for cancer, Whitaker died in the morning of 15 February 2012, surrounded by his family