LONDON — Succumbing to what appears to have been a disastrous urge to brag about his super-important connections, a BBC correspondent unexpectedly declared in a radio interview Tuesday that Queen Elizabeth had once told him she was “pretty upset" about the presence of a radical Islamist cleric in North London.
It is considered a shocking breach of etiquette to reveal what, if anything, the queen tells you. The BBC immediately issued an abject apology, saying that the correspondent, Frank Gardner, was completely out of line.
“The conversation should have remained private, and the BBC and Frank deeply regret this breach of confidence," the broadcaster said in a statement.
Buckingham Palace said it would not comment on the matter.
The episode occurred on the BBC Today program, an influential public-affairs morning radio show. Gardner, the broadcaster’s security correspondent, was speaking about Abu Hamza, an Egyptian cleric who settled in Britain and preached violent anti-British jihad at a North London mosque.
The British government has been trying for years to extradite Hamza to the United States, where he is wanted in connection with, among other things, trying to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon. On Monday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the extradition would not violate his human rights, a rulinng that clears the way for Hamza’s removal from Britain.
As Gardner discussed the case, he was suddenly overcome by a desire to name-drop perhaps the biggest name it is possible to drop here.
“Actually, I can tell you that the queen was pretty upset that there was no way to arrest him," he blurted out, speaking of the time some years ago when Hamza was still operating freely at the mosque. “She couldn’t understand — surely there was some way to arrest him?"
The program’s clearly shocked host, James Naughtie, then said, “That’s a fascinating piece of information, Frank."
“Yes, I thought I’d drop that in," Gardner replied. “She told me."