Famed Royal Biographer Judy Wade, Who Chronicled Princess Diana's Ups and Downs, Dies

Wade was a trailblazer among royal reporters, getting to know Diana, her sons, Sarah Ferguson and more

Judy Wade
Judy Wade. Photo: Mark Stewart

Reporters don't like to admit it, but they are often placed at the edge of high-profile events, just near enough to hear and see the action but not close to the VIPs.

But when veteran royal watcher Judy Wade sat in the congregation at St. Paul’s Cathedral for the 1981 wedding of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles, she wryly noted in The Sun that she was closer to the bride than the tip of Diana’s own 25 ft. train.

It was classic Judy Wade – placing readers right there, so they could almost smell the cathedral’s candles burning.

A light has gone out for many on the royal beat this week, almost four decades after that historic wedding date. Wade died over the weekend at the Whittington hospital in London following a brief illness.

Wade was a fan of PEOPLE, guiding me and others with the insight and anecdotes she had gained from years on the road following the royals. Working mainly at Hello! magazine in the U.K. and contributing to other outlets around the world, including in her native Australia, she made her name during the heady days of royal coverage in the 1980s and 1990s, when Diana was on almost every magazine cover worldwide. She also authored several books — including The Truth, in which she spoke with some of those close to Diana. She also helped famed royals photographer Arthur Edwards with I’ll Tell The Jokes, Arthur – a title that came from a light-hearted put-down from Diana to The Sun photographer.

I first met Judy more than 20 years ago when I started covering the royals beat, and she was generous with her time and guidance as to the best ways to cover subjects who rarely speak directly to journalists.

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She was something of a trailblazer, one of the only women on the royal beat, traveling the world often on the same planes as the people she wrote about. Along the way, she would chat with Diana and get to know Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson and her daughters – relationships she maintained to her death.

Judy Wade
Judy Wade with Sarah Ferguson and Fergie's daughters Beatrice (left) and Eugenie. Mark Stewart

Her intuition for situations and people was the root of much of her reporting, too. Former newspaper executive Roy Greenslade told PEOPLE’s documentary The Story of Diana in 2017 that Judy had a hunch that things weren’t right in Diana’s marriage. Despite her colleagues detecting no problems, she sensed changes in the couple’s body language when they were on outings and tours.

Judy Wade
Judy Wade with Queen Elizabeth. Mark Stewart

That kind of insight gave her the ticket to countless TV studios and documentary locations, and she became a fixture on screens across the globe.

Wade was so well known and well connected, in fact, she has been fondly remembered by former palace staffers — despite the fact that she wasn’t afraid to call out the palace or the royals if she felt they deserved critique — as well as members of the media this week.

Since retiring in 2015, Wade was able to spend more time with her daughter Jordan McGarry and grandson Joss, 5, and granddaughter Joely, 3.

Before then, she brought her wedding coverage full circle — attending Prince William and Kate Middleton's ceremony at Westminster Abbey in 2011. Her daughter Jordan believes she was the only journalist to have been inside both St. Paul’s and the Abbey for the two historic modern-day royal weddings.

Judy Wade
Judy Wade. Mark Stewart

Prince William would find that poignant, as he’d been known to joke to her that she probably knew more about his life than he does, such was her longevity in covering his family.

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