'Quite a lot' seems a bit weak. 'Loads of people' then begged the question: 'Well how many.'
So the merry band of royal writers, known as the 'Ratpack' by Buckingham Palace, gauged the crowd's size by the following scientific method. We wrote down numbers from say two to fifteen on a piece of paper as if on the face of a clock. The two end numbers would represent what we roughly guessed as the numbers present. Then one of our number, Ashley Walton from the Daily Express perhaps, or veteran royal correspondent James Whitaker, known by Diana as the Big Red Fat Tomato, (affectionately of course) would pick up a stone close his eyes and drop said stone on to the paper.
If the stone landed between say the eight and nine we would estimate that the crowd was 8500 unless the figure was so preposterous then we would ask the numbers Ouija board the question once again. Once the Ouija board had spoken, all the media would agree on the number. In the long wait before Diana's fragrant arrival, at say a town hall or hospital, it was a happy and amusing way of whiling away the hours.
Everyone was happy. As correspondents we were covering our backs. We wouldn't have our daily offerings queried by the news desk or copy editors as differing figures came in from outside news agencies. There was a fact involved. Editors always like facts. As in a crowd of 10000 watched as.... You soon learned in royal reporting that a fact was the Holy Grail that you could spend weeks, nay months, searching for.
I was reminded of this harmless ceremony in the discussions over the viewing figures for the royal wedding. Now as rudimentary and cynically self-serving as this hitherto forgotten royal ritual was, it is the acme of scientific process when compared to the wild and fanciful musings of the British culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Before the royal wedding he briefed Cabinet that he and his department expected two billion people around the world to tune into the wedding. That is three times more than the 750 million who watched Charles and Diana pledge their troth. It was a figure that raced around the world. Given the world's population is, according to the US Census Bureau, currently 6.9 billion it meant that one third of planet Earth were planning to sit glued in front of their TV sets.
Now that the viewing figures are drifting in, you have to wonder what drugs Jeremy Hunt was on when he made that claim. Cos he was certainly on the high side.
In Britain a country of some 60 million, around 27 million watched the wedding on TV, mainly the BBC. That is a substantial minority of the population and it does not include street parties and those who actually thronged the streets of London to watch the big day themselves. So let's be generous and say, half the British population of 61 million were involved. It was after all the British royal family so this kind of figure is to be expected. Plus everyone got a day off work.
Now let's turn to the Commonwealth. In Australia, population around 22 million, some six million people watched the pomp and circumstance. That's just under a quarter of the population. Very respectable indeed. TV producers were thrilled.
Let's have a look at America whose networks sent some 4,500 technicians and correspondents such as Katie Couric and Barbara Walters to cover the affair - more than the D-Day landings. According to the TV Guide around 23 million Americans turned in. Very respectable, but only seven percent of the actual population of 310 million.
I mention Britain, America and Australia as they sent the largest contingent of journalists to cover the spectacle. During the wedding there was a distinct absence of Russian, Chinese and Indian journalists, who make up a decent proportion of the world's population. Call me an old-fashioned Trot but taking a wild guess, I would think that the People's Republic of China would not go big on the wedding of an hereditary monarch. And the last time I looked HDTV has not yet arrived in Poona or Hyderabad.
So let's add up the figures so far. Britain, America and Australia - a grand total of 59 million. Let's throw in New Zealand, Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth and you might approach 70 million.
Just to put it into perspective when Barbara Walters interviewed Monica Lewinsky in March 1999, more than 73 million Americans - and that's not counting the viewing figures elsewhere in the world - tuned into to hear her talk about her relationship with former President Bill Clinton.
Does that mean Monica is more popular than Kate and William? Of course not. But we are a long ways away from two BILLION. The moral of this story is simple. When a politician bandies around figures take a deep breath and repeat the following acronym: W. M. D. -- Weapons of Mass Destruction.