THE CANON AND THE WEDDING

ELDRID Retief, the news editor at the Argus Group’s London Bureau, had a habit of never stopping to talk to anyone who wanted to discuss anything with him.

He was always doing something else – and I always got the impression that he was only half-listening to what others had to say.

But one Friday, in 1981, I got him to stop dead in his tracks….

“Can I go to Oliver Tambo’s daughter’s wedding tomorrow?” I asked.

His eyes went big and his response was a tentative: “Have you been invited?”

“No,” I smirked, “but Thembi Tambo is also getting married at St Paul’s.”

He started moving around again and said: “All right, then – but just do a colour piece. We can’t quote Tambo.”

Just two days earlier, I was one of a team of reporters at the Bureau who had covered ourselves in a fair amount of glory for the way we reported on the wedding of Charles, the Prince of Wales and Diana Spencer.

A wonderful writer called Garner Thompson sat behind a TV and typed, without hesitation, while the rest of us looked out of windows, walked into the packed crowds to interview, usually, pretty women, and generally looked for anything to write about to add to the mood of the occasion.

We even counted the horse shit before the horse-shit-picker-uppers did their job.

The Tambo wedding was going to get only me covering it – but I was convinced it was going to be far more interesting than watching the royal family and others clip-clopping down Fleet Street in open, horse-drawn carriages.

The Tambo ceremony was not held in the main St Pauls, where Charles and Di tied the knot, but in a side chapel.

The officiating priest was Canon John Collins, one of the great anti-apartheid fighters, who was eventually expelled from South Africa by the Nats.

Back in the UK, he helped found the Defence and Aid Fund, an organisation which collected money and then smuggled it into South Africa to help pay the legal fees of anti-apartheid fighters charged with political “offences”.

That sunny Saturday, many of South Africa’s most notorious “terrorists”, dressed to the Nines in top-hats and tailcoats, joked and laughed and shared in the happiness of newly-weds Thembi and her British banker husband Martin Kingston.

And OR, dapper and upright, was every bit the proud father.