Former Glenview resident Fred Weintraub used to think of the British royal family as just another shallow celebrity household that happens to occupy a castle that dates back to William the Conqueror in the 11th century.
"Are they really any different from the Kardashians?" Weintraub remembers thinking.
But as a 57-year-old reporter who has covered the royal family for nearly a decade for various news outlets, Weintraub says, "I gained a whole new respect for what they do."
Weintraub will share some of his insights this week in print, on radio and on TV during the buildup to Saturday's wedding between Prince Harry, son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, and Meghan Markle, a Northwestern University graduate, former lifestyle blogger and actress best known for playing the tenacious lawyer Rachel Zane in the TV show "Suits" on the USA Network.
"Harry and Meghan have broken all the rules of British tradition, and the queen has let them break the rules," Weintraub notes. Just as Markle, a divorced actress with a black mother and a white father, doesn't fit the stereotype for a British princess, Weintraub took an unusual path to his royal reporting gig.
A graduate of Bradley University, Weintraub got his start as an on-air television reporter chasing down fires and breaking news in small markets. Chasing down the royals in the United Kingdom requires those same reporting skills, but with a British twist.
"Screaming and yelling isn't a big turnon in the U.K.," Weintraub says, explaining how royal reporters generally are respectful these days and the royal family works hard to protect its privacy.
"They are not going to sit down with me," Weintraub says, noting that only time he has talked with a royal family member was during a Q&A with lesser-known Princess Anne at a small gathering. But the palace does issue news releases, including personal appearances in public.
"I would go to some of these events," Weintraub says. "It's not hard to figure out where they will be. I've been five feet away from the queen."
He recently snapped a close-up photo of Prince Harry and Markle with his iPhone, noting that the prince seemed to recognize him and smile.
"I just got tipped off they were going to be participating in a memorial service," Weintraub says. "I just knew where I needed to stand. One day I'd like to do a photo exhibit: 'How to Catch the Royal Family on your iPhone.'"
He's gotten tips from cabdrivers, other reporters and sources he has been nice to for years, he says. When Prince William and Kate Middleton got married in 2011, Weintraub provided details and insights to radio and television stations back in Chicago. Last month, "I knew when Kate was in labor," Weintraub says, explaining how he immediately went on the air at 3 a.m. on WGN radio before the birth of royal baby Louis Arthur Charles. Weintraub will appear on WGN radio Wednesday, WVON radio Thursday and be the "royal correspondent" for WCIU-TV's morning TV show, "The Jam," on Thursday and Friday. He'll be in Chicago during the royal wedding.
A former general manager of WEHS-TV in Aurora, Weintraub has spent most of his career as executive producer of sports for Weigel Broadcasting Co., where he produces the high school game of the week. When his wife's promotion in 2009 required her to live in London and make frequent trips to Houston, Weintraub followed and now splits his time among those cities and Chicago.
His website, worldlyfellow.com, features all sorts of royal news. He says he feels at home in the town of Windsor surrounding Windsor Castle where the wedding will take place.
"I would compare it to Arlington Heights or Glencoe," says Weintraub, who has come to a new understanding of the royal family as a tourist attraction and force for good.
"For all the haters in the world, the royal family heads hundreds of charities," Weintraub says. "They are doing four events a day. It's not just for show. They are raising millions of pounds for hundreds of charities."
As for Saturday's wedding, many Americans are expected to watch the proceedings live on television and online beginning at 3 a.m. Chicago time with the wedding slated for 6 a.m., or a 3½-hour rebroadcast beginning at 10 a.m. in select movie theaters.
"Americans care about the wedding, because with so many bad things happening, if there is a feel-good moment, we are part of that," Weintraub says. "Everybody likes a decent love story."