EXCLUSIVE: BBC News’ search for its first royal editor has been blown wide open after the British broadcaster passed over two leading internal candidates.

The BBC has advertised the royal editor post externally for the first time, just days after it was expected to be offered to either Mark Easton, BBC News’ home editor, or royal correspondent Daniela Relph.

The prestige on-air role is likely to attract interest from high-profile external candidates, with BBC sources already speculating that Roya Nikkhah, The Sunday Times royal editor and CBS News contributor, would be the candidate to beat, should she wish to apply.

There is anger, however, that Easton and Relph have been overlooked. “The whole thing stinks,” said an insider familiar with the process. A second person added: “Daniela and Mark are very very unhappy.”

Several sources said Easton, a vastly experienced BBC journalist, was asked to complete a written test as part of his application process, which one person said sounded like a “GCSE English” exam.

Relph has reported on the royals for more than a decade and led BBC News’ coverage of Kate Middleton‘s cancer diagnosis. BBC colleagues said she was more than qualified to step up, praising her for being “excellent and lovely.”

The BBC and Easton declined to comment. Relph did not respond to a request for comment.

Among the potential external candidates, Nikkhah is highly regarded by the BBC having featured in set piece coverage, including commentating on Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee alongside David Dimbleby.

ITV News’ royal editor Chris Ship is considered a contender having worked closely with BBC News CEO Deborah Turness during their time together at ITN. Rhiannon Mills, Sky News’ royal correspondent, also has admirers.

The successful candidate will step into a newly-created role, but effectively replaces Nicholas Witchell, who retired as a BBC royal correspondent after 25 years.

The royal editor job advert makes clear that stories about the monarchy are “reputationally critically important” to the BBC and require a “great deal of experience, expertise and editorial judgement.”

Amid accusations that the BBC is sometimes cautious with its output, the successful candidate will be expected to cater for the “significant audience interest in stories reflecting personal aspects of the royals and recent controversies.”

It added: “They will also, when appropriate, be expected to hold the monarchy to account and represent the views of the audience.”

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