Born in Cheltenham, he was educated at Cheltenham College. Initially working as an articled clerk in an accountancy firm, in 1963, he became a reporter at the Hounslow, Brentford and Chiswick Post. In 1966, Whitaker scored his first scoop when he went undercover working as a cloakroom attendant in the newly opened Playboy Club in London. In 1967, he moved to the Daily Mail, and in 1971, joined the William Hickey column team at the Daily Express.
In 1975, he joined The Sun, where he struck up a lifelong friendship with Royal photographer Arthur Edwards. As a result, in 1979, he joined the team on the launch of the Daily Star as its Royal reporter. He then moved to the Daily Mirror.
In November 1982, the Daily Mirror assistant editor, Anne Robinson, attended a formal dinner attended by Queen Elizabeth II, at which she noted that Diana, Princess of Wales arrived late. Robinson asked Whitaker to investigate and, after conversations with various sources, including Diana's sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale, confirmed that Diana was suffering from an eating disorder, then identified as anorexia, in a scoop article on 19 November. As a result, the Buckingham Palace Press Secretary, Michael Shea, rang then Mirror's editor Mike Molloy to demand the removal of those involved in the story. Robinson left the paper to start her television career, and it was later confirmed that Diana suffered from bulimia.
Whitaker wrote the book Diana v. Charles which chronicled the deterioration of the relationship between Diana and Prince Charles.
Whitaker was Royal Correspondent for the ITV television programme This Morning. In 2004, he took part in the reality television programme Celebrity Fit Club and was made team captain for the final three weeks and "Mr Fit Club 2004". He was one of three judges on Australia's Australian Princess television programme.
- Telegraph obituary
- "James Whitaker, former Daily Mirror royal editor, dies". BBC News. BBC. 15 February 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
- James Whitaker dies
- Prince, Bill (20 July 2011). "The story behind Playboy Club London - GQ Comment - GQ.COM (UK)". Gq-magazine.co.uk. Archived from the original on 12 January 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
- Greenslade, Roy (15 February 2012). "James Whitaker, the royal reporters' royal reporter, dies at 71 | Media | guardian.co.uk". The Guardian. London: GMG. ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
- "You Can't Fire Me, I'm Famous" - BBC1, Anne Robinson in interview with Piers Morgan - 7 August 2007
- Rob Leigh (15 February 2012). "A true Fleet Street legend": Royal correspondent James Whitaker dies aged 71". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
- Obituary on BBC Radio 4's Last Word http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01by9ll#p00pb1jx