Ruthless royals have learned lessons of past mistakes

Lady Susan with the late Queen - Ian Jones
Lady Susan with the late Queen - Ian Jones

The speed with which Buckingham Palace dealt with Lady Susan Hussey speaks to a ruthless efficiency that has helped the monarchy to endure for more than a thousand years.

One of Britain’s leading noblewomen, Lady Hussey had served the Crown since Prince Andrew’s birth in 1960 and received the Elizabeth II version of the Royal Household Long and Faithful Service Medal with 30, 40, 50 and 60-year bars.

Yet having attended literally thousands of royal engagements over the past six decades, it was a solitary encounter with black British charity director Ngozi Fulani on Tuesday night that proved to be the formidable 83-year-old’s undoing.

When, the next morning, the UK-born head of east London charity Sistah Space complained on Twitter that she had been “violated” by repeated questions about where she “really” came from, Lady Hussey expressed “her profound apologies for the hurt caused” and stepped aside from her honorary role with immediate effect.

The similarly “immediate” nature of the palace’s investigation, along with its statement confirming that “in this instance, unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments have been made” suggest lessons have indeed been learned from the mistakes of the past – regardless of what royal detractors might say.

The palace spokesman even appeared to channel Harry and Meghan in insisting “we have reached out to Ngozi Fulani on this matter, and are inviting her to discuss all elements of her experience in person if she wishes”.

Ever since the Duke and Duchess of Sussex accused a member of the Royal family of making a racist remark about their son Archie, there is no room for dither or delay when addressing complaints of such seriousness - especially when they are going viral on social media.

That’s why the Prince of Wales, having previously insisted “we are not a racist family” in response to his brother and sister-in-law's claims, was quick to convey his own disappointment in his godmother via a spokesman who said Prince William thinks “the course of action taken is correct”.

Having made efforts to be more diverse and inclusive since Harry and Meghan dropped their Oprah bombshell, including ensuring that the royals interact with a wide range of people from different backgrounds on engagements, this is the last thing The Firm needed.

The timing could not have been worse, either, having overshadowed both the Queen Consort’s worthy initiative to honour those campaigning against domestic abuse and violence against women and William and Kate’s three day trip to Boston.

With last year’s tour of the Caribbean having been marred by another race row, the couple and their aides had been hoping this week’s US charm offensive would reset the dial on Anglo-American royal relations, not least with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex about to unleash a new Netflix documentary, and Harry’s autobiography, Spare. It is also more than mildly inconvenient that Lady Hussey has stepped down just days after her daughter Lady Katherine Brooke assumed the role of one of Camilla’s six "Queen's Companions".

Lady Katherine Brooke with husband Sir Francis - Alpha Press
Lady Katherine Brooke with husband Sir Francis - Alpha Press

The awkwardness of the situation perhaps explains why it was left to private secretaries Sir Clive Alderton and Sir Edward Young to speak to Lady Hussey - although the King and Queen Consort “were made fully aware of the circumstances and were fully aware of the outcome”.

According to a royal source, this would have been standard practice: “The principals wouldn't have been directly involved, and you wouldn’t have ladies-in-waiting dealt with by the HR department so it would have come down to the private secretaries.”

Denying the incident was “symptomatic of a wider malaise”, another palace insider stressed that “diversity and inclusivity lie at the heart of everything we do”, adding: “You’ll have seen some of the work His Majesty has done in this area which has been of enormous benefit - he cares passionately and deeply about diversity and inclusion, not only within his own household and wider world. It’s also deeply regrettable that all the brilliant work the Queen Consort has done in a very important area, culminating in Tuesday night’s reception at Buckingham Palace, has been overshadowed.”

Yet that will not be enough to persuade the Royals’ fiercest critics. As activist and Sussex cheerleader Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu tweeted: “Meghan Markle and Prince Harry told you of racism in Royal family & household. But she was vilified, abused & violated for speaking the truth.

“Ngozi Fulani’s experience with Lady Susan Hussey wasn’t isolated, one off or a ‘bad apple’ at Buckingham Palace.You can’t reform this.”

She also criticised the fact that Lady Hussey “got to resign instead of being fired” and called on the Queen Consort to personally apologise.

Queen's reception - PA
Queen's reception - PA

Some may argue that as a long-standing lady in waiting, and respected woman of her generation, not to mention one of Elizabeth II’s closest confidantes, Lady Hussey had earned the right to be treated with a degree of dignity. As one former aide pointed out, she had no contract of employment and wouldn’t have been paid for more than half a century of royal service.

“If the narrative is correct it just sounds completely out of character,” they added. “I’ve genuinely never ever heard her express anything remotely offensive but what she is alleged to have said clearly is offensive.”

Yet she did not just become a casualty of her own ill-judged comments, or even a cancel culture that has permeated society since before the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

She also fell victim to an institution that has always historically insulated itself from its own - be they outspoken “women of the bedchamber” or actual members of the Royal family.

Lady Hussey didn’t become Queen Elizabeth’s “Number One Head Girl” without developing an acute understanding of how the monarchy works.

Once you become a hindrance rather than a help - you have no choice but to jump before you’re pushed.