In the refined environment of Windsor Castle, a calmness is slowly being re-established following the tremors of that Oprah Winfrey interview.
When not at her desk working, the Queen is said to enjoy playing cards with her lady-in-waiting.
‘There is a sense of order, not panic,’ a source says. After all, there are more pressing national matters than the Sussexes’ salvo of woes.
Worries about the global pandemic and financial earthquake apart, the Queen was greatly relieved to welcome home her husband after four weeks of hospital treatment.
Prince Philip, less than 100 days shy of his 100th birthday, is said to be in good spirits. Yet for all the outward calm, something profound has changed at Windsor – and decisively so.
Throughout her 69 years on the throne, the Queen has been the soul of discretion when it comes to her private thoughts and opinions. Aside from a love of dogs and horses, her feelings have largely remained a secret. But a little less so now.
For these are extraordinary times for the Royal Family. In response to Harry and Meghan’s incendiary and hurtful accusations – addressed to a global TV audience of millions – the Queen has responded with a show of force.
She has made it as clear as possible that she, and she alone, remains in charge. Such leadership is vital. The Sussexes’ claims are not just hurtful, they are dangerous to the image of the Windsors and of Britain as a country.
At best, our Monarchy was branded stuffy and staid. At worst, cruel and racist. The storm clouds from the Sussexes’ Californian home have been brewing for some time.
And ever since then, we’ve seen the hand and the mind of the Queen more than ever. Take, for example, the uncompromising way in which Harry was stripped of his honours and patronages, the couple banned from carrying out engagements on behalf of the Queen, and from using their HRH titles to further their financial interests.
No longer were the Queen’s views judiciously concealed. She was unhappy and acted swiftly. The Queen let it be known that she was not only ‘disappointed’ but also ‘hurt’.
Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Her Majesty’s reaction to the Sussexes’ behaviour has revealed more about her decision-making than at any time in her reign so far – apart, perhaps, from the days following Princess Diana’s death.
For the Sussexes’ ‘victim statements’ to Oprah Winfrey were not merely unexpected in their severity but they destabilised the Royal machine. Prince Charles had been targeted. William had been criticised. His wife had been given a verbal mauling.
With the Royal Family under siege from Harry’s Hollywood howitzers – so blatant that one Royal watcher described them as ‘tantamount to treason’ – retribution had to be sharp and very public.
Of course, this doesn’t mean there is no love between the divided Royals. There still is. But with the love there is also deep sadness and a sense of grief. Particularly over the Sussexes’ not-even veiled allegations of racism.
It has been firmly made clear on behalf of the Queen and her staff that the Royal Family disagrees in the strongest terms with their version of events. A statement, noticeable for its brevity, said that while ‘recollections may vary’, the Sussexes’ concerns were being taken ‘very seriously’.
The interview was tantamount to treason… the retribution had to be sharp
Sources say this statement had the full backing of both Prince Charles and Prince William. Meanwhile, at Buckingham Palace, an inquiry – or a ‘review’ as aides euphemistically prefer to call it – has been launched after an email emerged showing a complaint had been made about the Duchess of Sussex’s ‘unacceptable’ and ‘bullying’ behaviour towards staff when she lived at Kensington Palace.
Meghan denies the claim and her lawyers have dismissed it as a ‘smear campaign’. While it is the Royal Family’s duty to remain calm, the tense mood in the Green Drawing Room at Windsor Castle has been noted below stairs, with Palace servants unsettled by the family ructions and allegations against loyal staff.
As one insider said: ‘The place feels like a crumbling mansion – with no one in charge of the housekeeping.’ With the institution of the Monarchy under attack from 24-hour US news channels, there has been bombshell after bombshell.
The days following the Oprah interview have seen a running commentary on the Sussexes’ gripes from Meghan’s friend, Gayle King, the CBS TV anchor. King told millions of viewers on Wednesday that the conciliatory phone calls from the Prince of Wales and Prince William to Harry in the aftermath of the interview were ‘not productive’.
It is hard to understand exactly what the Sussexes’ friends think the couple might gain from all of this. After all, any future phone calls are hardly likely to be more ‘productive’ if Charles and William fear that details of their conversations – perhaps even verbatim quotes – will be broadcast on prime-time TV within moments of hanging up.
And how must they have felt to learn that part of the deal to screen the Oprah interview involved an agreement that it would be pulled from the schedules in the sad event of Prince Philip’s death.
Perhaps this is considered good PR in California. In Windsor, they are simply baffled. They are also concerned by one particularly dangerous accusation that has, so far, been little-noticed.
This was the insinuation by the Sussexes to Oprah that there is some sort of distinction between the Queen – whom they have been at pains to say is blameless – and the institution of Monarchy itself.
Just two days before the couple announced that they were to step down as working Royals, Harry discovered that despite an earlier invitation to visit the Queen at Sandringham, he was stopped from going.
‘We asked if we could come to see her,’ Meghan told Oprah. ‘Yeah,’ said Harry. ‘“Come up to Sandringham. Love to have a chat. Come for tea. Why don’t you stay for dinner? It’s going to be a long drive and you’re gonna be exhausted.” We’d love that.
Her Majesty can do what she chooses – there is no sinister organisation
‘The moment we landed in the UK, I got a message… from the Queen’s private secretary basically saying, please pass along to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that he cannot come to Norfolk. The Queen is busy. She’s busy all week.’
While not blaming his grandmother personally, he claimed the Queen had received ‘really bad’ advice from courtiers – the ‘men in grey suits’, as Meghan is said to have described them.
Harry suggested this was a snub and the implication was that the Queen had no free will and was dictated to by courtiers. Incredulous at the idea that Her Majesty’s aides, not her, were calling the shots, Oprah asked: ‘Doesn’t the Queen get to do what the Queen wants to do?’ Harry replied: ‘No. When you’re head of The Firm, there are people around you that give you advice.
What has also made me really sad is some of that advice has been really bad.’ No wonder Palace aides are so furious. To try to separate the Monarch from the Monarchy strikes at everything the Royal Family stands for. One source said: ‘Her Majesty can do – and does do – what she chooses.
The Queen is not some sort of puppet. The Queen is the Monarch. The head of the Monarchy. The head of the Royal Family. Her Majesty is the institution. It’s not run by a sinister organisation, which is what the Sussexes seemed to be suggesting.’ The Sussexes went out of their way during their Oprah interview not to criticise the Queen personally.
Indeed, they repeatedly told warm anecdotes about her. Cynics have suggested that this may have been because they were well aware how their popularity had plummeted in Britain and how much further it would fall if they disrespected the Queen. Regardless, the damage had been done.
It didn’t help either that they had already said – in what was seen as a challenge to a staid, unreformed Monarchy – that they themselves would ‘carve out a progressive new role within this institution’.
Interestingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the episode has given renewed prominence to Prince William, who has played an important role in helping the Palace hold the line.
Like the Queen, his response has been deeply personal. As a future King, he could hardly keep silent when asked about the racism allegations, replying during a visit to a London school: ‘We are very much not a racist family.’
Those who have worked with both William and his father say that William is more likely to address something head-on. Charles feels deeply but by nature avoids confrontation. William is increasingly acting as The Firm’s ‘gatekeeper’ – a role previously performed by Prince Philip.
Royal biographer Robert Lacey describes the task as ‘Royal bouncer’ – a much grander version of a nightclub doorman keeping trouble at bay.
William is now the Royal Family bouncer keeping any trouble at bay
William was said to be incandescent that his wife was dragged into the firing line during the Oprah interview and that his subsequent phone call with Harry was leaked and then reported on American television in such a vulgar way.
Confrontation with his younger brother is not something William is fond of, but nor is it something from which he shies away. His ‘bouncer’ duties are bound to increase, with Charles having less of a stomach for the fight and the Duke of Edinburgh having retired from the fray.
Incidentally, a well-placed source has told The Mail on Sunday that the ever-practical Philip has long made his future wishes clear. When the time comes – which all hope will be some way off – there should be a ‘no-fuss’ funeral.
One source said: ‘Philip has told the Queen that he should just be driven off to the Chapel in Windsor in the back of a Land Rover. No fanfare. No fuss.’ There is likely to be plenty more fuss emanating from the Sussexes’ £11 million Montecito mansion, however.
But Her Majesty, a dedicated card player, knows the rules of patience – and will not allow Harry and Meghan to derail the Monarchy she has worked so hard to maintain.
Queen plans diversity drive: Royals will boost existing programmes as Harry and Meghan’s accusations of racism claims are blamed for ‘unproductive’ peace talks with William and Charles
The Queen is to appoint a diversity tsar to modernise the Monarchy, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Sources say the proposed move is an acknowledgment that ‘more needs to be done’ to champion minorities’ rights and follows the explosive claims made by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex of institutional racism.
As part of a major drive encompassing Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace, aides will undertake a ‘listen and learn’ exercise over the coming weeks which will involve speaking to a range of businesses and individuals about how the Monarchy can improve representation.
Plans seen by this newspaper detail how the Palace will ‘seek independent views’ to help assess and improve the approach to diversity – including ethnic minorities, the disabled and the gay and trans communities.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex during their two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey
The potential recruitment of a diversity chief to champion reform is also set out.
A Royal source said: ‘This is an issue which has been taken very seriously across the Households.
‘We have the policies, procedures and programmes in place but we haven’t seen the progress we would like and accept more needs to be done. We can always improve.
‘We are not afraid to look at new ways of approaching it. The work to do this has been under way for some time now and comes with the full support of the family.’
The project has been given fresh impetus as Harry and Meghan appear to step up their battle with the Royal Family over racism.
In their interview with Oprah Winfrey, they claimed a family member asked how dark their son Archie’s skin might be – although their accounts differed as to whether the alleged comment was made before or during pregnancy.
Ms Winfrey responded: ‘Because they were concerned that if he were too brown, that that would be a problem? Are you saying that?’
Meghan replied: ‘I wasn’t able to follow up with why, but if that’s the assumption you’re making, I think that feels like a pretty safe one.’
The Queen is to appoint a diversity tsar to modernise the Monarchy as part of a major drive encompassing Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle attending the Commonwealth Day Service 2020
Prince Harry said racism had been a major factor in the couple’s decision to move to California.
Lawyers draft bully probe questions
A law firm brought in by Buckingham Palace to review the handling of claims that the Duchess of Sussex bullied staff is drafting questions to be sent to current and former employees.
The allegations – angrily denied by the Duchess –were made in October 2018 when Jason Knauf, then Meghan and Harry’s communications secretary, detailed his concerns in an email to Simon Case, then the Duke of Cambridge’s private secretary.
In the email, published this month by The Times, Mr Knauf wrote: ‘I am very concerned that the Duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household… The treatment of [X, name redacted] was totally unacceptable… The Duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights. She is bullying [Y] and seeking to undermine her confidence.’
A spokesman for the Sussexes said the couple were victims of a calculated smear campaign, adding that the Duchess was ‘saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself’.
An independent law firm is assessing if ‘lessons can be learnt’ from the handling of the original complaint with aides past and present invited to contribute.
A Palace spokesman declined to comment, but a source said the public should not expect ‘a running commentary’ on the inquiry, which is unlikely to conclude until next year.
Ms Winfrey later conveyed that the alleged comment had not been made by either the Queen or the Duke of Edinburgh.
In a statement two days after the initial broadcast on the US TV network CBS, Buckingham Palace insisted it took the couple’s claims – particularly on race – ‘very seriously’, but pointedly added that ‘recollections may vary’, suggesting some allegations are disputed.
Prince William said later: ‘We are very much not a racist family.’ But The Mail on Sunday understands the issue of racism continues to sour the relationship between Harry, his father and his brother – and was the reason Gayle King, a US chat-show host and friend of Harry and Meghan, last week described recent phone calls between them as ‘not productive’.
It is understood that the Sussexes feel that while disputed allegations of bullying made against Meghan are the subject of an independent review ordered by the Palace, the claims of racism aren’t under formal investigation.
In an intervention criticised for reigniting the furore, Miss King last week said the Duchess has ‘documents to back up everything she said’, adding: ‘It’s frustrating for them to see that it’s a racial conversation about the Royal Family when all they wanted all along was for the Royals to intervene and tell the Press to stop with the unfair, inaccurate, false stories that definitely have a racial slant.’
Palace insiders emphasise the Royal Family’s strong track record of celebrating diversity, particularly through their support of hundreds of charities in Britain and throughout the Commonwealth.
Prince Charles has even faced criticism for championing diversity.
In 1994, there were critical headlines after he said he wanted to be ‘Defender of Faith’ rather than ‘Defender of the Faith’ when he ascends the throne and becomes head of the Church of England.
Prince William has repeatedly spoken out against racism, backing high-profile campaigns including those run by the FA.