UK royals in new race row as brothers hit US east coast
LONDON - A senior figure quit the royal household on Wednesday and apologised for repeatedly asking a black British woman where she was “really” from, plunging Buckingham Palace into a fresh racism row.
Ms Susan Hussey’s resignation came just as Prince William and his wife Kate were beginning their first visit to the United States in eight years, and after claims of racism were made by his brother Harry and mixed-race sister-in-law, Meghan.
Both brothers were due to attend separate functions in the eastern US but were not expected to meet.
Prince William, the heir to the throne, was forced to part ways with one of his godmothers, as King Charles III moved rapidly to evict Ms Hussey from the royal household.
The hurtful exchange took place at a palace reception on Tuesday, and was revealed on Twitter by charity campaigner Ngozi Fulani.
The UK-born Ms Fulani, who works with survivors of domestic abuse, said the 83-year-old courtier repeatedly asked where she was “really” from, refusing to accept her explanation that she was British.
It is the most serious controversy to hit the royal family since Charles succeeded his mother in September.
Ms Hussey was not just any courtier – she was at Queen Elizabeth II’s side for six decades. But she was unceremoniously dumped as Charles and William sought to draw a line under the row.
Last year, Harry and Meghan accused an unidentified royal of racism with regard to their unborn baby.
Then, William had retorted: “We are very much not a racist family.”
This time, a spokesman for the royal couple told reporters in Boston: “Racism has no place in our society. These comments were unacceptable, and it’s right that the individual has stepped aside with immediate effect.”
Meanwhile, from their new lives in California, Harry and Meghan have been portraying themselves as modernising outsiders trying to take on a reactionary establishment.
But for their critics, the couple, the duke and duchess of Sussex, are cashing in after quitting royal duties. A new Netflix documentary is imminent, and the prince’s autobiography Spare is due out in January.
When Meghan entered the family, the lady-in-waiting was assigned to educate her in royal protocol, a role that Ms Hussey had also served in for William and Harry’s mother Diana. But Meghan rejected the offer, according to one biographer.
Ms Fulani, chief executive of the London-based Sistah Space group, said she was asked where she was from, and replied Hackney, in north-east London, prompting the woman whom she identified only as “Lady SH” to ask: “No, what part of Africa are you from?“
Ms Fulani said she was born and raised in the UK and was British but the woman persisted.
“Where do you really come from, where do your people come from? ...When did you first come here?“ she was asked.
Ms Fulani was forced to say she was “of African heritage, Caribbean descent”.
The exchange, she wrote on Twitter, left her with “mixed feelings” about the reception, which was hosted by Queen Consort Camilla to highlight violence against women and girls.
Women’s Equality Party leader Mandu Reid, who witnessed the exchange, called it “grim” and like an “interrogation”.
Labour MP Diane Abbott, the first black woman to sit in the House of Commons when she was elected in the 1980s, said it was “really shocking” that a black Briton’s identity could be interrogated in this way.
But she told Times Radio that Buckingham Palace had made “progress” on race issues in the past 10 years. Back then, “they would have said she (Ms Fulani) was oversensitive and just dismissed it”, said Ms Abbott.
Buckingham Palace said it took the incident “extremely seriously” and called the comments “unacceptable and deeply regrettable”.
“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,” a statement read.
“In the meantime, the individual concerned would like to express her profound apologies for the hurt caused and has stepped aside from her honorary role with immediate effect.”
Camilla has scrapped the formal roles of ladies in waiting, but Ms Hussey, whose late husband was a former BBC chairman, was kept on as a royal retainer by King Charles III.