Let this be a reminder that I’m an equal opportunist critic. Yesterday, The Times reported that an investigation into claims that the Duchess of Sussex “bullied” her staff during her tenure as a working royal will never be published. The inquiry was led by Buckingham Palace, conducted by an independent law firm, and paid for by the Queen herself. News of this first broke on the eve of Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey in March of last year. The timing was hardly coincidental.
From The Times:
“It is understood they will be kept under wraps to protect the privacy of those who took part and to limit tensions between the Sussexes and the palace. Courtiers have insisted the inquiry, which was launched in March last year, should ‘not be played out in public’ to ensure those who took part felt ‘comfortable’.
“Some participants are deeply disappointed the report is being ‘buried’.
“It is understood that the inquiry only recently concluded but those who took part have not been informed of its outcome which has caused upset.”
Previously it had been expected that investigation’s conclusions and/or recommendations would be included in the annual Sovereign Grant report due out later this month. Not only will that *not* be the case, but Buckingham Palace will make no further statement. All we know, via unofficial/anonymous sources, is that BP plans to “improve policies and procedures” in its HR department based on the inquiry.
Further background from The Times before we get into it:
“The palace instigated the unprecedented investigation after it emerged that two senior members of staff claimed they had been bullied by Meghan during her time as a working royal. Another former employee said they had been ‘humiliated’ and claimed two members of staff had been bullied. One aide claimed it felt ‘more like emotional cruelty and manipulation, which I guess could also be called bullying’.
“Meghan, 40, denied the allegations which were first reported in The Times in March 2021. Her lawyers described the claims as a ‘calculated smear campaign’ before the Sussexes’ interview with Oprah Winfrey the same month and said the media was ‘being used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative’ about the duchess.”
Ok, so where to start? I suppose the claims themselves. The notion that Meghan was a difficult boss isn’t new. These stories started hitting the press a few months after the wedding in 2018. The general narrative was that Meghan was very “American” in her approach, high-maintenance, critical, and didn’t respect traditional office hours. In fairness, Meghan’s acting background would lend itself to thinking of personal staff that way – your personal assistant, for example, can essentially be contacted at all hours of the day if that’s how you set up the dynamic. Royal households are a bit different – staffers are basically civil servants, underpaid, and (depending on the role, I suppose) arguably providing public service.
Regardless, we don’t know what we don’t know. And we don’t know anything officially. According to the Cambridge camp (courtesy of anonymous sources), Meghan’s (and Harry’s, at times) treatment of Kensington Palace staff was a driver of the households’ split in 2019 due to William’s fury and Kate’s disapproval at what they saw and heard going on. A prominent royal reporter has stated that she saw Meghan exchanging terse words with a member of her staff on a royal tour and later saw that staffer crying in the backseat of a car. The Sussexes do appear to have a fairly high rate of staff turnover – though I will add the caveat that we get a sense of that because it’s reported. Less attention is paid to other households, mainly because other royals don’t have this narrative right now.
The Sussex story, on the other hand, is that there were certain incidents for cause, Meghan had a good relationship with most of her staff, and that these stories only starting leaking to the press after the Oceania tour in the autumn of 2018. That last part is important, and it came up in the Oprah interview – Harry and Meghan specifically believe that Buckingham and Kensington Palaces (so the overarching Royal Family staff and that of William and Kate) were feeding negative stories about Meghan to the press to ensure she didn’t eclipse them. Put another way – or the way Harry put it more bluntly – they didn’t want another Diana situation, such as when the late Princess of Wales was by far more popular than her husband and the rest of his family.
Not all of this is rumor and innuendo. In October 2018, Jason Knauf, former communications director to William and Harry and then pretty senior in the staff hierarchy at Kensington Palace, submitted to Buckingham Palace multiple complaints made against Meghan by female staffers with the knowledge of the Fab Four. Upon finding out that these complaints existed, Harry apparently called William to ask for his help in having the matter quashed, but instead the conversation led to a bitter argument between the brothers and resulted in Knauf having William’s full backing.
Knauf left Kensington Palace shortly after this incident and then took up a job working for William and Kate at the Royal Foundation once Harry and Meghan had left. Last year, Knauf provided evidence in Meghan’s lawsuit against the Mail on Sunday that her testimony hadn’t been entirely truthful. And I’ll be honest, Knauf’s inferred opinion – that he’s no fan of Harry and Meghan – carries some weight with me since he worked for Harry for years before he met Meghan.
Again, we don’t know what we don’t know. My personal opinion is that there’s some truth in both narratives, which is why pre-announcement of the formal break in 2020 I was always relatively even-handed in my coverage of the Sussexes. I do think there was some competitiveness within the family. I think there were negative briefings, too. Even so, I think there’s way too much smoke for there to be absolutely no fire when it comes to there being serious personnel issues within the Palace and for Meghan to have played a role in that.
But here’s the thing: Being a terrible, or even insufferable, boss isn’t unique to Meghan within the Royal Family. The Duke of York’s staff have said horrible things about him for years. The Prince of Wales’s temper in the 1980s and 1990s was legendary and if he had worked in the private sector he would have been a walking lawsuit. Even Diana, Princess of Wales has been on the receiving end of criticism from former staffers.
Yet, this inquiry launched last year is unprecedented. Why is that? Simply put, it was a proactive effort to undermine the Sussexes’ Oprah interview. And based on that interview, you can certainly argue it was fair game. Here’s the thing though: arguably the worst claim Meghan made in that interview was that, via second-hand information, a member of the Royal Family made racially insensitive remarks about Archie’s skin color without naming the royal. The collective response, from myself included, was that it was a cowardly way to make that attack – either name the royal or be mad about it privately. By withholding an identify, the entire family is opened up to unfair speculation and reputational damage. And in return, many have wondered whether the truth of that conversation was purposefully misrepresented by Meghan (and Harry).
Here, the Royal Family has done the same thing. By refusing the publish the inquiry’s findings, the reputational damage to Meghan has been done without the Royal Family having to provide any evidence. There are two options: either the inquiry found that Meghan behaved terribly or it didn’t. The former frankly seems less likely since continuing to undermine Meghan works in the Palace’s favor.
With two caveats: First, the inquiry was funded by the Queen. It’s entirely possible that the Queen has no interest in this story continuing on in the press and knows full well that if she lets the Palace make a swipe at Meghan, then the Sussexes will return the volley and any tentative work that’s been done to repair relationships will be undone.
Secondly, as I mentioned, Meghan would hardly be the RF’s first “horrible boss.” If the investigation was broad enough to loop in other members of the family, then yes, I’m not surprised the Palace is burying it. Because #Andrew, if not others.
There is one more possibility: In light of the Queen’s desire to keep the peace, the Palace doesn’t “officially” release the findings, but rather their conclusions are leaked piecemeal to the press so that the Royal Family has plausible deniability. They can (try to) argue that they attempted to protect Meghan, but, hey, these things happen.
That may well occur. Time will tell. Or, there’s nothing there, and the Palace continues to get kicked in the chin about this, and perhaps deservedly so. Because, regardless of what the investigation found, that one was launched at all is incredibly hypocritical.
Finally, I want to touch on a separate, but related, issue. I am obviously no big fan of how Harry and Meghan have taken their personal grievances with the Family to the press, and in fact I often find issues with the logic and accuracy of what they say when they do. But it’s worth pointing out that William gets his point of view out there, too – not directly and perhaps not as frequently, but he has his ways.
Yesterday marked William’s 40th birthday and the weekend before The Daily Mail, currently very pro-Cambridge, released a special report on the prince. Two choice quotes from “friends” of William’s say:
“He alternates between grieving for what he has lost and feeling really, really angry about what his brother has done.”
“He truly loves Harry and feels he has lost the only person, aside from his wife, who understood this strange life of theirs. But he believes there are things you just don’t do. And Harry has 100 percent crossed that line.”
Realistically, no friend of William’s is going to say anything to a reporter unless it’s been okay’d by the man himself. And to be fair, these quotes are a far cry from what the Royal Family has been accused of from the Sussexes camp – ignoring suicidal ideation and facilitating racism, to name but two. They are pretty benign and focused on William’s feelings rather than attacking Harry. Even so, these quotes 1) continue to support an anti-Harry narrative in the British media, 2) are wholly unnecessary to a report on William’s 40th birthday and royal work, and 3) are evidence of a calculated leak to the press.
And that’s fine, but when we’re considering this landscape, it’s important to do so clear-eyed. Two things can be true at once: Harry and Meghan have massively mishandled their relationship with the Royal Family and the Royal Family has played a role in this mess.