Robert Lacey: ‘The buck stops, as it has always stopped, with the private secretary’

Back in 2017, there was some palace intrigue when the Queen’s then-private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, was pushed out in what was later seen as a major power play by the Prince of Wales. I went back to look at my coverage, and this story is particularly fascinating, especially given the timeline of Prince Harry’s romance with then-Meghan Markle. The summer of 2017 was full of palace drama, with Charles’ royal court forcing Geidt out and replacing him with Sir Edward Young, someone who could be more of “Charles’s man inside Buckingham Palace,” and someone who was less of an iron fist compared to Geidt. That summer, there was also significant drama between Clarence House and Kensington Palace and Charles was trying to exert more control over KP’s messaging and communications. In the years that followed, I’ve read stories here and there that Geidt would have handled the Sussex drama very differently, and that he would have been able to find a more diplomatic, inter-palace way for the households to function. So, now the guy who replaced Geidt seems to be getting the blame for everything:

The Queen’s closest adviser should bear his share of the responsibility for the crisis facing the royal family in the wake of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, a royal biographer has said. Sir Edward Young, the Queen’s private secretary, lacked the imagination to find a role for the duchess that she would find fulfilling and that matched her interests, according to Robert Lacey. Lacey said that the monarchy faced questions about racism as well as a review of allegations about bullying by the duchess after a report in The Times.

“It is absolutely the British taxpayer’s right to know who is running the show so badly,” he said. “The monarchy is the national figurehead, supposed to represent the values of everyone — and to uphold and exemplify the principles of equality and diversity in Britain and around the Commonwealth that the Queen has always championed. But suddenly it is under a major challenge which is not now going to go away. And the buck stops, as it has always stopped, with the private secretary.”

Harry and Meghan are understood to have had a poor relationship with senior officials at Buckingham Palace and Clarence House. They are said to have treated Young with disdain, while relations with Clive Alderton, Charles’s private secretary, were said to be even frostier. The couple’s behaviour was said to verge on rudeness. One source from one of the other royal households described Young as “a good guy”. Hugo Vickers, the royal author, said that Young brought a modern approach to the job and had broadened the range of visits undertaken by the Queen. He also played a key role in such diplomatically sensitive occasions as the first Irish state visit to Britain in 2014.

He said that Young had helped draw up the Queen’s statement on Tuesday night, which he described as “extremely good and conciliatory, and defused the situation to a large extent”.

Criticisms of Young’s effectiveness reflect the fallout from the ousting of Lord Geidt, the Queen’s previous private secretary, in 2017. Those who think that Young should have done more to stave off the crisis tend to be those who think Geidt would have done a better job, a view greeted with exasperation by many within the Palace.

One royal observer said: “There is a strong case to be made that if Christopher Geidt was still in charge, they would not be in as big a mess as they are now. The institution needs to adapt to survive. With Harry and Meghan, they could have found a way to keep them halfway in the tent, rather than cutting them loose as they did.”

Lacey said: “It’s easy to be wise after the event, but now we can see that someone should have sat down with Meghan and explained precisely that she was being brought into the institution where she would occupy a relatively minor ranking in terms of royal precedence. But that there was a wonderful and vital job for her to do, in terms of pursuing and developing her particular personal principles of female empowerment, racial diversity and social change.”

[From The Times of London]

As I’m reading this, I understand what actually happened: the three palaces/royal courts were already in disarray in 2017, there was already a lot of mistrust, miscommunication and palace intrigue before Meghan even joined the Firm. And once she joined up, suddenly all three royal courts found that they could agree on one thing: that Meghan needed to go, that she needed to be bullied out of the country, that she did not “belong.” Meghan symbolized a unified strategy from three royal courts which had been strategically shambolic previously – she threw everything in sharp relief and none of the old internal dramas mattered.

Besides all of that, I laughed at this: “And the buck stops, as it has always stopped, with the private secretary.” That is not a thing. That’s not the saying. The buck stops with the person who is actually in charge, which is supposedly the Queen. Throwing the Queen’s private secretary – however incompetent he is, and I do believe he’s probably massively incompetent – is not the solution to the fundamental problem that Liz is awful, petty and increasingly powerless, and that Charles is the de facto Regent and he’s making awful f–king decisions.

Photos courtesy of WENN, Avalon Red, Backgrid.

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