Daniela Elser: Sussex quit list – Meghan and Harry lose a staffer every three months
27th March 2021


On the long list of royal family sins – their propensity to squish small children into suits,their penchant for the culinary abomination that is Eggs Drumkilbo, all those Nazi-sympathisers lurking in the family tree – let’s add another one: they often pay their staff terribly.

See, the Queen might literally have her own money (her face is on every British denomination) but it would seem she does not particularly like parting with the crinkly stuff. In 2018, it was revealed Buckingham Palace was advertising cleaning roles that paid below the London living wage – definitely not so spiffy, Your Majesty.

Still, despite this miserly approach, the royal house has somehow ended up with a circle of dedicated retainers, a fact which may or may not have something to do with the fact Buckingham Palace has a staff swimming pool. (They also get to enjoy movie nights. Finally, a moment for Prince Edward to shine!)

Things are even more jolly for the Queen’s senior employees who are often given grace-and-favour homes, paid six figures and resolutely stay put for decades on end.

The Queen’s dresser and so-called “gatekeeper” Angela Kelly has been with the palace for nearly 20 years while Paul Whybrew, Page of the Backstairs, is one of 94-year-old’s most trusted aides and has been a royal staffer for nearly 40 years.

(Yes, seriously that is his job title. The sovereign has, among many, many other employees, a Marker of the Swans, a Purse Bearer and a Mistress of the Robes. So relatable!)

Which is why Harry and Megan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s staff turnover has raised eyebrows.

This week, it was revealed that Catherine St-Laurent, their chief of staff and executive director of their non-profit Archewell Foundation, was stepping down from the position only 11 months into the role and was going to “transition to an advisory role”.

According to a report in The Telegraph, St-Laurent, who had previously advised Bill and Melinda Gates, “wanted out”.

“I think there was a sense that she was having to fulfil a great many functions for the couple – not all of which were necessarily in her job spec,” a “well-placed insider” told the British paper.

St-Laurent is the 12th Sussex staffer to have left their employ since their 2018 wedding, which works out, on average, as them losing someone less than every three months.

According to The Telegraph, two PAs, Meghan’s assistant private secretary and two nannies, number among the dozen who have quit.

The Times reported earlier this week that ahead of the Sussexes’ big day, “tensions in the Kensington Palace household, then still shared by the brothers, were running high” and that, according to a source close to the Duke and his brother Prince William, “William would personally try and sort it out” when “there was … a member of staff on the verge of quitting.”

Reports have circulated since late 2018 about Harry and Meghan’s relationship with their staff when it was revealed that Melissa Toubati, the Duchess’ personal assistant, had quit after six months.

A source told The Mirror at the time that Toubati had “put up with quite a lot. Meghan put a lot of demands on her and it ended up with her in tears”.

However, last year’s Sussex biography, “Finding Freedom”, painted a far different picture, reporting that “according to multiple sources familiar with [Toubati’s] sudden departure … the couple had grown dissatisfied with Melissa’s work and were not disappointed when she left.”

Earlier this month, the Times broke the news that the actress-turned-royal had faced a bullying complaint which was raised in 2018 by Jason Knauf, the couple’s then communications secretary, who wrote in an email to Simon Case, then the Duke of Cambridge’s private secretary: “The Duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights.” The email was then forwarded to Samantha Carruthers, the head of HR.

According to the report, “Staff would on occasion be reduced to tears; one aide, anticipating a confrontation with Meghan, told a colleague: ‘I can’t stop shaking.’

“Another former employee told the Times they had been personally ‘humiliated’ by her and claimed that two members of staff had been bullied.”

A spokesperson for Harry and Meghan said the claims were part of a “calculated smear campaign” and the newspaper was “being used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative”.

Subsequently, a royal source told the Times: “The actual worst incidences haven’t come out. There are some harrowing stories to tell”, while another palace source alleged, “There’s a lot that could come out in the wash that hasn’t been told.”

Nearly two weeks after that, it was revealed that Buckingham Palace had appointed an outside law firm to conduct an independent review. Meghan is reported to have written to the palace requesting the evidence in regards to the allegations.

A controversial story from Tatler last year, which was edited after palace lawyers demanded the British society bible amend parts of the story, also highlighted alleged differences in the way Meghan and her sister-in-law Kate Duchess of Cambridge related to employees.

“Kate, who has impeccable manners, sought the opportunity to put Meghan in her place, reprimanding her for speaking imperiously to her Kensington Palace staff,” writer Anna Pasternak reported. Elsewhere, another courtier was quoted as saying: “Kate keeps her staff whereas Meghan doesn’t. Doesn’t that say everything?”

(Some of the star players on Team Kate have been Rebecca Deacon, who was her private secretary from 2012 to 2017 during which she tied the knot at Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, a perk only available to those with close links to the royal house. The same year, William awarded her the Royal Victorian Order. Then there is PA and dresser Natasha Archer, who has worked with the Duchess since 2014 and was also awarded an RVO in 2019. Aide Sophie Agnew logged seven years working for the royal.)

However, elsewhere it has been reported that Meghan is something of a dream boss, who surprised staff with delicious treats.

In a February 2019, in a People story, an unnamed co-star revealed: “I came by there [Kensington Palace] one day, and she had ordered an incredible ice-cream and sorbet stand for the office.

“They were remarking how it was the ‘best day of work ever’. It warmed my heart to see her just continuing to be her and bring her style to the UK.”

(Say what you will about the Queen but I’m pretty confident she has never delighted her staff with spontaneous rainbow sprinkle chocolate swirl ice cream cones after a hard day polishing all of her gold plate.)

More recently, when Harry and Meghan returned to the UK for their final series of official engagements in early March 2020, they hosted a leaving lunch for their team at the five-star Goring Hotel.

Still, it’s not all bad news for the Sussexes. The duo announced they have added new hard hitters to their US team this week, appointing Oscar-nominated producer Ben Browning as Archewell’s head of content and naming Invisible Hand, a New York firm founded by Genevieve Roth, as advisors.

Might be time to get the gelato stand out again.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

Source: Read Full Article