LONDON — A prominent lady-in-waiting to the late Queen Elizabeth II and godmother to royal heir Prince William resigned from her role in the Buckingham Palace household on Wednesday, and expressed “profound apologies for the hurt caused,” after she pressed a Black British guest at the palace: “Where are you really from?”
Lady Susan Hussey, 83, had been dubbed “Number One Head Girl” for the central role she played in the queen’s life, and the new King Charles III had recently extended her honorary duties. But a spokesperson for Buckingham Palace said that a complaint emerging from a Tuesday reception had been “investigated immediately,” with the conclusion that “unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments” had been made.
The palace did not name Hussey, but said the royal household member had “stepped aside from her honorary role with immediate effect.”
Ngozi Fulani, a British activist and chief executive of domestic abuse charity Sistah Space, was one of about 300 people invited to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday for a reception to raise awareness about violence against women and girls.
Fulani wrote in an account posted on social media that a member of staff, whom she identified as “Lady SH,” approached her, brushed aside her hair to read her name tag, and badgered her with a series of questions about where she was from, including:
·“What part of Africa are you from?”
·“What Nationality are you?”
·“Where do you really come from?”
·“Where do your people come from?”
·“When did you first come here?”
Mixed feelings about yesterday's visit to Buckingham Palace. 10 mins after arriving, a member of staff, Lady SH, approached me, moved my hair to see my name badge. The conversation below took place. The rest of the event is a blur.— Sistah Space (@Sistah_Space) November 30, 2022
Thanks @ManduReid & @SuzanneEJacob for support🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/OUbQKlabyq
Fulani said she responded, more than once, that she was British. Eventually, she added that her parents came to Britain in the 1950s.
By her account, the aide responded, “Oh, I knew we’d get there in the end. You’re Caribbean.” And Fulani said she responded, “No, lady, I am of African heritage, Caribbean descent and British nationality.”
Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, witnessed the exchange at the palace and told The Washington Post it felt like “an interrogation.”
“We were talking and were approached by Lady Susan Hussey — I know it was her because she was wearing a badge with her name on it,” Reid said.
“It was question after question … it wasn’t fleeting, it was several minutes,” she said. “It got more and more uncomfortable for us. Was she going to ask for ID next? It really felt like that almost.”
She said that after it was over, she and Fulani “looked at each other, incredulous.”
“We were guests, we’d been invited to a really important reception on a really important subject. We were there to celebrate efforts to end violence against women and girls. And by the end of that interaction, it was almost like we were trespassers, we didn’t belong. I mean, our nationality being questioned? It was hard to take.”
Others in attendance included Olena Zelenska, the wife of the Ukrainian president, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Queen Rania of Jordan and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.
The palace spokesperson said “all members of the household are being reminded of the diversity and inclusivity policies which they are required to uphold at all times,” and that the palace had reached out to Fulani and was “inviting her to discuss all elements of her experience in person if she wishes.”
Reid suggested that the palace might want to invite Sistah Space to conduct cultural competence training.
Hussey has been part of the royal household in an unpaid role since 1960 and was named a godmother to William when he was born in 1982.
In the new season of “The Crown” on Netflix, she is featured as a perceptive friend of the queen and subtle influencer of her own husband, Marmaduke Hussey, a chairman of the BBC board of governors.
According to biographical accounts, Susan Hussey was responsible for helping those who married into the House of Windsor navigate the ways of royal life. She was regularly in attendance at royal engagements, within Britain and abroad. She accompanied the queen to Prince Philip’s funeral last year and was among those who gathered with the family at Buckingham Palace after the queen died in September.
Camilla, Queen Consort, has said she wants to modernize the role of lady-in-waiting. She is calling her six attendants “Queen’s Companions,” expecting them to attend fewer events and relieving them of having to help answer letters to the queen.
Hussey and two other ladies who had served Elizabeth had been given new positions as “Ladies of the Household.”
Charles and Camilla are no doubt sensitive to accusations of palace racism, as they seek to set the tone for their version of the monarchy.
When Charles’s son and daughter-in-law, Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, spoke with Oprah Winfrey in 2021, they claimed they had been asked by a family member how dark their coming baby’s skin might be. They refused to say who made the comment, but added that it was not Harry’s grandmother, Elizabeth, or grandfather, Philip.
The palace responded to those claims saying they were “concerning” and would be “taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.” William later told reporters that the royals were “very much not a racist family.”
William, who is in Boston this week presenting an environmental prize, said Wednesday through a spokesperson that he was “disappointed to hear about the guest’s experience at Buckingham Palace.” The spokesperson added: “Racism has no place in our society. The comments were unacceptable, and it is right that the individual has stepped aside with immediate effect.”
The White House announced Wednesday that President Biden would meet with William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, during their Boston visit.