LONDON — When Ngozi Fulani was invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday hosted by Camilla, the queen consort, she did not expect to find herself being repeatedly questioned by a member of the household staff about where she was from.
Ms. Fulani, who is Black and was born in Britain, documented the exchange with the staff member, whom she identified as “Lady SH,” on Twitter. The encounter, she said, left her with “mixed feelings” about the gathering, which was dedicated to raising awareness about violence against women and girls.
“The rest of the event is a blur,” wrote Ms. Fulani, who runs a group, Sistah Space, that helps women who are victims of domestic violence.
Buckingham Palace said on Wednesday that the staff member had resigned and offered her “profound apologies for the hurt caused.” Several London newspapers identified her as Susan Hussey, a close friend of Queen Elizabeth II who served her for decades as a lady-in-waiting and is Prince William’s godmother. The palace did not confirm the staff member’s identity.
“We take this incident extremely seriously and have investigated immediately to establish the full details,” the palace said in a statement. “In this instance, unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments have been made.”
The swiftness and strong language of the palace’s statement suggested that King Charles III, who took the throne three months ago, was intent on showing he would not tolerate any perception of racist behavior in the royal household. It was the first significant such tempest to erupt since the death of the queen in September.
The incident also carried a distinct echo of accusations leveled by Meghan, a biracial American-born actress and the wife of Prince Harry, that a member of the royal family had spoken in racist terms about her unborn child. In a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021, Meghan said the family member, whom she did not name, expressed concern about the child’s skin color.
At the time, the palace said in a more delayed and muted statement that the allegations of racism were “concerning,” and “while some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”
William, the eldest son of Charles and Harry’s brother, later told reporters, “We’re very much not a racist family.” No one has publicly identified the family member said to have made the comment, and the incident remains shrouded in hearsay.
“This is in stark contrast to how long it took for the palace to respond to the allegations that Meghan made in the Oprah interview,” said Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC. “This is exactly what they needed to do, at speed,” he said, adding that the royal family was acting more like “a modern corporation and not an ancient institution.”
Unlike in the case of Meghan’s allegation, there were witnesses to the exchange with Ms. Fulani, which occurred as more than 300 guests were milling in a reception room. After repeated questioning, Ms. Fulani said she told the woman she was of “African heritage, Caribbean descent, and British nationality.”
“I knew we’d get there in the end,” the woman replied, according to Ms. Fulani. ‘You’re Caribbean!”
Mr. Hunt said the palace also acted quickly because William and his wife, Princess Catherine, are traveling to Boston this week to present awards given out by the Earthshot Prize, an organization founded by William to help entrepreneurs with solutions to climate change and environmental issues.
It is the first visit to the United States by the new prince and princess of Wales in eight years, and it may include a meeting with President Biden in Boston on Friday, where Mr. Biden is scheduled to attend Democratic fund-raisers.
“William’s role in this is key,” Mr. Hunt said. “They just don’t need this before his visit to the States.”
Last March, William and Catherine made a trouble-prone tour of the Caribbean, where Britain’s colonial legacy and calls for reparations dogged the couple at every stop. William spoke candidly about the stain of slavery.
“I want to express my profound sorrow,” the prince said at a dinner in Jamaica. “Slavery was abhorrent, and it should never have happened.”
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