Buckingham Palace announced Wednesday that a member of its household had resigned after making “unacceptable and regrettable comments” at a reception thrown by Camilla, Queen Consort, to highlight the issue of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls.
A royal source confirmed to Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper on Wednesday that Lady Susan Hussey—a close aide of Camilla, and Prince William’s godmother—had departed from her household role.
The palace’s announcement came after Black British charity director Ngozi Fulani shared details of a shocking exchange that took place at the reception on Tuesday.
Fulani, who is CEO of the London-based Sistah Space charity—an organization that provides support to Black women affected by sexual abuse and domestic violence–said she had only been at the event for 10 minutes when a staff member she identified as “Lady SH” started questioning her about her racial heritage.
Fulani said the staff member, later identified as Hussey, moved Fulani’s hair to see her name badge. “Where are you from?” she asked Fulani, according to the charity boss’ account of the exchange. When Fulani said she was from Sistah Space, the staff member replied: “No, where do you come from?”
Fulani says she answered that the organization is based in Hackney in northeast London. “No,” Hussey allegedly replied, “What part of Africa are you from?” Fulani said she explained that she was born in the U.K. and is British, but Hussey reportedly continued to press: “No, but where do you really come from, where do your people come from?”
Fulani says she again explained that she is a British national and that her parents came to the U.K. in the 1950s. “Oh, I knew we’d get there in the end, you’re Caribbean!” Hussey allegedly replied. “No lady, I am of African heritage, Caribbean descent and British nationality,” Fulani said she answered.
The 83-year-old Hussey was a close friend of the late Queen Elizabeth II and served as one her ladies-in-waiting: the personal assistants who accompanied the queen in honorary positions that date back to the Middle Ages.
Lady Hussey was affectionately referred to as “Number One Head Girl” during her time in Queen Elizabeth’s office. She joined the royal household after the birth of Prince Andrew in 1986 and became a central figure in the late sovereign’s life.
Lady Susan’s character also features in the recently released Season 5 of The Crown. As played by Haydn Gwynne, she is shown as one of the late Queen Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting, and closest intimates. Her husband, Lord Marmaduke Hussey, Baron Hussey of North Bradley (played by Richard Cordery), was chairman of the Board of Governors of the BBC at the time of Princess Diana’s infamous 1995 Panorama interview in which she told the now-disgraced Martin Bashir that there were “three of us in this marriage,” referring to then-Prince Charles’ long-running affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. Hussey vehemently opposed transmission of the interview.
More recently, a royal biography alleged that Lady Susan said Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle would “all end in tears.”
In a symbolic modernizing move, the Sunday Times reported over the weekend that Camilla had decided to drop the role of ladies-in-waiting, replacing them instead with “Queen’s Companions”—of which Hussey was set to be one. Although the new role is similar to that of ladies-in-waiting, the palace said the companions would only “on occasion accompany” Camilla at public events.
In an example of where the companions would support Camilla, the palace said in a statement Sunday: “Some of the Queen’s Companions will be in attendance for the first time at Her Majesty’s Violence Against Women and Girls Reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.”
In a tweet about her exchange with Lady Susan, Fulani said the conversation was “such a shock” that she had been “stunned into temporary silence.” “I just stood at the edge of the room, smiled [and] engaged briefly with who spoke to me until I could leave,” she added.
In a statement Wednesday, Buckingham Palace said: “We take this incident extremely seriously and have investigated immediately to establish the full details.” The royal household added that it had contacted Fulani to discuss her experience in person if she wishes.
“In the meantime, the individual concerned would like to express her profound apologies for the hurt caused and has stepped aside from her honorary role with immediate effect,” the statement added. “All members of the Household are being reminded of the diversity and inclusivity policies which they are required to uphold at all times.”
Fulani was one of 300 guests invited to the palace for Camilla’s first major solo event since her husband acceded to the British throne. The queen consort spoke of a “global pandemic of violence against women” at the reception, which was also attended by the queens Raina of Jordan and Mathilde of Belgium, Spice Girl Melanie B, and Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska.