Valentine Low’s Courtiers: The Hidden Power Behind the Crown was excerpted in the Times. Most of the excerpts – and most of the headlines from those excerpts – were about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and “bullying” and the organized and unhinged smears against M&H. I wondered idly if that’s what the whole f–king book was about. Nope – it turns out that Low did cover/transcribe what then-Prince Charles’s courtiers said about him. After reading all of those ridiculous statements from Kensington Palace’s courtiers, would it surprise you to hear that Charles’s call-at-any-hour, workhorse energy is spoken about a lot differently than Meghan’s work ethic?
Charles is a demanding boss. Working for him is not a nine-to-five job. This, according to one former member of his household, is because he is very demanding of himself. “He is never satisfied with himself, or what he has achieved. People around him had to work hard to keep up. He had enormous stamina.” Another said: “He was demanding in that he is always working. Seven days a week. Never stops. At any moment he may want to call you about something. Working on his boxes, on his ideas, on his papers. The pace is pretty intense.” The phone calls could come at any time, from after breakfast until 11 at night, even at Christmas. In contrast to the conviviality of his grandmother’s household, Charles’s office is suffused with a ferocious work ethic: he is a man with a mission.
Oh, Charles has a temper, wow! “He would drive people hard. He was full of ideas, always asking people to go and do things. The workload as private secretary would be immense. He had strong opinions. He also had a proper temper on him, which was quite fun. He would rarely direct it at the individual. It would be about something, and he would lose his temper. He would throw something. He would go from zero to 60 in a flash, and then back down again. Things would frustrate him, especially the media.”
Charles can’t keep staff either, how weird: In the space of about seven years, Charles had five different private secretaries. Promotion, preferment, who’s in, who’s out: no wonder Charles’s household has been compared to Wolf Hall.
Charles’s office is full of dysfunction: In her book on Prince Charles, Catherine Mayer quotes a businessman who helped to set up an event with the prince’s household and later spoke “with amazement” about the “glaring flaws” in its organisational structure. He got the impression that aides used to obstruct planning so they could tell the boss of problems, which they would then solve. “There was a lot of backstabbing,” he said. According to another insider, some courtiers, though loyal and able, are also cunning and “involve themselves in the dark arts of undermining other people”.
Charles goes outside the palace walls for advice, to disastrous results: Charles was not always a good judge of who should have his ear. Jimmy Savile, the broadcaster and charity fundraiser who, after his death, was revealed to have been a serial sexual abuser, wrote a handbook for Charles on how the royal family should deal with the media after big disasters. Charles passed on his tips to the Duke of Edinburgh, who in turn showed them to the Queen.
Charles falls under people’s spells: One of Charles’s former members of staff said the most pernicious effect of his outside advisers was the way they suggested that his usual team were not doing a good job. “The prince is quite susceptible to new voices who tell him, ‘They are stopping you doing what you want to do. They are holding you back, the suits.’ He loves it when someone says, ‘Oh, they have got it wrong, sir, listen to me. I can see it better; I am outside of this.’ The prince falls under people’s spell. That could then lead to real problems for individuals.”
Low includes several stories of Charles bitching out various aides and keeping aides glued to their phones over weekends and holidays, awaiting his calls over non-urgent business. Low includes stories of Charles’s short temper and the real crisis of leadership and management within his dysfunctional office. It’s actually giving me a better sense of just how poorly Meghan was treated and how thoroughly she was scapegoated. As for Charles “falling under people’s spells” and, equally, being a terrible judge of character, welp, now he’s the king. It will only get a lot worse now.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.