Wanted: Royal dogsbodies. Could you cut it on the duchesses’ staff?
As several members of the British royal family look to make new hires, we look at what it takes to make the grade
Ever since Thomas Cromwell was beheaded by Henry VIII in 1540, the complex relationship between royals and their servants has appalled and enthralled. From Queen Victoria’s “secret” marriage to John Brown, her Scottish personal attendant, to Paul Burrell, Princess Diana’s “rock”, mystery has long surrounded the true nature of the ties that bind behind palace gates.
The Queen once told her personal assistant Angela Kelly that “we could be sisters”, while Prince Charles famously said he could “manage without just about anyone, except for Michael” – a reference to his veteran right-hand man and toothpaste-squeezer-in-chief, Michael Fawcett (he’s always denied the toothbrush story, by the way).
So perhaps it is not surprising that the Duchess of Sussex’s new entourage has come under so much scrutiny.
News of the departure of Meghan’s personal assistant Melissa Touabti, who quit just six months after her wedding to Prince Harry in May, has understandably raised eyebrows. The 39-year-old from France had previously been employed by Robbie Williams and his wife Ayda Field, whom friends say she loved working for. Sources have said it was “a real shock” when she departed Kensington Palace. “Why would she want to leave such a prestigious job so soon?” asked an insider.
But a palace source paid tribute to Touabti’s hard work, saying: “She played a pivotal role in the success of the royal wedding and will be missed by everyone in the royal household.”
Touabti’s departure creates yet another “situation vacant” that the royal couple need to fill, as they prepare to move to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor next year.
Indeed, it isn’t just Harry and Meghan who are having to deal with the revolving door at Kensington Palace, but William and Kate, too – as well as a number of empty desks at Buckingham Palace. The Duke of Cambridge has only recently replaced Miguel Head, his long-standing private secretary, with Simon Case, former director of the Brexit department dealing with Northern Ireland. Head left in July after 10 years, in what has been billed as part of “Operation Handover” to pass the Queen’s duties onto the younger royal family.
It followed the exit of Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s right-hand man, who left in September 2017 following a reported “power struggle” with the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York. Geidt was replaced by Edward Young, his deputy.
The Queen’s accountant, Sir Alan Reid, known as the Keeper of the Privy Purse, handed over the palace purse strings at the end of 2017, while Samantha “The Panther” Cohen, the Queen’s assistant private secretary, stepped down in solidarity with Geidt, although she is now filling in for the Sussexes while they seek new permanent private secretaries.
Cohen took on the “secondment” after Ed Lane Fox, Harry’s private secretary, bowed out in September to spend more time with his family. Having worked for the prince since 2013, he was key to organising Meghan’s first few months inside the Firm. Amy Pickerill, who previously worked in the Kensington Palace press office, is currently serving as Meghan’s assistant private secretary, and was seen picking up her mother Doria from Heathrow before the wedding – although it remains to be seen whether she will be promoted once Cohen departs.
What is certain is that Cohen is winding down her role. A friend said: “Sam isn’t going to be there for long. She always said she was taking on the role as a temporary arrangement, while the couple find their feet.”
The Duchess of Cambridge, meanwhile, replaced her own private secretary of five years, Rebecca Deacon, last October with Catherine Quinn, the former head of Oxford business school. And in May 2017, Sadie Rice, the Cambridges’ housekeeper, quit her role at Anmer Hall, the couple’s Norfolk bolt-hole, telling friends the job had “become too demanding”. The 35-year-old had been in the £35,000-a-year role for two years, but friends say she “was not able to live a life outside work”.
Only this week we learnt that the Earl and Countess of Wessex are also recruiting a private secretary. They have placed an advertisement seeking “an experienced director with a track record of delivery at board level or equivalent in the military, or within the public or private sector”. And the Buckingham Palace communications team is looking a little thin on the ground following the departure of PR gurus Sally Osman and Steve Kingstone.
It is no secret that working for royalty can be demanding and notoriously low paid, with a starting salary of £15,000 – although room and board is often included.
As well as new private secretaries, the Sussexes will also need a nanny once their baby arrives next year. There is also the small matter of Meghan not having yet recruited a stylist, which might go some way to explaining why she appeared at a royal engagement in Tonga last month wearing a dress with the label still attached.
Duties include: Running the royal diaries, issuing statements and letters on their behalf, and ensuring their policies are properly implemented.
Do: Be your principal’s eyes and ears, and the soul of discretion.
Don’t: Be too visible. No one wants you taking credit for a “well-briefed” prince or princess’s work.
Best chance of getting an interview: Anyone with a military career, or experience in government or business.
CV straight in bin: Anyone who has worked for Katie Price.
Situations vacant: Prince Harry needs a new private secretary. Meghan may promote her current assistant private secretary or recruit someone more senior. The Duke and Duchess of Wessex are also on the hunt. The last time they advertised, in 2013, applicants were required to have “experience working with VIPs”. These days, they’re merely looking for someone with “broad general knowledge and an understanding of world and UK affairs.”
Duties include: A royal dogsbody, doing anything from answering fan mail to fetching teas, liaising with transport and assisting with the royal wardrobe.
Do: Be ready, willing and able, day or night.
Don’t: Switch off your cellphone.
Best chance of getting an interview: Anyone with a double barrelled surname, and a discount card at Hobbs.
CV straight in bin: Anyone who has ever posted anything work-related on social media.
Situations vacant: Meghan needs a new right-hand woman following the departure of Melissa Touabti.
Duties include: Sourcing, steaming, pinning and fitting.
Do: Make sure hems are weighted down to spare royal blushes.
Don’t: Leave clothing labels on dresses.
Best chance of getting an interview: (Unofficially) Meghan’s best friend and Canadian stylist Jessica Mulroney.
CV straight in bin: Anyone who says: “Sainsbury’s actually do some quite nice knitwear”.
Situations vacant: Meghan has yet to appoint a stylist, and Kate will soon need someone to cover her stylist Natasha Archer’s maternity leave.
Duties include: Taking responsibility for the safety and development of the royal children, doing their laundry, maintaining the cleanliness of their toys and, if required, the preparation of meals.
Do: Be multilingual, a first-aider and prepared to undergo hostile environment training.
Don’t: Condone smacking or say things like: Should he really be wearing those knee-high socks?
Best chance of getting an interview: Anyone trained by Norland College in Bath, the UK’s leading nanny agency for the children of rich elites.
CV straight in bin: Anyone with The Hand That Rocks the Cradle in their Netflix library.
Situations vacant: The forthcoming baby Sussex. Harry and Meghan’s close friends George and Amal Clooney have reportedly recommended US nanny Connie Simpson, who has worked for a host of famous parents including Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake, and Emily Blunt and John Krasinski.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited