The late Queen’s longest-serving lady-in-waiting resigned on Wednesday after being accused of “interrogating” a Buckingham Palace guest about where she was “really” from.
Lady Susan Hussey, who had stayed on in an honorary role to support the new King, was said to have made “unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments” to a black, British-born domestic violence campaigner after asking her “what part of Africa” she was from.
Buckingham Palace said it took the incident “extremely seriously” and had investigated immediately. The King and Queen Consort are understood to be “aware” of the incident, although the matter was dealt with by senior aides.
Lady Hussey, 83, served as Queen Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting for more than 60 years and is a godmother to the Prince of Wales.
A spokesman for the Prince said he believes “the course of action taken is correct”. He is embarking on a three-day trip to the US on Wednesday, which now risks being overshadowed by the damning allegations.
The conversation occurred at a Buckingham Palace reception hosted by the Queen Consort, her first major event of the new reign, to hail the work of domestic violence campaigners.
Following the event, Ngozi Fulani, the director of the east London charity Sistah Space, claimed a palace representative she named on social media as “Lady SH” had approached her within ten minutes of arriving, moving her hair to see her name badge, before asking persistent questions about where she was from.
She said she had been “stunned to temporary silence”, finding it “such a struggle to stay in a space that [she was] violated in”.
“I think it is essential to acknowledge that trauma has occurred and being invited and then insulted has caused much damage,” she said.
Lady Hussey was one of three of the late Queen’s loyal ladies-in-waiting kept on in unpaid honorary roles to aid the King, now known as “Ladies of the Household”.
She was on duty at the reception to welcome guests and represent the royal household.
'Unacceptable and deeply regrettable'
Hours after Ms Fulani’s account of the conversation was made public on Twitter, a Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “We take this incident extremely seriously and have investigated immediately to establish the full details.
“In this instance, unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments have been made. We have reached out to Ngozi Fulani on this matter, and are inviting her to discuss all elements of 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.
“All members of the Household are being reminded of the diversity and inclusivity policies which they are required to uphold at all times.”
A spokesman for the Prince and Princess of Wales added it is “really important to note that racism has no place in our society”, calling the comments “unacceptable”.
Prince William was made aware of the incident before he boarded a plane in London, the spokesman confirmed, saying he had not been involved in Lady Hussey resignation but believes “the course of action taken is correct”.
Ms Fulani’s charity provides specialist support for African and Caribbean heritage women affected by abuse.
Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, who was next to Ms Fulani and witnessed the exchange, said they were treated like “trespassers” at the palace.
She described the conversation as “grim” and like an “interrogation”, adding: “She was really persistent. She didn’t take Ngozi’s answers at face value.”
After news of Lady Hussey resignation, Ms Fulani said the “level of damage” by a representative of the palace must be “addressed”, but that she had not called for personal action against her.
“She's an elder,” she said. “This does not please me.”
She claimed she had not yet been contacted directly by the palace. It is understood that aides have “reached out” to her through the charity, expressing hopes to further discuss what happened and apologise in person.
William Shawcross, the official biographer of the Queen Mother, said that Lady Hussey had given “60 years of impeccable service to the Queen” and in that time “never shown a trace of racism”.
Mr Shawcross told The Telegraph: “Many of us have asked strangers of all colours and accents where they come from. It’s no more racist than it is for family members to speculate on the physical characteristics of an unborn child.
“Sue Hussey has devoted her life to one of the most important institutions in this country. Like the Queen she served, she has never put a foot wrong.”
The accusations emerged as the Prince and Princess of Wales flew to Boston for a three-day trip arranged around his Earthshot Prize, in which he is expected to meet President Joe Biden.
The timing for the royal couple could not have been worse. Their last overseas tour, to the Caribbean, was marred by criticism of its “colonial overtones” and “tone deaf” imagery.
However, they are not expected to address the issue further as they seek to keep the focus on climate change and the Earthshot ceremony, which takes place on Friday evening.
British and American officials were understood to be hastily comparing schedules on Wednesday in the hope that they could find a window that would allow a meeting between the royals and Mr Biden.
One US-based source told the Telegraph that an impromptu meeting was likely to take place, noting that it would be unusual for the Prince of Wales not to meet the President if both were in the same city.
“There is an expectation that they should meet and we’re looking at diaries to try and find a suitable window,” they said.