The men in gray remain the hidden power behind the Royal Family

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Sir Martin Gilliat and Michael Shea

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Sir Martin Gilliat and Michael Shea watching the races (Image: Getty)

The groom tried and failed. It could have been the end of his real career, but he wasn’t. Because Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton happened to be private secretary to Prince William and Catherine, as well as Prince Harry for a while, and he was invited to become Prince George’s best man.

But that lunch was a baptism of fire for the former Guards and SAS officer, learning how life was lived at the royal court, both on the private and public sides.

Sometimes described as the “men in gray suits”, being a courtier is like walking a tightrope: being too subservient and being despised; too frank and you’re fired.

Lowther-Pinkerton understood that delicate balancing act that would serve William and Harry so well in their youth. “He was honest and direct with them,” a colleague revealed to author and royal journalist Valentina Low.

“He could have blinding, fucking conversations in them. He could be the perfect courtier, and then there was the gleam in his eyes that suggested he could literally rip your head off. He had a great vision of what he wanted.” they thought William and Harry could do, and how they could do it”.

Indeed, Lowther-Pinkerton learned, as our courtiers over the centuries have discovered, that you gain something, lose something.

Low’s new book, Courtiers, chronicles the ups and downs of these dedicated men and women who serve the Royal Family, often with little appreciation and virtually no job security, who support our kings and queens but remain forever in the wings. shadows behind their illustrious patrons.

It’s a box full of delights, packed with jokes and anecdotes, and insights into what really goes on behind the closed doors of the palace.

    Former SAS officer Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton with Prince William during the Remembrance Day service in 2010

Former SAS officer Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton with Prince William during the 2010 Remembrance Day service (Image: AP)

It also details at some length, and with absolute authority, the behind-the-scenes dramas surrounding Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s exit from royal life. If ever courtiers went through the shredder, it was the Sussex Brigade.

The names of Ed Lane Fox, Sam Cohen, Sarah Latham and Jason Knauf are now gone, but they were the people who put their reputations, and sometimes their sanity, on the line in their attempts to keep the increasingly fractious royal couple happy.

Low, in her day job as a royal correspondent, described the behavior that came with Meghan Markle’s arrival into the royal fold, the slow shedding of staff from nannies to senior courtiers as the difficult couple made the most of the privilege. life bestowed upon the greatest royalty.

We now know that many of Harry and Meghan’s complaints, which were later voiced in the Oprah Winfrey interview, were fabricated, “just not true,” Low writes.

He quotes Meghan as saying: “There’s the family, and there’s the people who run the institution. Those are two separate things.” All nonsense, of course.

The couple was angry at being cornered by the very courtiers who were trying to protect them.

Before long, they have chosen to escape to California, leaving behind a bewildered royal family, a sad group of discarded staff, and a trail of damage that will take decades to repair.

But these tales form only part of Low’s delicious feast of previously unrevealed true tales.

Who knew, for example, that it took a Buckingham Palace official to calm the nerves of Thailand’s King Bhumibol by suggesting that His Majesty stand on his head before an important audience?

His Majesty duly obliged. Or that, when she read her famous “I will serve you all my days” speech for the first time, written by a courtier, Princess Elizabeth, then 21, burst into tears?

Or was this private secretary, Sir Martin Charteris, in love with the Queen?

Courtiers, it must be said, are a strange bunch. Low describes them as “the hidden power behind the crown,” and in some ways they are: their job to control wayward princes, persuade kings and queens to do things they don’t want, and fend off attacks even when they secretly do it. I know the royalty was wrong.

They seek power, they wield power, and in general, Low observes, they have been educated at Eton (although that is changing in the generation before life). But it’s not a job for life, as the queen’s private secretary, Christopher Geidt, recently discovered.

Geidt, effectively chief executive of House of Windsor Plc between 2007 and 2017, is seen by many as the most successful in that role in decades.

Admired former private secretary to the Queen Christopher Geidt

Admired former private secretary to the Queen Christopher Geidt (Image: AP)

However, he was unceremoniously kicked out after Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, each with a personal ax to grind, joined forces to see him off.

The Queen, according to a former member of the family, did not have the will, at the age of 91, to resist. However, Geidt was the only private secretary to a sovereign in a century to be fired. The previous one, the devout Francis Knollys, complained in 1913 that he had been fired “just as an unsatisfactory butler might be fired”.

Prince William, writes Low, was furious.

Closer to the Queen than to his father, he felt that Geidt had done a great job, thus stoking tensions between Kensington Palace and Clarence House, which had had to be set aside since Charles’s accession.

If Knollys thought he was being treated like a butler, another sovereign’s private secretary, Sir Michael Adeane, likened his task to that of a nanny: “One day you’re writing a letter to the prime minister. The next you’re holding a child.” little”. waterproof.”

But Adeane, who served the Queen from 1953 to 1972, took most of it.

A more lively courtier was Sir Martin Gilliat, who served as private secretary to the Queen Mother for 37 years. A distinguished former soldier, he had been captured during World War II and incarcerated at Colditz, the notorious prisoner-of-war camp.

One day he found himself on a ferry, surrounded by tourists. “Where are you from?” he asked politely. “Oh, Germany, yes, I love Germany! I’ve spent a lot of time in Germany, wonderful historic houses. Yes, there was one castle in particular that I couldn’t get away from.”

He said it without a trace of bitterness, even though he had been a prisoner for most of the war.

Gilliat was amusing, Low writes, though his answers could be hit or miss, given that he was an Eton and Sandhurst man. On a tour of Venice with the Queen Mother, the BBC’s Kate Adie commented: “Aren’t they wonderful, Sir Martin, all these churches?”

He looked at her and, in a voice loud enough for the Queen Mother to hear, he said, “Kate, if you’ve seen one bloody church, you’ve seen plenty.”

His Majesty, watching, was amused.

Another royal favorite was Brian McGrath, who served Prince Philip in top posts between 1982 and 1995.

McGrath, against the rules, because Buckingham Palace was a corgi-only zone, used to take her Labrador, Robert, to work.

Prince Harry and Prince William with their private secretary Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton

Prince Harry and Prince William with their private secretary Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton (Image: Tim Graham/Getty)

One day, returning to his office on the other side of the Palace esplanade, he saw the Queen’s car leave. She stopped and snapped to attention, the dog sitting obediently beside her. As the Queen passed, she glanced out the window and bowed, not to McGrath, but to the plowman.

Courtiers come in all shapes and sizes, submitting to what political theorist Harold Laski described as “dignified slavery.” Sure, Sir Ralph Anstruther was boring, always shabbily dressed in a starched white collar and highly polished lace-ups (he dismissed slip-ons as “slippers”).

More boring still was Sir Philip Moore. “He bored the Queen a lot,” Low records. Her Majesty was stuck with Moore sticking her nose in the door, every day, for almost ten years as her private secretary during the ’80s.

But it also worked the other way around. Pity the poor private secretaries of the king

Jorge VI -grandfather of the current king- who was snobbish, irascible and clumsy.

“He made it quite clear that he did not want his private secretary to dictate his life,” writes Low. However, her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, instantly recognized that life would be easier if she did just that. She must have been a dream to work with.

That’s not to say that Elizabeth wouldn’t put her foot down whenever she wanted. The controversial question of whether or not she should pay income tax, which came to a head with the 1992 Windsor Castle fire, was one that concerned her deeply.

Queen Victoria had paid taxes, as had her son Edward VII, although she tried to evade them. But both George V and George VI pushed for exemptions, and when Elizabeth came to the throne, she paid no taxes.

Public opinion began to rebel against this injustice and his private secretary, Sir William Heseltine, told him that he should pay. He didn’t get anywhere. “The resistance came from the Queen herself.

“His father had told him that if they were going to pay taxes, they couldn’t afford to run the show. He needed the Windsor fire [for things to change]Heseltine told the royal author. Her Majesty, it emerges, was not always right.

Valentine Low, a master of his craft in prose and detail, writes about these palace officials with the wisdom of long experience.

The fact that he chooses to describe Prince Andrew’s treatment of staff as “grotesquely unpleasant” is a stark reminder that life inside palaces isn’t all tiaras and bows, but can be just as bloody and brutal as the Tudor court. .

Usually it is the courtiers who roll their heads.

  • Courtiers de Valentine Low (Title) is out now. To place an order for £18 with free UK postage and delivery, visit expressbookshop.com or call 020 3176 3832

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