Once upon a time being a palace staffer meant a middling salary, a gold-plated resume and the chance to serve Queen and country by banging out stodgy press releases or planning royal outings to open provincial rec centres.
It was a gentlemanly enterprise that involved a certain self-effacing anonymity – Diana, Princess of Wales, famously dubbed royal courtiers the ‘Men in Grey’ after all.
Then came the Sussex Era which ushered in an age when to work for house of Windsor was to be sucked into the media melee surrounding the Queen’s grandsons and their wives and in which senior palace factotums were transformed into supporting stars in the most obsessively watched, corgi-heavy reality show in the world.
Overnight it was announced that Jason Knauf, a longtime Kensington Palace lieutenant, is set to leave his job as chief executive at the Royal Foundation at the end of the year, immediately setting off a wave of headlines.
The reason for all the excitable coverage? Because Knauf – a man who looks like Harry Potter if he had done an accounting degree and got a mortgage in Kent – has been stuck smack bang in the middle of two of the bigger Sussex controversies over the last year.
In February, it was revealed via an email leaked to The Times that Knauf had emailed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s private secretary Simon Case in October 2018 about Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, saying, “I am very concerned that the Duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year.
“The treatment of X was totally unacceptable.”
(The Duchess of Sussex has vehemently denied the bullying allegations.)
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Knauf, never long for the sidelines, then found himself front and centre of Meghan’s legal stoush with the Mail on Sunday after the UK paper published parts of a letter she had written to her father.
While the court in London has repeatedly found in her favour, the Mail had alleged that there was a question over the copyright of the letter because Knauf had helped Meghan when she was drafting the missive.
Last month, Knauf denied having any claim in regards to the copyright.
News of Knauf’s departure – which will actually only come to pass seven months from now – has generated an outsized media response. ‘Royal Aide Who Accused Meghan of Bullying Leaves Prince William’s Charity’ Newsweek reported, while in The Guardian, the headline read, ‘Aide who made bullying claim against Meghan to leave service of the Cambridges.’
(When prior to the Sturm und Drang of the Sussex years have titles such as Newsweek and The Guardian ever taken time out of their busy agenda of serious news reporting to wade into these far more gossipy waters?)
Take a good look at today’s coverage of Knauf’s leaving and something particularly dire for the palace comes into focus: Meghan’s total and utter psychic dominance over the house of Windsor and her vice-like grip on the public imagination.
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Even now, 16 months after the Sussex exodus and with the couple living 8500km away from London, events are still nearly being exclusively interpreted through the lens of Meghan.
The implication in much of the reporting is that Knauf’s exit is somehow connected to the Los Angeles native, and that he is being punished, so the social media chatter goes, for his role in the three-ring Sussex circus.
Never mind the real reason the palace veteran is leaving the Cambridges’ employ because his husband has received an overseas diplomatic posting.
What this situation demonstrates is that as much as the Queen and co might want to partition off the Sussex chapter and move on, that is a naive proposition at best. There has not – nor will there be any time soon- a wiping of the slate.
All roads – and reporting – lead to Meghan.
On the same day as the Knauf news broke, Prince William, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Sophie, Countess of Wessex all undertook engagements, nearly all which failed to generate any sort of significant press impact. (Only William paying tribute to a murdered policeman registered really.)
Buckingham Palace might be desperately intent on turning the page from the Sussexes but turns out, they are not even holding the book.
Love or her loathe her, what no one seems to be when it comes to the lightning rod Duchess is indifferent. The strength of emotion she generates is such that the Age of Meghan is years, if not decades, away from coming to a close.
The press and the public are still wholly in her inadvertent thrall. (Yes, I do have a mirror, why do you ask?)
This is not, in any way, a situation of her own making, in fact I’d wager the pregnant mum-of-one would very much fancy a break from being the relentless focus of the world’s attention.
But, sorry, I just don’t see that happening.
In this the 39-year-old former Suits star has proven herself to be her mother-in-law Diana’s true spiritual heir, a glamorous rule breaker who still casts a very, very long designer shadow over the palace years (if not decades in the princess’ case) after her exit.
Diana famously said during her 1995 Panorama interview that she wanted to be “queen of people’s hearts”; Meghan, whether she wants to be or not, is queen of people’s heads and social media feeds – and long may she reign over us.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
Originally published as Real reason Kate staffer quit