The Daily Telegraph
The new royal favourites at the court of Charles III
The monarch’s choice of advisers will say a lot about the type of sovereign our King intends to be, says Simon Heffer
ATwo key officials are the King’s private secretary and the Lord Chamberlain
well-regulated royal household should ensure that the sovereign’s life, and that of his consort, functions smoothly. But all courts include a wider circle of a monarch’s friends and acquaintances on whose experience, wisdom and expertise they have always drawn, supplementing the chief advisory role of the prime minister. History also relates, however, that monarchs who are good judges of character – and include people of intelligence and wisdom – often end up as successful kings or queens.
Edward VII, whose apprenticeship for the throne was almost as long as the new King Charles’s, was regarded – by his mother – as likely to be useless. In fact, his short reign is regarded as a golden age, and he was a popular monarch. He had a devoted private secretary, Sir Francis (later Viscount) Knollys, and an astute courtier to whom he delegated difficult tasks, the 2nd Viscount Esher, whose private intelligence network was at the king’s disposal and ensured he was superlatively well-informed.
By contrast, Edward VII’S grandson, Edward VIII, had appalling judgment. His favourite crony, Edward “Fruity” Metcalfe, was sent to outer darkness when, accompanying him (as Prince of Wales) to America in 1924, a letter from the king was stolen by a New York prostitute from his coat pocket. The highly competent private secretary that Edward VIII inherited from his father, Sir Clive Wigram, resigned almost immediately, knowing full well what the new king was like. Edward VIII treated Wigram’s highly correct successor, Alec Hardinge, with disdain, and abdicated after less than 11 months.
King Charles will be aware of these, and other, lessons of history. The household he inherits from Queen Elizabeth II had 491 full-time staff. Few, however, will play a significant role. The two most important officials will be the King’s principal private secretary, who runs his office and handles communications with the Government and national and international bodies, and the Lord Chamberlain, who has oversight of the support system for the King and Queen Consort.
The current Chamberlain, Lord Parker of Minsmere, is viewed as a highly capable and effective executive: another courtier describes him as “shrewd, experienced and wise”. Lord Parker ran MI5 from 2013 to 2020, and took up his present post last year. It is believed that the King was consulted on his appointment, given the late Queen’s great age. It is a tradition that the Lord Chamberlain breaks his ceremonial staff, or “white wand”, over the grave of the deceased sovereign, signalling the end of his duties, but Lord Parker is expected to be reappointed.
Sir Michael Lockett, who organised the last three jubilees and helped with the London Olympics, is often consulted by the King, though his overt politics (he worked for John Major and David Cameron, organised Tory conferences and was the man who started to tell senior Tories to take their jackets off to appear informal) and his age (74) preclude him from an official position.
Sir Edward Young, the late Queen’s 55-year-old private secretary, is highly thought of – as deputy private secretary, he was acclaimed for masterminding Queen Elizabeth’s landmark visit to Ireland in 2011 – but it is thought that the King wants his own man. If so, that man is thought certain to be Sir Clive Alderton, a former diplomat who went to work for Charles and Camilla in 2006, shortly after their marriage.
The King is said to be highly reliant on him and to trust him entirely. Sir Clive took three years out of royal service from 2012 to 2015, when he served as ambassador to Morocco, but he has been the King’s principal private secretary since returning. Sir Clive is deemed, however, to have had a bad start by warning Clarence House staff of their possible redundancy before Queen Elizabeth was even buried: it has not helped his popularity in the royal household, which was not universal.
The present Keeper of the Privy Purse, Sir Michael Stevens, has been in royal service since 1995, and is an accountant by training. He manages the royal finances, based on the annual Sovereign Grant, and is deemed to have done an immaculate job. There is no obvious successor to him, and others close to the King imagine he will retain Sir Michael’s services.
That may not be the case with the current Master of the Household, Vice-admiral Sir Anthony Johnstone-burt, a 64-year-old who has served since 2013. One of the King’s most popular and trusted lieutenants is the Earl of Rosslyn, Peter St Clair-erskine, also 64, who has an unusual background for a hereditary peer in having been a police officer. His career culminated in a decade in charge of royal and diplomatic protection. He is also an elected crossbench peer. Since 2014 he has been Master of the King’s household at Clarence House and is viewed as the King’s right-hand man. The job is effectively chief operational officer, overseen by the Lord Chamberlain.
Aside from official appointments, the King has friends who have earned
Everyone close to the King at present has one thing in common: they do what he wants
his trust by their loyalty and ability to keep his secrets. He has known Sir Nicholas Soames, former Tory MP and minister, since they were eight years old, and Sir Nicholas is precisely the sort of man that the King would ask in for a drink if he wished to talk something over in confidence. Another reported confidante is Elizabeth Buchanan, whose background in politics (working for Baroness Thatcher) before she was a private secretary to the King in the early 2000s gives her a skill set useful now the King must become directly involved in constitutional questions.
The King will confine his views on matters he was vocal about as Prince of Wales – such as the environment – to private conversations with his ministers rather than express them in public. As one collaborator on these questions put it, “Princes do, Kings are”. His main adviser on environmental matters – on which the King is himself regarded as an expert – is Tony Juniper, a former Friends of the Earth activist who runs Natural England; but Charles is also thought to consult Richard Aylard, a former courtier, who held a senior position in the water industry, and Patrick Holden, who ran the Soil Association.
On business questions, not least in the context of social responsibility, the King is thought still to be close to Dame Julia Cleverdon, who ran his Business in the Community charity from 1992 to 2008; and he is known to value the present director, Amanda Mackenzie. Dame Jayne-anne Gadhia, former CEO of Virgin Money, is someone he consults on social questions: she is a champion of gender diversity in business. Dame Martina Milburn, chief executive of the Prince’s Trust, chaired the Social Mobility Commission and is also in the King’s advisory circle. American-born Dame Amelia Fawcett, a former vice-chairman of Morgan Stanley and ex-member of the Court of the Bank of England, chaired the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund from 2011 to 2018 and remains close to the King.
If he wants to consult anyone on questions of architecture – a subject on which he may well feel able to speak in public – two people close to him are Ben Tindall, the Scottish architect, and Ben Pentreath, the architect and designer who has worked extensively at the King’s new settlement at Poundbury in Dorset.
One man who will hope to have a smooth passage is former Daily Mail editorial executive Tobyn Andreae, a civilised and thoughtful man, hired recently to run the Clarence House press operation and now thought a certainty to discharge those duties for the King at Buckingham Palace. Although the King has launched his reign with spectacular aplomb and assurance, one or two traps may lie ahead, such as any display of petulance, and it could be Mr Andreae’s job to seek to avoid them, or at least avoid them becoming public.
One weak spot, according to several of the King’s friends and acquaintances, is his tendency to “shoot the messenger” – an undue desire to be told what he wants to hear rather than to hear the truth and to adapt his views or actions accordingly. Such a tendency, if it continues, would be more Edward VIII than Edward VII. There is nothing wrong with the King expanding his court as widely and as flexibly as he wishes, but it is important, if he does, to be able to discern good advice from bad, even if he finds it unpleasant, and to act in accordance with the wisdom of what he is told.
Certainly, everyone who is close to the King at present has one thing in common: they do what they know he wants. As well as being entirely trustworthy, they can be relied upon not to question his judgment or decisions.
A prominent example of somebody who did question the then-prince of Wales’s judgment was Queen Elizabeth’s private secretary of 10 years, Sir Christopher – now Lord – Geidt, who wished to reorganise the royal households. The then-prince saw this as an intrusion into his right to run his own life. After a brief battle of wills, Sir Christopher resigned. Sir Edward Young was appointed to replace him.
Lord Geidt was highly regarded by other courtiers and by those who had to deal with Buckingham Palace. His departure caused great upset at the time. Even today, five years later, some at court still regard his treatment by the then-prince of Wales as having been “outrageous” and “petulant”.
However, it appears obvious that the King has reacted to the death of his mother in a profoundly sober and responsible fashion, as if he is suddenly aware of the full extent of his duties and responsibilities, so behaviour such as that in the case of Lord Geidt is unlikely to be repeated.
Those who know the King and Queen Consort are also certain that Queen Camilla will be a very good influence on him over his treatment of other people – many people have remarked on this in the 17 years since they got married. She has made him more considerate towards others.
So far he has not put a foot wrong, and those in his pay will hope, as much for their sakes as for his, that it stays that way.