Former Palace Aide Makes Face-to-Face Apology to Guest Over Remarks
LONDON — Two weeks after she was pressed repeatedly by a royal household member about which country she came from, Ngozi Fulani returned to Buckingham Palace on Friday to receive a face-to-face apology from her interrogator, Susan Hussey.
Ms. Hussey pledged to “deepen her awareness of the sensitivities involved,” the palace said in a statement. Ms. Fulani, who is Black and was born in Britain, accepted the apology and “appreciates that no malice was intended,” the palace said, adding that the meeting was “filled with warmth and understanding.”
This highly public exercise in reconciliation, orchestrated by palace officials, was a further indication of how the British royal family, under King Charles III and his son Prince William, appeared determined to show it will not tolerate any perception of racist behavior in the royal household.
Ms. Hussey, who served for more than six decades as a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth II, had already issued an apology for the exchange, which occurred on Nov. 30 at a reception dedicated to raising awareness about violence against women and girls.
Ms. Fulani described an awkward encounter in which Ms. Hussey, 83, brushed aside the younger woman’s hair to read her name tag, before asking repeatedly, “Where are you from?” and not accepting Ms. Fulani’s insistence that she was British.
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The next day Ms. Hussey was forced to resign her honorary position, a startlingly swift punishment for one of the queen’s closest friends, who is also godmother to Prince William.
Ms. Fulani documented the exchange on social media, setting off a tempest that embarrassed the palace but also drew an ugly backlash on social media. Dozens of posts attacked Ms. Fulani and raised questions about the finances of the charitable group she founded, Sistah Space, which helps women of African and Caribbean descent who are subject to domestic violence and sexual abuse.
The group announced that it had suspended its operations out of fears for the safety of its staff members. The palace said on Friday that Ms. Fulani had “unfairly received the most appalling torrent of abuse on social media and elsewhere.”
Palace officials said they began trying to contact Ms. Fulani within hours of the disclosure of the exchange. It said that the king and Camilla, the queen consort, who played host at the reception, “have been kept fully informed and are pleased that both parties have reached this welcome outcome.”
The palace said it would continue emphasizing diversity and inclusion, drawing on the work done by Sistah Space. Ms. Hussey, whose daughter is a close aide to Camilla, was “grateful to learn more about the issues in this area,” the palace said.
In her description in her Twitter post, Ms. Fulani said she told Mr. Hussey that she had been born in Britain and was of British nationality, but that Ms. Hussey pressed her, asking, “No, but where do you come from, where do your people come from?” When Ms. Fulani replied that her parents had immigrated to Britain in the 1950s, Ms. Hussey exclaimed, “I knew we’d get there in the end, you’re Caribbean!”
Ms. Fulani said that the incident left her in “shock” but also flummoxed because she didn’t want to say something at the palace that would damage the reputation of her organization. She told The Independent website that the dispute was “bigger than one individual. It’s institutional racism.”
Questions about racism and the royal family have also resurfaced with the release this month of a new Netflix documentary “Harry & Meghan,” which explores how Britain’s colonial legacy influenced the treatment of Meghan, a biracial American-born actress, who married Prince Harry in 2018. Harry, Charles’s son and William’s brother, accused family members of not protecting Meghan from relentless racially inspired attacks by the London tabloids.
“The difference here is the race element,” Harry said.