- Anwar Hussein/ WireImage/ Getty Images.
- Royal commentator Kristen Meinzer called the royal family “the longest-running reality show of all time.”
- But despite the global fascination with the likes of Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, there’s little known about what really goes on behind palace walls.
- Those who know royal life better than anyone are palace staff, who get to experience all the luxury – and “pressure cooker scenarios” – that Her Majesty and co have to offer.
- INSIDER spoke to current and former employees of the royal family, who say that despite having access to the “best cars, yachts, and restaurants,” working in the palace comes with its own set of rules and challenges.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
“I may get in trouble for saying this…” said Deborah Mitchell, facialist to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, during an interview with INSIDER.
“But I’ve even been offered a cup of coffee by HRH. You can get cups of coffee any time, but getting a cup of coffee that the future Queen of England made herself?
“It was literally fantastic. I can’t even say whether it had cream in it or not.”
Being worried about disclosing a cup of coffee may seem a tad extreme, but when INSIDER went on the hunt for current and former employees of the royal family, it was difficult to find staff who weren’t hesitant to speak up for fear of the palace’s tightly-reined press machine.
After all, royal staff are often required to sign strict non-disclosure agreements, meaning there are precise rules as to what they are allowed to disclose to third parties – if anything at all.
- Rob Stothard/Getty Images
Because of this, little is known about what goes on behind the walls of Buckingham Palace, and even less is known about the challenges and delights that come with working for the likes of duchesses Camilla, Kate, and Meghan.
So what might a skincare expert like Mitchell have in common with a bodyguard and a photographer?
They’ve all worked for one of the most powerful families in the world – and they’re ready to tell their stories.
Working for the royals means exposure to “the best cars, yachts, and restaurants. But that’s their life, not yours”
According to former royal protection officer Simon Morgan, one of the greatest pitfalls suffered by palace staff is the ability to get caught up in the royals’ extravagant lifestyle.
Morgan worked as a police officer in London before taking on the role of bodyguard to the royals from 2007 until 2013. He told INSIDER that culture shock hit him particularly hard at the beginning of the role.
“I was working in some of the not-nice parts of London, then all of a sudden I’m working for senior members of the royal family. I was working in different environments, from banquets to large scale events. It turned my career on its head,” said Morgan.
“One minute I was working on the mean streets of London, and the next I was dining at the top table.”
Deborah Mitchell has had a similar experience during her 13 years as a facialist for the Duchess of Cornwall. Mitchell, founder of Heaven Skincare, said she has attended private parties at Buckingham Palace, and has even stayed over at Prince Charles and Camilla’s private Highgrove residence and the Queen’s Sandringham Estate.
Although reluctant to share specific details of her visits, Mitchell insisted she would happily “pay for the treatment” she receives while there.
“They [Charles and Camilla] have looked after me, they’ve treated me,” she said. “You wouldn’t even want to get paid – you just love the experience.”
“I have to be careful of what I say,” she added. “But I was very surprised at the beautiful rooms I stayed in.
“They were the most amazing rooms, very special. I was treated to breakfast. It was all laid out for me in the morning, so I didn’t have to ask for anything.”
Morgan, meanwhile, added that while he was exposed to “the best cars, yachts, and restaurants,” during his time with the royals, he had to remember to separate himself from the lavish lifestyle he experienced on the job.
“But that’s the principal’s life, not yours,” he said. “And if you don’t understand that, you will be compromised. There will be alarm bells.”
Staff can find themselves in “pressure cooker scenarios”
Despite the glitz and glam, working for the royals is actually harder than you might think, according to Getty’s royal photographer Chris Jackson.
Jackson, who has photographed everything from Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in 2011 to Meghan Markle’s first royal red carpet appearance at “The Lion King” premiere last month, said people don’t realize how tough royal life can be.
- Chris Jackson
“People wouldn’t expect the sheer amount of engagements the royal family do,” Jackson told INSIDER.
“People often don’t realise how hard Prince Charles works. He often has eight engagements a day, and doesn’t have lunch – so that means I don’t either.”
But Jackson insisted the amount of versatility in the role means it will never get tiresome.
“The really lovely, nice thing about photographing the royals is that they are a small group of people. So you’re always building up that knowledge and that relationship with them,” he said.
“It keeps things fresh. One day you’ll be photographing the Queen, and the next you’ll be at an engagement with Prince Harry. And I’ll never get tired of photographing the Queen.”
When Jackson started working for Getty 15 years ago, there were a lot less royal engagements to photograph, he noted.
- Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Prince William and Harry were still at university, and Kate and Meghan hadn’t even entered the picture yet. Fast forward to 2019, and the Cambridges and the Sussexes are both royal powerhouses in their own right – both couples now have children, which means a whole different set of engagements to photograph.
“The biggest challenge is planning the diary, as some royal events can clash, which can be frustrating,” said Jackson.
“I’m constantly deciding what to cover, dividing my time between all family members’ events equally, but some events are unmissable.
“As a photographer, you hate missing things,” he added. “Once I was stuck in traffic on my way to the Sandringham flower show, and I arrived just as Prince Charles was coming out.
“You want to be there to take the photos, in the midst of the action.”
Morgan agrees. He told INSIDER that the one thing the media get wrong about royal bodyguards is how much planning goes into the role.
“Your day-to-day involves lots of planning and meetings. Planning the routes you’re going to take, and the officers you require, the journey time, the places you need to be aware of, and where’s the nearest hospital – none of which would necessarily make good television,” he said.
“One of the toughest days as a royal protection officer is when a member of the royal family does a public walkabout,” he added.
- Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
“It’s a pressure cooker scenario. You’re constantly thinking, ‘what if?'”
He went on: “During one of Prince Charles’ walkabouts in Wales, police officers had perceived a man in the area with mental health issues, who had been found with knives and axes in his bag as he was headed towards the area.
“So as much as you’re looking for what you expect to see, you’re always looking for things you don’t expect to see.”
Meghan Markle was the subject of backlash after a walkabout was cut short due to “crowd management issues” during her trip to Fiji last October. Although Morgan wasn’t there to witness the incident, he says Markle’s safety would have been “paramount” to her security detail’s decision.
He added that something could have happened “that was not made clear to the media or the public.”
“Normally you can see in someone’s body language if they are happy to see a member of the royal family, but sometimes you’ll see someone grimacing and holding the barrier like they don’t want to give up their space.
“You don’t want to underreact or overreact, because it could just be someone who doesn’t smile. But it could be someone not smiling because they wish to cause the royal family harm.”
Royal staff must abide by a strict set of protocol and rules
Despite their jobs making them long-term acquaintances with the royals, Morgan, Mitchell, and Jackson all agree that a certain level of protocol must always be abided by.
“The royal diary is dictated by centuries of tradition, which forms the framework for christenings, weddings, and unexpected events. It keeps you on your toes,” said Jackson.
- Karwai Tang/ WireImage/ Getty Images.
“There’s different levels of formality for different occasions. For instance, Harry’s Sentebale charity events will be different to a presidential visit.
“If you’re going to visit a hospital, there has to be a level of sensitivity there, and you really have to be sensitive to remembrance events. You’re not allowed to photograph during the minute silence,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mitchell says that despite her close working relationship with Camilla, she still curtsies when the duchess enters a room.
“Before meeting HRH, I practiced what to say. You have to say ‘m’ am,’ [pronounced] like ‘jam.’
“I practiced my curtsy. I still curtsy a couple of times when I see her. Sometimes I might curtsy twice.
“I’m sure she [Camilla] wouldn’t even think about it now.”
Royal protection officers must also know how to correctly greet senior royals. Morgan told INSIDER that you must always refer to them as “Your Royal Highness,” and you must always wish them “good morning, good evening, or goodnight.”
“It’s very much a two-way relationship. There’s respect on both parts,” he said.
“You cannot forget that you are a police officer, and are there to preserve life. You have to know where the line in the sand is.”
One thing is certain, though – although working for the royal family has its challenges, it definitely seems to be the experience of a lifetime.
Perhaps Mitchell summed it up best when she said she would do the job for free.
But still, we can’t imagine turning down a paycheck (or a cup of coffee) from the future Queen of England.