On the 21st of April, the United Kingdom will witness a very special event; Queen Elizabeth will turn 90 and will become the longest serving monarch in the history of the country.
Grant Harrold was the former Royal butler to many members of the British Royal family; he became close to Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall Camilla and was personally invited to their wedding in 2005. In addition to this, he had the opportunity to take care of the Queen on many occasions.
Harrold reveals how the Queen is so clever and charming that she “can make you feel as if you are the only person in the room. Her majesty has a way to make people feel at ease around her”. He describes his admiration for Queen Elizabeth for raising “a kind and wonderful family”. He adds that she has a “great sense of humour”, something that is not quite expected from a member of the royal family.
Grant is seen as an unofficial ambassador for the Royal Family due to the work he does to support them in public and private. He is also an advisor to the Royal Household of Her Royal Highness Princess Katarina (the Queen’s cousin), and a personal aide to Her Royal Highness.
Asharq Al-Awsat’s interview with Grant Harrold appears below.
1. The Queen’s 90th birthday is coming up, from your experiences working for the Royal family; can you kindly inform us of what happens during the build up to the celebrations?
There is a lot of planning that is involved with these kinds of celebrations; the royal house usually organises everything with outside people that arrange these sorts of events. However, the daily routine carries on; there would be a team that is assigned to work on the actual event.
With regard to her 90th birthday, the celebration will be of the Queen’s life, her love of horses, her dedication to the Commonwealth and international affairs and her deep involvement with the navy, army and air force.
I’m not sure if I can disclose details but I am attending a very high profile event on the actual day of her birthday which is the 21st April. It’s one that I’m honoured to be involved with.
2. You attended the Queen’s 80th Birthday; can you inform us about what the atmosphere was like?
It was a wonderful day; it was more of a private party in the garden of Buckingham Palace, than the celebrations that are going to happen this year. There was a band playing, and as normal the Royal family appeared; the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen and Prince Charles.
I had already met the Queen at that time, and when she saw me she immediately approached and spoke to me for a while. I felt really privileged to have been there.
3. From your encounters with the Queen, can you tell us about the Queen’s characteristics?
The Queen is lovely, I can now see how the Royal family is perceived from the outside, so of course the Queen comes across as regal and as a monarch and that she does everything beautifully. As a person she’s lovely, she has a great sense of humour, which is not a secret. There was a documentary about Her Majesty which showed this other side to her that the public weren’t aware of. The example where she was standing behind the doors about to go in to a reception with officials and at one point she said “do you think there is anyone there?!”, indicating that we were all dressed up and there wouldn’t be anyone there. It was funny because people messaged me after saying “I didn’t know that the Queen had a sense of humour!” She does, the Queen is a human being with a lovely personality and someone I have been very lucky to get to know.
4. Was the Queen engaging with her staff?
Yes, off and on duty she would always talk to her staff, she is always graceful and very appreciative. Her majesty is full of elegance, because when you are off duty she doesn’t need to come up to you and speak, yet she has always made the effort to speak to me.
On a few occasions, when I have attended a ball at Buckingham Palace and in Scotland at the Moral Castle, she has always spoken to me. The last time I went, she has this thing when she recognizes somebody she looks over and gives a nice, side smile. It’s very clever how she does it; she can make you feel as if you are the only person in the room.
Her majesty has a way to make people feel at ease around her.
5. Prince Charles is currently heir to the British throne; however, he may abdicate and pass the throne to Prince William, what are your thoughts on this?
I have spent a lot of time with Prince Charles and William (I also did a lot for him as well), both are absolute gentlemen. I’m very old fashioned; I was brought up to believe in the monarchy. I respect it and believe there are rules in place and they are there for a reason. Obviously one of them is the line of succession, I believe in that, it’s up to the individual, but I think it would be wrong of Charles to pass on the throne to William because he would make a great king. But, Princes William will also make an excellent king, so if everything is allowed to go the way it should and they both succeed in the right order, I think it will be great for the future of the UK.
However, we should take into consideration that a lot of people do adore and love the Queen and it will be a different atmosphere for the UK, because we are talking about the longest running Queen in the history of this country. There are a few people; (you will have to be well over your 70s) to remember anyone other than our Queen on the throne, God willing she goes on as long as her mother. My point is that you would actually have to be quite old to not remember what it’s like not to have the Queen. There will be strong opinions about it, it’s the unknown, that’s the future, but personally I think they would both make excellent kings.
6. Are there any interesting stories that you have from working for the Prince of Wales?
There are many interesting stories, but the one that stands out is when Prince Charles first introduced me to Her Majesty the Queen.
Prince Charles was always hospitable and always introduced me to the Queen, so in 2006 when we were celebrating the Queen 80th birthday (I have already met her before, I wasn’t properly introduced), the Prince introduced me to the Queen at Kew Garden Palace during the celebration. There was a dinner, so the Prince officially introduced us. This is a very special moment as not many people can say that Prince Charles introduced them to the Queen.
On a second occasion, I was invited to the wedding of the Prince of Wales to the Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla). I had only been with them for 10 months, and there is a rule that you had to be working with them for a year before getting invited to royal occasions. This was a privilege for me, to attend as a guest with other members of the royal family. It was a very special moment that I will forever treasure.
7. How does Prince Charles keep his relations with his butlers? Did you ever get to call him by his first name, or did you have a formal relationship?
I have always been very strict with titles, with any employer. The title is there for a reason so we should always respect the title whoever they may be- whether they are a princess or a duchess. I have the privilege of being friends with many dukes and duchesses but I still refer to them with their titles. Now it’s the same with royals, there’s a rule that they should be called by their title and I have always respected that.
Prince Charles was always very kind and wonderful to me; I was with him in Scotland over Easter a few years ago, and he gave me an envelope with Easter eggs in it. It was very nice of him to do that when he didn’t have to. This sums him up; he is a kind and generous human being. I think I can say that most of the family have this in them, but that’s also a sign of who they are. They can be so kind and caring.
8. You have served many members of the Royal family, which individual were you close to or felt at ease around?
This a very tricky question. I have been so lucky to meet them all, but I will go back to the Queen, the mother figure, because she is such a lovely person and has wonderful children and this is all because of her. I think of her very highly, and there is not one member of the family that I don’t respect or like. To answer the question I will say the Queen because the royal family are the way they are due to her. And of course the Duke of Edinburgh, we mustn’t forget him.
9. In 1997, the world witnessed the sudden death of Princess Diana; do you recall what the atmosphere at the palace was like? How were your fellow colleagues feeling?
It was very strange; it happened the day before my private service, I only heard wonderful, positive stories about her. I’m very sorry I didn’t get a chance to get to know her but have had the privilege of getting to know her through her family.
It was a very surreal feeling and sad, it was odd because she was someone that a lot of people admired and respected and many felt attached to her. There was an overwhelming feeling of sadness because it was strange and I remember a terrible, sad feeling, a cloud that lasted for a while. It was an awful and very confusing time for everyone in the Royal family. It’s going to be 20 years next year, but to me it feels like yesterday.